The first Dodge Challenger was introduced way back in the fall of 1969, as a 1970 model. I was a freshman at the University of Iowa at the time. My early and late teenage years fell smack dab in the middle of the muscle car era. From the first Pontiac GTO in 1963 to the end of the oil crisis in 1975, I was there.
|1. 425 Horsepower HEMI V8 shared with Chrysler’s other SRT8 products
2. Retro styling hides the extra bulk. This new Challenger is much larger than the 1970’s model.
3. EPA fuel economy listed at 14/22-mpg (city/hwy).
4. Platform due to be phased out soon with new versions of Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. More powerful and efficient 6.4L V8 planned for 2011.
Now don’t get me wrong; by saying I was right in the middle of it, I don’t want to imply that I actually owned any of those magnificent cars. They were out of reach price-wise for me, but the automotive magazines that plastered them all over the covers were not. I was pretty well schooled in the numbers, and specs, and while I couldn’t afford one, I lived in an affluent area and had several friends who could.
LIMITED EDITION PAINT SCHEMES REFRESHINGLY RETRO
Now let’s flash forward 40 years. Dodge has introduced the limited-edition Challenger SRT8, with the Hemi engine in Furious Fuchsia paint scheme, which instantly reminded me of the “high impact heritage paint” hues from my youth. Other highlights include 20-inch SRT forged aluminum wheels, a serialized dash plaque, white leather SRT performance seats and retro chrome quad exhaust tips. For a guy my age, that’s like 4-wheel Viagra. Just looking at it makes you stand up straight.
There isn’t much new and different between the 2009 and 2010 Challenger SRT8 models, and that’s OK, because the ’09 model was absolutely outstanding. And while the exterior styling and proportions of the Challenger with the long hood, and short rear deck are quite reminiscent of the original from 40 years ago, the interior is not. It’s modern(ish) looking with just a few retro touches like the big round dials trimmed in chrome, with white faces and black numerals. The heating and air controls on the center stack use three large round dials. I suppose you can call that retro, but I prefer to call it sensible and easy to use. And of course the navigation screen on the center stack wasn’t even a dream 40 years ago.
Last year I wrote that I was a bit disappointed with the interior, in that it didn’t have enough pizzazz. Well with the Limited Edition’s accents, pizzazz is no longer an issue, and most importantly, the seats are very supportive and all day comfortable. The rear passengers will also find themselves in a comfortable space once they squeeze past the limited opening to get back there.
And while you wouldn’t think by looking on the outside, the trunk is surprisingly large, easily capable of storing two sets of golf clubs or plenty of luggage, and with the rear seats folded forward, long items like skis can fit easily. There’s a lot more cargo utility than you’ll get with a Mustang or Camaro.
HEMI V8, PLUS IN-CAR TELEMETRY TO TEST YOUR ¼-MILE
But you don’t buy an SRT8 for its trunk space, comfortable seats, or navigation system. You buy it for its power, and its ability to put a smile on your face. And that smile begins the second you turn the motor over. The Challenger’s 6.1-liter Hemi engine jumps to life and settles into a low powerful burble. Blip the throttle a few times and you get some tingles down your back, as the car lets you know it’s ready to rock and roll when you are.
Depress the stiff clutch, move the 6-speed pistol grip shifter into first, ease out the clutch as you feather in some throttle, and Houston, we have lift-off! The car lunges forward while the sound that 425 horses make as they all try to get into a gallop is just delightful. The 420 ft-lbs of torque makes the G forces on your chest feel heavy, and if you were counting, you’d have noted that hitting the 60 mile per hour line on the speedometer after only one shift into second gear, happened in less than 5 seconds.
Not wanting to attract the wrath of the local police, I quickly move my right foot to the brake pedal, where the huge vented Brembo units haul the SRT8 down from speed quickly. Chrysler claims it only takes 110 feet to stop the vehicle from 60 miles per hour, the best numbers in its class. Don’t believe it? Test for yourself using the Performance Pages Display located below the speedometer that will let you clock your own 1/8th and ¼ mile times, 0-60 mph times and stopping distances. It’ll even tell you the G-forces.
After a few more tire chirping launches (I had to make sure that the “Sure-Grip Differential” worked, didn’t I?) it was time to find a road that had a few turns in it. Once there, I immediately recognized the biggest difference between the 1970 model and the 2010 Challenger. The Dodge boys meant for this one to actually turn corners. Yes the 40 year old models could run away from a stoplight like a scalded cat, but once the road turned, driving that old beast was chore, and you learned early to scrub off a lot of speed before you entered the corner on the relatively narrow bias ply tires.
CLASSIC PACKAGE DELIVERS MODERN DRIVE
The current Challenger handles quite nicely, with a firm suspension that means flat cornering, but compliant enough to handle potholes, pavement cracks and seams with composure. Go over railroad tracks in the 1970’s versions, and you thought each of the 4 wheels were going in a different direction, and it took about 10 seconds for all the shaking and shimmying to stop. This new Challenger felt like it was chiseled out of a single block of steel – solid, with no annoying rattles or squeaks. It won’t dance through a chicane like the Mustang will, but considering its size and weight, the Challenger is impressive.
Steering feels neutral, and side-to-side transitions are nicely balanced. Aggressive cornering doesn’t require mid-corner corrections, and the grip from the 245/45/20 all-season performance Goodyear’s is impressive. And if you get in over your head, Electronic Stability Control is there to help out. Back in the 70’s, it usually meant a long walk to a farmer’s house, to ask him if he’d be willing to use his tractor and a strong rope to get you out of the roadside ditch.
The ‘70s car was louder, less refined, and felt more violent in putting the power to the pavement. Still, despite the modern touches, the 2010 Dodge Challenger is intricately linked to its past. The current Mustang and Camaro – both outstanding cars with excellent power statistics – are so much more civilized than their classic counterparts that it’s barely worth mentioning their heritage.
The Challenger however, has a retro “attitude” that the Mustang and Camaro don’t. You could invite the Mustang and Camaro to a party at the Country Club and expect them to show up in a shirt with a collar, but the Challenger would just barge in, and bring three guys in black leather jackets, too.
But what really makes the new Challenger worth its base price of $44,495, (for the special Furious Fuchsia edition) is fact that you can enjoy this car on your favorite stretch of twisites too. The SRT8 is a complete package, not just a one trick pony of straight line acceleration.
So, for older guys like me, looking to recapture some of their youthful remembrances of the cars they owned, or ones they could only dream of at the time, the new Challenger SRT8 can help them revive memories of times gone by. But for younger drivers who never got to experience what a truly powerful big Hemi V8 was like in those golden era days, and who can’t afford the $100,000 and up price tags for originals, this is the best way to get a good taste of what their father’s experienced back in the day. And this new Challenger will still turn heads at the local burger joint on summer cruise nights – especially in some in one of the wild limited edition colors!
Lots of cars can boast of breathtaking performance, but few can boast of such a unique feeling while experiencing that performance. The Challenger SRT8 is just more fun to drive than so many other great cars. And with all the automotive headlines lately being about recalls and sticking gas pedals, or fuel economy, and alternative power sources, it’s just refreshing to drive a car that is just all about pure driving fun. The only thing that Dodge could do to make this more fun would be to build a Challenger ragtop.