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1 of 50: 1971 Dodge Challenger Indy 500

Since 1911, every Indianapolis 500 has used one or more pace cars for the event. In 1971, the new Dodge Challenger was chosen for that honor. 50 “festival” replicas were made for use in and around the event, but not as actual pace cars. This 1971 Challenger is one of those festival cars and been mechanically restored, but the body is not perfect. The car resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is available here on eBay where the bidding has reached $35,300, but the reserve has not been met.

The Challenger was Dodge’s entry into the pony car wars, but they waited until 1970 to pull the trigger. The new Challenger shared its platform with the Plymouth Barracuda, although little sheet metal. The car was well-received and sold nearly 77,000 copies its first year, yet that number decreased to just 27,000 the following year. The car was little changed for 1971, so the decline in sales may be contributed to a maturing market for the pony car where everyone saw fewer sales compared to the heyday of the late 1960s. Just 1,774 Challenger convertibles with V-8 engines were built in ‘71, which would have included the 50 “festival” cars produced for Indy.

Most of the actual Indy pace cars are given to race winners, complete with all the special equipment needed to pace the race, such as flashing lights. Replicas are often either made for use as festival cars used during race week and others for sale at dealerships. The seller’s car is listed in Govier’s Report and pace car registry as one of 50 festival cars. Unrelated to this particular car is that its on-track clone was driven by the local Dodge dealer and was involved in a crash where he ran into a photographer’s stand at the south end of the pit area, injuring several persons. Professional drivers took on that job after this incident.

The 1971 Challenger Indy 500 cars were convertibles painted in Hemi Orange with white tops and interiors. According to the door tag, this car was built in February 1971 and the exterior reflects nearly 50 years of use. In other words, it’s not perfect or restored. There is the presence of rust, at least inside the trunk. The paint has faded a great deal and there is one small crunch on the left front fender right by the headlights. The chrome also appears to be showing its age. You could leave it all as-is or engage in an exterior restoration, but they’re only original once. On the other hand, the interior and convertible top look practically flawless as they have been refreshed. That includes a new top, upholstery, and carpeting.

We’re told that much of the numbers-matching car has been mechanically made new again. The engine and automatic transmission have both been professionally rebuilt, although there is no statement of mileage for the car. That work was extended to the front suspension, steering, and shock absorbers and the tires are also new. The 318 V-8 is listed in the ad as being a 4-barrel although a 2-barrel was what should have come from the factory. The seller says that many of the replaced original parts were saved and come with the sale. It’s said to a great driving automobile.

The claims on originality can be verified in part by the build sheet, fender tag, and Govier’s Report. Interesting that the fender tag, which is painted Hemi Orange, has relatively new unpainted screws holding it on. Challengers still command good prices and Hagerty pegs a really sound one at around where this car has been bid up to so far. Convertibles would add more, and the rarity of the festival pace car might add to it, but the body damage would be a reduction. It will be interesting to see what the reserve was set for when the auction has concluded.


  1. Arthell64 Member

    A wise car owner. Enjoy car spend very little money on it and when it needs a full restoration sell it for a premium price. Smart seller.

    Like 24
  2. jerry z

    That’s not the one that crashed? Sorry couldn’t help myself!

    Like 6
    • PetertheGreat

      No… that one was totalled from what I understand, but that the first thing that came to mind. I had a 1970 big block at the time and as fast as the cars were… you couldn’t stop the damnthings with the standard drum brakes. When I saw the car leave the track, I told my girlfriend… “No way they stop that thing!” And, they didn’t and gave sports anouncer Chris Shenkel the ride of his life. He switched to covering bowling after that!! Lol!!

      Like 10
      • Tom B

        No, the actual ‘71 pace car – the one that crashed – was restored by the pace car driver’s Dodge dealership, and was sold to a private collector. It’s gorgeous.

        Like 2
  3. KEVIN

    look out! It’s Eldon Palmer behind the wheel. Run for your lives.

    Like 4
  4. William

    I think the 1971s were the prettiest of the four years they were made. Like the front and rear end treatments. Question, was 1971 the year the 318 here was made to use unleaded gas, or was that 1972?

    Like 3
  5. J W

    That year the cars were not provided by the manufacturer, the local dealers provided the cars, the one that crashed was 383 equipped, however the optional disc brakes weren’t selected. Imagine trying to haul that car down on drums. The crashed car has been through one repair, and then was restored a few years ago.

    Like 4
    • PetertheGreat

      Yup!! Had a 1970 at the time!! All drums! Few came with disc brakes on the lots. When the brakes got hot the right rear had a habit of locking up on mine. These cars had too much power for drum brakes! Loved mine but panic stopping was not an option.

      Like 1
      • Dave

        We are spoiled now because disc brakes are standard on pretty much everything. You even see them on bicycles. But 50 years ago…
        Disc brakes and seat belts earned you an increased insurance premium because the companies viewed them not as safety equipment but as racing equipment. The 1966 Delta 88 four door came with seat belts and my father was livid at the upcharge.

        Like 5
  6. KEVIN

    I have to take issue with your statement “Professional drivers took on that job after this incident.” Elaine Mellencamp, Jim Caviezel, Morgan Freeman, Robin Roberts Victor Oladipo and Jim Harbaugh are not professional drivers.

    Like 6
    • jim

      Professional drivers took over the pace car duties after this point. Celebrities still led parade laps before the race.
      To start the race and yellow laps are by a professional driver.

      Like 5
      • KEVIN

        Eldon Palmer was behind the wheel on the parade lap in 1971

        Like 1
  7. Charles Sawka

    Oh quit pickin, pretty much any old Challenger is worth restoring regardless of so called provenance and matching numbers.

    Like 10
  8. Howard A Member

    It’s great to get a chuckle after “Google News”. That was one of the most classic screwups of all time. I’ve watched that video over and over, and drum brakes or not, he had plenty of time to slow down, I thought, maybe, trying to stay ahead of the Indy cars, which don’t look like they are going very fast, but I bet ol’ Eldon had his foot to floor, and the throttle stuck. I think the biggest irony of it all, was freakin’ John Glenn , the 1st pioneer around the world in space, was in that car. Oh, nice car, btw.

    Like 3
  9. K Gun Offense

    The original pace car in the crash was restored by Eldon Palmer at his dealership. Usually the pace car to start the race is given to the winner along with flags and other memorabilia. Since Palmer wrecked this car, Al Unser the race winner was given a yellow Charger with a black interior. Palmer kept the Challenger Pace car and fixed it. In 2006, a man named Steven Gage approached Palmer and bought the Challenger for $200,000. He has a museum that he keeps the car in. He also bought the 2 backup pace cars for the race and also the pace car that the beauty pageant Queen rode in. If that is not enough, he later on bought the Yellow Charger given to Al Unser for winning that Indianapilis 500. Gage does show the pace car at shows from time to time. As far as this car for sale, me personally am not spending 30 plus grand for a 318 car. That’s fine if that is what you like just not for me. I prefer a 383 or bigger but I might even be ok with a 340. 318 is a great motor without a doubt, just growing up Mopar and being a Mopar guy, nothing more exciting than driving one of those big blocks to get my juices flowing!! Nice car though but definitely needs to have the rust fixed before it becomes cancerous and a new paint job and re stripe!! The paint has seen better days. The rust underneath shows you it is time to fix it it before it’s too late!!

    Like 5
    • Rich

      I agree.
      Without the goofy pace car graphics, this was just another old MOPAR that would have ended up being a secretary’s car. I had one of these with the 318, not a lot to write home about.
      the 318 was not a powerful engine, especially when in a heavy vehicle like this. BTW, the body trim down the sides was put on in the “old” way. Lots of holes under that chrome/black rub strip. I can almost see the rust trying to escape from underneath. The convertible top makes this a possible collector car, the goofy pace car lettering, not so much.

      Like 2
  10. Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

    In late 1980s one of these was in a Fort Wayne sale paper for $4500, seller said he would have the car at his house next day, called back and it was next day for 3 days. Then response was a buddy was taking him to pick it up from storage, but buddy wanted to buy the car. Saw it at a gas station later on, was in better shape than this one, I always offer a ride to sellers now.

    Like 2
  11. Desert Rat

    I think we need to give Eldon Palmer some what a brake (no pun intended) for his driving mishap. I read some where that when he practice his laps before the race there was a safety cone place at a certain spot on the pit road where he was to start braking and stop the car with no problems. It seems that the cone was moved for some reason when the race started so when Eldon came into pit road he had no marker as to where to start his braking he became confused and braked too late. I feel sorry for the guy can think how embarrassed and bad he felt? Wrecking in front of all the car people, the racers at that event and on national TV and worse of all almost killing some people. Man ,talk about having a bad day.

    Like 5
  12. Jan burger

    Citron yellow 383 magnum, black vinyl top, black interior, double black side swipes with RT, hood scoups with 383 magnum letters, rubber bumper front and back, red line tires, slap stick, automatic, am radio, no a/c. What a car!

  13. Doug Scott

    My old Mopar is even worse to stop. It’s a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner 440 engine with 11X3 4 wheel MANUAL drum brakes and sometimes I feel that I should use my 12 wide and drag it like Fred Flintstone.

  14. JoeNYWF64

    Why would a pace car replica come with a 318? Or the actual one with a 383? Why not a 440 or at least 340 to promote either motor? & have a power reserve on the track.
    The fender tag apprarently proves this is 1 of the real pace cars.
    But it seems odd tho that a 1st gen RS option camaro can not be authenticated with a factory tag.
    Those pace decals don’t look all that exotic to reproduce & slap on any ’71 orange convertible. Can i assume there are phonies out there?

    • Tom B.

      Eldon Palmer gave a VIN list of the 1971 Indianapolis 500 Challengers to Gene Piurkowski.
      This car is on that VIN list. Not a clone.
      For reasons only the four Indy-area Dodge dealers knew, the only engines they ordered for Indy cars were 318s, 340s, 383s (2-bbl and 4-bbl). The two pace cars had 383 4-bbls.
      I own one of the 383 2-bbls.

      Like 4
    • MoPar Mike

      440 was not available in a 71 Challenger convertible. It was only available in the R/T which was no longer available on convertibles after 1970.

  15. Poncho

    So nobody else addressed the elephant in the room…The screws holding the VIN tag on. For a car that is in original condition and unrestored, why remove and reinstall VIN tag? So really, we know that the VIN tag is from a pace car, and not necessarily the car.

    Like 1
    • Tom

      It actually looks like the tag is a different color too, when you zoom in.

    • Steve Volla

      There’s core support numbers, cowl numbers the vin and the door tag would all match the last vin numbers of the fendertag. Pretty sure it’s the original car.

  16. Crash Cargo
  17. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Wow, a 1 of 50 pace car E body convertible that doesn’t have a 6 figure price tag and not yet rusted to the ground.


    Like 1
  18. Art Thorson

    My first car was.a 1970 Dodge Challenger. I was 18 and bought it for 900 dollars in 1978. It came with a 3 speed manual 318. I had ET slotted mags…. 78’s on the front and 50’s on the back. Gave it a little dragster look. Subtle gold metal flake and white landau roof with a stock sun roof. Hijackers and trans and rear axle painted white. Great looking going down the road. It was quick of the line but faded at the top. Imagine the sunroof made it quite rare. Wish I still had it!
    Art Thorson

    Like 1

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