Challenger takes us back to the muscle-car era

2008 dodge challenger 2It’s rare that we journalists get to drive one of the bright and shiny concept cars we see at the big auto shows. Hand-built by artisans who spend months meticulously forming the body panels and interiors, the cars of the future are  normally off limits to journalists. These priceless vehicles tantalize us from afar, sitting behind their velvet ropes under glimmering lights.

When the folks at DaimlerChrysler called to offer a first exclusive drive of  two of their hot concepts fresh off the displays at Detroit’s International Auto  Show, I jumped at the once-in-a-lifetime chance.

You may remember that two of DaimlerChrysler’s show-stopping creations offered polar opposite ideas of what our future cars might become. One, the Chrysler Imperial is elegant and refined. The other, the Dodge Challenger, harkens back to the muscle-car era of the late ’60s and early ’70s with brute power. We will cover the elegant Imperial in another article. Today, I am going to give you the low-down on the Challenger since between the two vehicles, this bright orange modern-day muscle car has a better chance of hitting our streets as a production car.

Having a more than obvious resemblance to the original Challenger, the concept car offers an up-to-date view of the previous design. Pinned at Chrysler Group’s West Coast Pacifica Studio, the Dodge Challenger looks like a vehicle you might see at the local hot rod show. This translates to a good possibility that the car actually may be offered in Dodge showrooms in a few years. Judging by the overwhelming approval the folks in Detroit have received, I would be surprised, not to mention disappointed, not to see this car hit production.

2009 dodge challenger 1The Challenger is sleek and aggressive in appearance. Dressed in bright  Orange Pearl paint, the Challenger looks like the sun is rising around every  corner. The carbon-fiber hood shows off racing stripes. Carrying over the look  are two large and functional diagonal scoops complete with butterfly intakes  that rush air into the massive and capable Hemi engine.

Climbing behind the wheel of the concept car is a procedure in itself. Each  concept car has a handler who has lived with the car practically 24/7 since its  emergence from the studio. Ensconced in the driver’s seat, he tells me to close  the door carefully and that this car is worth many hundreds of thousands of  dollars more than I will see in my lifetime.

I turn the key and the 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 roars to life. The rumbling exhaust  tone takes me back to 1970 and the earth-shaking days of racing down the highway  in an original Dodge Challenger. However, the interior is more attractive.  Although the pistol-grip shifter is similar, the 6-speed manual is not. The  gearbox slides between gears differently from what I remember about the original  transmission, which had to be finessed into the next gear.

2009 dodge challengerThough I wasn’t allowed to use the on-board telemetry and take the concept  through a timed quarter-mile test, I could tell it would have been impressive  even with its high price tag. In second gear, I goosed the throttle just a touch  and felt the big rear drive tires bite into asphalt, unleashing 425 horses, and  the orange beast leapt for the finish line. I also received a stern look from my  passenger.

For show purposes, the suspension is locked down to achieve the look needed  on the turntable. In real life, it would be more compliant, yet firm, to handle  the rigors of muscle car life.

With all of the modern styling that has gone into the Challenger, the  designers have retained plenty of the original genetic material to make this a  superior vehicle. Even the front seats are more comfortable while holding you in  place.

Should DaimlerChrysler build the new Challenger? Without a doubt!

We can only hope they hear us journalists hyperventilating all the way back  in Michigan.

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