Dodge Challenger, 1970 (left) and 2018.
Everything old may be new again, but eventually, everything that’s new again grows old.
Except, perhaps, for the Dodge Challenger.
The Challenger is an odds-defying, high-horsepower retro car with sales muscle, too. While most other retro-themed cars in the last 20 years enjoyed brief flashes of showroom success before the novelty wore off, the Challenger is heading into its 12th model year with just one major cosmetic refresh and is on a sales roll.
In October, the venerable muscle car outsold both its chief rivals, the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, the fifth month since 2009 that the Challenger raced ahead of the competition. FCA US long ago discovered that the car’s brawny good looks, recurrent special editions, frequent new colors and continuous horsepower supplements are a recipe that keeps the buzz going. Having a muscle car with robustly engineered, Mercedes-derived underpinnings and a usable back seat relative to its closest competitors doesn’t hurt, either.
At a time in its product cycle when most other cars would be on life support — or worse — the Challenger could end the year with an all-time sales record for its modern iteration.
When the Challenger returned in 2008, its throwback styling evoked a powerful emotional response from customers and onlookers. A substantial freshening for the 2015 model year not only embraced that styling, but reveled in it, with sweeping interior callouts to the heady 1970 model. Dodge rekindled the Scat Pack Club and logo from its muscle-car days and turned up the volume with its Challenger SRT Hellcat and Demon versions. It’s a lesson that other carmakers can learn from.
While the Challenger’s longevity and popularity may be gravity-defying, other automakers’ retro models have had mixed results in recent years. Still, it doesn’t keep designers from trying. One good example: Volkswagen’s plans to bring an electric version of its legendary microbus, the I.D. Buzz, back to life a few years from now. When it does, once again, a Volkswagen microbus will pull up next to a Dodge Challenger at a stoplight somewhere.
And in that moment, at that intersection, it can be 1970 on the road all over again.
Here’s how some recent retro models have fared in the U.S. The years listed are when they were produced.
Dodge Challenger (pictured above), 2008-present
An update of the 1970-74 ChallengerNumber sold: 518,677
Ford Thunderbird, 2001-05
A modern version of the classic 1955-57 T-Bird two-seat roadsterNumber sold: 64,377
BMW Z8, 2000-03
An homage to the 1956-59 BMW 507 roadsterNumber sold: 2,382
Ford Mustang, 2005-present
This generation reverted to the same basic silhouette of the 1969-70 fastback.Number sold: 1,383,665
Clockwise from top left:
Volkswagen Beetle, 1997-2019
Modern take on the classic air-cooled Bug; production is scheduled to end next yearNumber sold: 768,261
Chrysler PT Cruiser, 1999-2010
1930s panel delivery truck looksNumber sold: 1,050,281
Plymouth/Chrysler Prowler, 1997-2002
1930s-styled hot rodNumber sold: 10,741
Fiat 500, 2010-present
A modern take on the beloved postwar Italian minicarNumber sold: 189,430
Clockwise from top left:
Chevrolet SSR, 2003-06
Patterned after Chevrolet’s 1947-55 Advance Design pickupsNumber sold: 23,479
Mini Cooper, 2001-present
Patterned after the classic 1959-2000 Austin Mini CooperNumber sold: 663,162
Fiat 124 Spider, 2016-present
A rebirth of the classic styling cues found on the 1966-85 Fiat 124 Sport SpiderNumber sold: 10,087
Chevrolet Camaro, 2009-present
Revisits styling cues from the 1969 modelNumber sold: 744,186
Chevrolet HHR, 2005-11
Featured scaled-down styling cues from the 1940s Chevrolet SuburbanNumber sold: 526,813
Toyota FJ Cruiser, 2005-14
Toyota modernized the styling cues of the classic late 1960s and early 1970s FJ Land Cruiser.Number sold: 222,254