Today’s Dodge Challenger is so effective at channeling its Nixon-era predecessors that we’re surprised it doesn’t run on leaded gas. Delightfully brash if a bit oafish, it is an old-school type of badass that its main rivals have evolved away from. While Chevrolet and Ford were out chasing Nürburgring lap times with the latest Camaro and Mustang, Mopar engineers built a streetable Challenger that can pop a wheelie. The new-for-2017 Challenger T/A, however, is a hard-core reminder that, once upon a time, Dodge’s muscle coupe was an actual production-based road racer.
The T/A takes its name from the SCCA’s legendary Trans-American championship, which was in its prime in 1970 when Dodge joined the series and sent the then new Challenger to battle AMC Javelins, Chevy Camaro Z/28s, and Ford Mustang Boss 302s on North America’s premiere racing circuits. While the 1970 Challenger T/A was short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful in competition, its racing pedigree and scrappy attitude made Mopar royalty out of the 2399 roadgoing homologation cars.
Drivers, Start Your Engines
The 2017 T/A model is yet another stonking variation of the current Challenger that was last updated for 2015, albeit one with aggressive handling hardware and lots of satin-black touches. Its extra nostalgia comes as part of a $4400 to $7200 bundle depending on the trim level and which Hemi V-8 you opt for: a 372-hp 5.7-liter or the 6.4-liter (392-cubic-inch) with 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. Our test car featured the latter mated to the Challenger’s optional $1500 eight-speed automatic, which erases the six-speed-manual 392’s $1000 gas-guzzler tax, effectively making the automatic transmission a $500 option.
Dodge opened up the new T/A engine’s breathing with a standard, variable performance exhaust system and a less-restrictive air filter fed by both the hood scoop and a pair of Air-Catcher intakes within the two inboard headlights (accented by LED-illuminated T/A logos). Neither engine’s output changes, but the 392’s raucous bellow is too intoxicating to ignore. The Challenger’s trip-wire throttle and stubborn lack of traction make it tricky to leave the line without spinning the rear tires, but the Hemi’s mellifluous rap makes it even more difficult to lift off once the fun starts.
While C/D never tested the original Challenger T/A, it did strap test gear to the mechanically identical 1970 Plymouth ’Cuda AAR that shared the Trans-Am grid with the…