Winnipeg Free Press

Challenge accepted

by Larry D'Argis . Dec 30 2016
Photos by Larry D'Argis / Winnipeg Free PressEric Bueckert of Winnipeg bought this Plum Crazy purple coloured Dodge Challenger T/A in June 1995.

Photos by Larry D'Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

Eric Bueckert of Winnipeg bought this Plum Crazy purple coloured Dodge Challenger T/A in June 1995.

Created in 1966 by the Sports Car Club of America, the Trans Am race series was derived from the A Production class utilizing production road cars from various manufacturers. Mustang, Camaro and Javelin were the major players in the 5.0-litre or 305-cubic-inch class.

By 1968, manufacturers noticed enthusiasts were tracking their racing success, and racing wins almost always translated into increased sales. To capitalize on the series’ popularity, Chevrolet rolled out the Camaro Z28 in 1968 and, not to be outdone, Ford countered in ’69 with their Mustang Boss 302. Also showing up in ’69 was the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, but Chrysler would make a late entry in the series with both their 1970 Plymouth AAR ’Cuda and the Dodge Challenger T/A.

Power for the street version came from their J-Code 340-cu.-in. V-8, equipped with 10.5:1 compression ratio, Edelbrock aluminium intake manifold and three Holley two-barrel carburetors. Output was underrated at 290 horsepower at 5,000 r.p.m. and 335 pound-feet of torque at 3,400 r.p.m. Today, they’ve found the 340 Six Pack produces about 350 horsepower. In actual competition, the V-8 was destroked by using a special crankshaft, bringing it down to 303 cu. in. in order to comply within the 5.0L class maximum. Transmission options included the Chrysler new-process four-speed manual with Hurst floor shift or a 727 Torqueflite automatic. Out back, the 8 3/4-in. Sure-Grip rear axle could have either 3.55:1 or optional 3.91:1 gear ratio.

The Challenger T/A came factory-equipped with a host of specialty equipment for its $4,643 base price. A matte black fibreglass hood, with moulded scoop, fed cool outside air to the carburetors through a large oval air cleaner. A matte black stripe ran from the fender to the C-pillar and contained the T/A logo, and the engine was identified on the front fenders with a decal that read “340 Six Pak.” Manual or power steering used a quick-ratio steering box and power front disc brakes and heavy-duty Rallye suspension were standard. The T/A also used a unique exhaust system, incorporating dual exhaust running through the mufflers to a J-bend exit pipe and chrome tip that sat just ahead of the rear wheel. The rear leaf springs also sat at the rear of the car, up an additional 1 3/4 in. to ensure additional exhaust clearance. In back, a special trunk-lip fibreglass spoiler carried the Challenger T/A name.

Eric Bueckert of Winnipeg had his first look at a Challenger T/A in 1970 at his father Peter’s dealership, Bueckert Motors in Gretna.

“A Chrysler sales rep came calling on my dad and they always had a new demonstrator vehicle and with this visit it was a Challenger T/A,” Bueckert says. It was at that time he developed an interest in the T/A model and thought about acquiring one some day.

In June of 1995, he saw one for sale and purchased it. A local car delivered in April of 1970 to Century Motors, it listed for $5,544 and sat for a week in the showroom. Finished in Plum Crazy purple with a Jewel black interior, the Challenger had travelled 170,000 kilometres and was mostly original and in very good condition. Bueckert drove the car sparingly over the next few years and then placed it into storage until 2000.

By 1990, Bueckert Motors had relocated to Altona, and it was there in 2000 that Bueckert had the rear quarter panels reworked to remove some minor corrosion and give the Challenger a repaint. The engine was removed and sent to Millar Auto Machine in Winkler for a full rebuild.

The Challenger T/A is nicely optioned, with quick-ratio power steering, left remote and right side-view racing mirrors, front spoiler package, 15 x 7-in. Rallye road wheels, heavy-duty cooling system, Music Master AM radio, tinted windshield, centre console, Torqueflite automatic transmission and backlite window louvers.

In 2014, Bueckert turned the Challenger over to Ground Up Restorations for a full repaint including undercarriage, underhood and trunk detailing. There’s also a new set of BFGoodrich T/A radial tires to keep the Challenger firmly on the road. Bueckert, a member of the Manitoba Mopar Association, tries to get the Challenger out to several shows over the summer and met up with the original owner, Steve Zacher, at one of this year’s.

Performance for the Challenger T/A was respectable for the day. The standing start, 0-60 m.p.h., came in six seconds and the quarter-mile ticked by in 14.5 seconds at 100 m.p.h. The small-block V-8 weighed less than the larger V-8 and offered an improved power-to-weight ratio and better handling in the curves.

There were only 2,399 Challenger T/A models built in 1970, with only 118 coming to the Canadian market and 75 carrying the optional automatic transmission. Sadly, the Challenger T/A proved a one-and-done model. Sam Posey drove the lone 1970 Challenger T/A in competition and Dodge removed itself from the SCCA series after 1970 and dropped the T/A model.

Photos by Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

Photos by Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press