A Classic Muscle Car Reborn By Scott Oldham Email Date posted: 01-05-2006 Standing in the parking lot of DaimlerChrysler's Pacifica Design Studio in Carlsbad, California, automotive designer Michael Castiglione motions us over to the black 1970 Camaro he drives to work every morning. "I've owned it since I was 17," says the 38-year-old. "I put in a new crate motor a few years ago. Runs great." Although the Chevy is clearly Castiglione's pride and joy, the tour around the classic muscle car is a short one. Castiglione would rather speak about his latest design, the highly anticipated Dodge Challenger Concept. And rightly so. When the very-orange very-retro two-door debuts to the world at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday, January 8th, it's expected to be the hit of the show. "I knew doing the car that it wasn't going to start any design trends," says Castiglione before slamming the hood of his Camaro. "But it is what the market wants. Heck, it's what I want. I work in Chrysler's most advanced studio and I drive a 30-year-old car to work every day." He's right. Although spectacular, the Challenger Concept isn't going to start a design movement. Its shape is too closely modeled after the iconic shape of the 1970 and 1971 Dodge Challenger, now two of the world's most highly prized collector cars. But it's too easy to dismiss Castiglione's design as a carbon copy of the classic form. It isn't. In fact, the car took a year and a half to design. Modern interpretation of a classic The early clay model looks very different from the finished car. Notice the Plum Crazy 1970 Challenger convertible in the background. The process of creating the car began two years ago. The idea was to develop a hot-looking performance coupe using Chrysler's rear-wheel-drive LX platform and its Hemi V8. In other words, come up with a coupe version of the new Dodge Charger R/T. Early sketches, according to Castiglione, had a lot of Cuda influences, which makes a ton of sense. The 1970 and 1971 Plymouth Barracuda was the sister car to the Challenger, and it's the more iconic of the two machines today. But the death of Plymouth in 2001 killed the Cuda Concept from ever seeing the light of day. Instead the car had to be a Dodge. "I drew over 1,000 cars, 900 of which are in the trash," says Castiglione. Early sketches were all over the map, from cars with cab forward shapes to others with four individual taillights and semicircular grilles like Dodge used on the 1972-'74 Challenger. "Early on, we just tried to capture 'Mopar' in the designs," says Castiglione who beat out two other designers for the gig. "We tried to capture the beveled edges that were uniquely Mopar back in the muscle car days. If you look at an old Challenger or Charger, the lines have a snap to them. Once we figured that out, then we got more focused." Once focused on the 1970 Challenger, an example was brought in to the design studio for inspiration. The 383-powered R/T convertible, which was painted in the classic color of Plum Crazy purple, belonged to a friend of a friend, and was chosen because it had the standard twin-scoop hood instead of the optional Shaker scoop. Castiglione had already decided to emulate that hood because it was a unique Mopar design. "The Shaker just isn't unique to Dodge," he says. "Ford and GM also used them back then." It was also a four-speed car, which means it had the iconic pistol-grip shifter. This would later influence Alan Barrington, who designed the concept car's interior. Challenger only in your mind's eye Although the 1970 Challenger was the car's main inspirations, the concept's crosshair grille more closely resembles the grille of a 1971 Challenger. Also notice the R/T badge and six-shooter headlight surround. The entire body is carbon fiber, but the only exposed weave is on the hood, where it replicates black stripes. Hood scoop flaps open and close as the throttle is depressed. "Instead of merely recreating the 1970 model," says Tom Tremont, vice president of Advanced Vehicle Design, "the designers endeavored to build a Challenger most people see in their mind's eye." That requirement meant varying from the old car's long-hood/short-deck profile was impossible. This caused Castiglione serious problems. It turns out that the touchdown of the windshield is much farther forward on the modern LX chassis than it is on the old car. This moves the center of the car closer to the front wheels and inherently shortens the front end. He compensated for this by raking the windshield radically compared to the Charger's front glass, and increasing the size of the front overhang to make the hood look longer. He also put an angled cut in the door seam to be sympathetic to the windshield rake, and moved the side mirrors farther back on the doors to fool the eye into seeing a longer hood. Castiglione also had to find a way to incorporate the old car's asymmetrical wheelwell openings and its tucked-in rocker sections, both of which go against conventional modern car design. He achieved the desired effect by widening the front and rear tracks to 64 and 65 inches, which is even wider than the old 1970 model, and moving the rocker panels in. He also successfully reversed the basic proportions of the old car to better reflect DaimlerChrysler's modern design language of a thicker body with a shrunken greenhouse. How he did that while still making it look like an old Challenger we'll never know, but the result is a very modern-looking coupe that perfectly fits in with Dodge's present model lineup. Details left on the drafting table include the old car's oversized chrome gas cap, which just didn't look right with the concept car's otherwise missing brightwork, and a modern version of the original Challenger's hood pins. Long, low, wide and fast On February 1, 2005, after nearly a year's work on the Challenger's design, Castiglione found out the car would be built into a full-size running concept car for the 2006 Detroit Auto Show. His deadline to hand off the full-size clay model and all of his computer data to Metalcrafters was the first week of June. Located in Fountain Valley, California, Metalcrafters builds all of DaimlerChrysler's concept cars and needed about six months to build the Challenger. Its body, which is made entirely of carbon fiber, would take time to create. At 197.8 inches long and 78.6 inches wide, the finished car is 2.3 inches shorter and a full 4 inches wider than a four-door Charger. It's also 1.2 inches lower and sits on a 116-inch wheelbase, which is 4 inches shorter than a Charger's wheelbase and 6 inches longer than the wheelbase of a 1970Challenger. It all rides on massive five-spoke wheels and oversized tires that are literally squeezed up under the body. "We did a lot of wheels that looked like the original rallys," says Castiglione. "But the instant we brought the spokes out to the rims it made the wheels look larger and we wanted the largest wheels possible." He ended up with 20-by-9-inch front and 21-by-10-inch rear wheels wrapped in 255/40R20 front and 265/45R21 specially made Goodyear tires. The paint color was also custom mixed for the car. "It looks heritage," says Castiglione. "But it's not a literal interpretation of Hemi Orange." Under the hood, however, is some real Hemi Orange. It's on the valve covers of the 425-hp, 6.1-liter V8 that the Challenger Concept borrowed from a Dodge Charger SRT-8. The underhood look is the work of John Sodano, another designer at Pacifica. "This is the kind of car that people will want to look under the hood," Sodano says. "So I drew back to the original Hemis for inspiration." Sodano decided that the inner fenders would be body color like Dodge did back in 1970, and the engine would be cleaned up of any unsightly accessories like an air-conditioning compressor. He also designed all the ducting that directs air from the working hoodscoops into the engine's intake plenum and spec'd out a Flowmaster exhaust with no catalytic converters. The Hemi is backed by a six-speed manual transmission, and Dodge says the combination is good for 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, a quarter-mile run in 13 seconds flat and a top speed of 174 mph. Familiar, but modern inside Eight weeks before the design went to Metalcrafters, Barrington, 31, got to work on the interior. Like Castiglione, he was the right man for the job. Besides the fact that he graduated from the Art Center College of Design in 2001, his high school ride was a 5.0-liter Mustang and he admits watching the Dukes of Hazzard religiously as a kid. "When you ask people what they remember about the old Challenger's interior," says Barrington, "it's always the pistol-grip shifter, three-spoke steering wheel, the bank of round gauges and the vailstyle pleat upholstery." After 50 different designs, Barrington's final iteration incorporates all that stuff, yet it's as modern as can be. A good example of his ability to make the old new again is the car's pistol-grip shifter. In the old car it had an old Western form to it, grab the new one, however, and it feels more like a Glock or some other modern firearm. "I wanted a coherent cohesive design that looked like the interior and exterior of the car had the same author," he says. "That's why the faceted trapezoidal form of the instrument panel and the doorpanels mirrors the shape of the grille and the racetrack around the taillights. "I also used brightwork to highlight the areas the driver's attention should be: the shifter, gauges, etc.," Barrington adds. The rest of the interior falls away to darkness. On the old car the designers used wood in a similar way. To form the gauge cluster, Barrington incorporated elements of the old rally pack of gauges and the standard cluster. There are fewer and larger dials than the old standard setup had, but the dial on the far left is the largest as it used to be on the standard setup. When designing the Challenger's gauges, Barrington also drew influence from a bare engine block. "I designed the gauges' holes to appear as if you are looking down into the engine cylinders with the head off," he relates. He also filled the largest dial with an onboard computer that can calculate the performance numbers like top overall speed, quarter-mile time and top speed for each gear. Further cool touches include the toggle switches, the bold mechanical-looking radio and climate controls and the thick three-spoke wheel with its circular hub and pierced silver spokes. It evokes the original car's "Tuff" wheel as does the steering column ribbing. The seats are the same buckets you get in a Charger SRT-8, only Barrington had them covered in unique black upholstery with horizontal pleats. The upholstery in a 1970 Challenger featured vertical pleats. Ready for production More than one person has said the Challenger Concept looks like an old Challenger that Chip Foose and the gang from the television show Overhaulin' got a hold of, which doesn't bother Castiglione one bit. "I like that style of muscle car," he says. "I'm even building a Pro Touring style '67 Camaro of my own. Besides, Chip and I went to Art Center in Pasadena together. His stuff is very cool." Rumors are rampant that the Challenger is already approved for production and it'll hit showrooms in 2008, but the rockers being moved inward could be a problem on a production car. "We haven't wind-tunnel tested the car," says Castiglione. "But the tucked-in rocker section probably causes some turbulence. Still, if people really like this section, we'll find a way to make it work," he adds with a smile. As red hot as the retro-styled Ford Mustang is right now, you bet they'll make it work. We can't wait to see the convertible. Some of Castiglione's earliest LX coupe sketches, the one on the left closely resembles a two-door version of the new Charger R/T. The drawing on the right was done before it was decided to make the car a Challenger. Notice how much the taillights resemble the taillights of a 1973 Challenger. Also notice the Plymouth Barracuda bumperettes and the Super Bee graphics. For awhile the car was going to be painted purple, similar to the Plum Crazy Challenger used for inspiration. Final design sketch by Alan Barrington. At first the car was going to be a convertible, but designer Michael Castiglione fought to make the car a coupe. He felt the Challenger's unique roofline was important to define the car.