Then And Now: A Look At How The New Challenger T/A And Charger Daytona Stack Up To The Originals

In an era before tube chassis race cars, production-based motorsport was big business. For the OEMs, these race-prepped vehicles still looked similar enough to the road-going vehicles they were based on that success on track could have a measurable effect on sales of that model, hence the adage “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” But campaigning a car in these production-based race classes came with a notable stipulation in the form of homologation rules – manufacturers looking to race a car in a particular production-based class needed to build a certain number of road-legal examples of the car for sale to the general public in order for the model to be eligible to race.

Known colloquially as “homologation specials”, these were typically limited production models and their tuning was aimed at a specific skill set that would benefit the car in whatever racing discipline that the manufacturer wanted to race it in. For Dodge in the late 1960s, this would result in the oval track-tuned Charger Daytona for the 1969 model year while the following year would see the Challenger T/A fill a similar role in Dodge’s road racing efforts.

For 2017 both of these historically significant monikers have been revived as modern interpretations of the Charger and Challenger. Yet the racing classes that the originals ran in have switched over to tube chassis cars long ago, in turn eliminating the need for a homologation model for sale to the general public.

Since the strategy behind bringing these iconic models back to life has clearly changed, we’re taking a look at how the new T/A and Daytona compare to their original counterparts.

Challenger T/A 392
Back in the late 60s, pony cars were big business. Ford had a sales juggernaut on their hands with the Mustang, which they’d sold more than a million examples of in just the first two years it was on sale. At the same time the SCCA’s of America’s Trans American Sedan Championship, or Trans Am as it became known, had become one of the premier production-based racing classes in the United States, with factory teams from Ford, Chevrolet, AMC and Chrysler mixing it up on the road courses of America. Though the Challenger was late to the party when it debuted for the 1970 model year, Dodge came out swinging with a host of different high performance variants that same year.

To get the Challenger into the Trans Am series, they’d need a homologation special like Ford’s Boss 302 Mustang and Chevy’s Camaro Z/28, and Dodge responded accordingly with the Challenger T/A. Like the Mustang and Camaro it featured a potent small block V8 – a 340ci in Dodge’s case, which would be destroked and warmed over for the race car – along with upgraded brakes, tires, suspension, and other mechanicals.

The one-year-only, limited production Challenger T/A also sported a host of visual tweaks to go along with its side exiting exhaust system, including a flat back hood, side stripes, and a duck tail-style spoiler, giving it a purposeful look to go along with its bolstered performance prowess.

Though it sports a number of throwback visual cues, the new Challenger T/A 392 is a bit of a different animal. Returning to the lineup after a 46-year hiatus and essentially splitting the difference between an R/T Scat Pack and the SRT 392, the new T/A 392 sports an identical power train to that of a standard Scat Pack – a naturally aspirated, 6.4-liter Hemi V8 dishing out 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque with your choice of a six-speed Tremec manual gearbox or an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters – but it scores the six-piston Brembo brakes along with the wheel and tire package of the SRT.

While the added grip and braking capability alone yield a more capable a car, the suspension remains unchanged from the Scat Pack’s fixed-rate Bilstein dampers and springs. While it’s a reasonably sporty setup, it’s not nearly as track-focused as some might hope for from a concept that boasted a full coilover setup.

That doesn’t mean the new Challenger T/A 392 doesn’t feel special, though. Small touches set the T/A apart from the rest of the lineup throughout the car, like the white-faced gauges, stitched T/A logos on the seats, and the logo cleverly hidden in the faux parking light air intake that’s borrowed from the Hellcat.

It also feels more balanced than the standard R/T Scat Pack in general, as the additional grip helps put down the power better while the beefy brake setup gets the big coupe slowed from speed with serious haste, both of which make for a more confidence-inspiring driving experience.

While we’re definitely fans of the visual treatment as well – this is perhaps the most honest throwback treatment Dodge has done with the new Challenger and it pairs fantastically with the lines of this modern muscle car – folks who’d prefer to keep a lower profile can also order their R/T Scat Pack with just the mechanical upgrades of the T/A 392 package by selecting the Dynamics Package on their order sheet. It’s $2200 undoubtedly well spent over the price of a standard Scat Pack.

The Charger Daytona Returns
While Mopar was a force to be reckoned with both on the street and at drag strips across American in the late 60s, one discipline where Chrysler struggled was on the high-speed oval circuits of NASCAR racing. The simple truth was that while the second-generation Charger’s design looked fantastic it was far from ideal when it came to aerodynamics, and Dodge’s drivers had a hard time staying competitive.

Their first attempt at smoothing the lines of the Charger came in 1968 with the Charger 500, which ditched the hideaway headlight grille for a flush-mounted setup, along with a reworked C-pillar and rear glass to reduce turbulence. But it simply wasn’t enough, and cars like the Ford Torino Talladega and the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II continued to dominate the series.

For 1969 season, Dodge decided to take a more earnest approach to resolving the problem. Their engineers spent months in research and development, resulting in a final design that called for a nose cone that was 18 inches long and a rear wing that was 23 inches tall.

The height of that massive rear wing was chosen in part to put the wing in “clean” air, and it also offered the additional bonus of not interfering with the opening of the trunk lid. The cone on the front end would provide 1200 pounds of downforce at the nose while the rear wing would add an additional 600 pounds of downforce on the rear. It’s deeply splinted sides also provided additional high-speed directional stability.

While visually wild looking and somewhat polarizing among the buying public, there was little doubt that the package served its intended purpose of making the Charger more competitive in NASCAR. Not only did the Charger Daytona win in its first official race, it would prove so successful that race officials would essentially ban the use of winged cars like the Charger after the following season – but not before the Charger Daytona would set a world record at Talladega Superspeedway, becoming the first stock car to surpass the 200 mph mark on a closed course on March 24th, 1970 with racer Buddy Baker at the helm.

Unlike the Challenger T/A, this isn’t the first time the Daytona name has returned to the Dodge roster since the original cars. The first iteration of the modern Charger Daytona debuted back in 2006, where it offered visual tweaks, performance-tuned suspension, and a low-restriction exhaust system that bumped output up a few ponies. A similar package would return for the Charger in 2013, adding a few more visual tweaks like a special numbered plaque on the instrument panel to along with the exterior graphics and performance upgrades like a 3.06 rear axle ratio and performance-tuned steering and suspension.

This time around the package more closely follows that of the Challenger T/A 392, providing not only a visual treatment but enhanced performance prowess through upgraded grip and braking. Like the Challenger the package is available on both 5.7-liter powered R/T and the 6.4-liter R/T Scat Pack models, while the latter shares identical upgrades to the Challenger T/A 392 with six-piston Brembo brakes and an SRT-spec wheel and tire package.

While its connection with the original Daytona is fairly loose, Dodge says that elements like the trunk stripe serve as a nod to the original winged cars. Those hoping to hit 200 mph will have to step up to a Charger SRT Hellcat though, as the Charger Daytona 392 tops out at 175 mph (though it’s worth noting that a race-spec Daytona set that record in 1970, not an off-the-lot Charger Daytona road car).

Although the new Challenger T/A and Charger Daytona might differ in purpose from the original cars, both offer considerable performance prowess that outshines any previous production iterations of either vehicle by a wide margin. And since they’re not limited-production models, that also means you can get your hands on one with minimal hassle and added expense. So while they may not hold the mystique of the cars that created their heritage, they’re also more accessible than ever – and that’s something certainly worth celebrating.

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Bradley Iger

Feature Contributor Brad is not only a Mopar aficionado and contributor to Mopar Connection, but the Editor-in-Chief of Winding Road Magazine, offering in-depth looks at new vehicles as well as a unique perspective on the driving experience through online video.

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