Mopar Muscle - - Contents -

Our teenage

son re­cently turned 15 and, as it turns out, also has a strong in­ter­est in Mopars. Gee, I won­der where that came from? So af­ter we took him to his fa­vorite bar­be­cue restau­rant for din­ner, he asked me if just he and I could stop by the neigh­bor­hood Dodge dealer to check out the new cars. Of course at the top of his list was the new Dodge De­mon, but he also likes the stan­dard-is­sue Chal­lengers, Charg­ers, R/TS, Hell­cats, and even some Chryslers.

When we ar­rived at the deal­er­ship, a very nice 20-some­thing-year-old sales­man greeted us and showed us all the de­tails of each model. While we were look­ing at the new cars, I re­al­ized I’m also old enough to re­mem­ber when the first round of Chal­lengers hit the show­rooms in the ’70s. Early on, the well-op­tioned Chal­lengers had some fairly high horse­power of­fer­ings for the time pe­riod. In 1970, a 440 Mag­num was rated at 375 hp, a 440 Six Pack was rated at 390 hp, and the 426 Hemi was rated at 425 hp. To­day, these and many other Mopars con­tinue to be highly cher­ished. Then, within a few short years, the per­for­mance and power lev­els dropped by about half to a lack­lus­ter level. Wow, what a shock that was. Back then, auto en­thu­si­asts were con­vinced that we had seen the last of the high-per­for­mance car era.

Now fast-for­ward a few decades and high-per­for­mance cars are not only back, but they also have way more per­for­mance and even get very de­cent fuel econ­omy. A 3.6L V-6 in to­day’s Chal­lenger can pro­duce 305 hp — more than twice what a new ’74 Chal­lenger with a 318 V-8 could muster. And a cur­rent model Chal­lenger with a 392 Hemi will cover the quar­ter­mile in the 12-sec­ond range

— with the air con­di­tion­ing run­ning.

At the deal­er­ship, my son im­me­di­ately found a wellop­tioned red Hemi Chal­lenger near the show­room with an au­to­matic and lots of per­for­mance op­tions. Although early on I ad­vised the sales­man that we were “just look­ing,” he asked if we’d like a test­drive. From the look on my son’s face, I sur­mised he was vi­su­al­iz­ing own­ing a new Chal­lenger by his 16th birth­day and park­ing next to his friend’s ’01 four-door Ac­cord at his high school.

When the sales­man came out with the keys to a De­stroyer Grey Hemi Chal­lenger, he said, “I have some bad news. This is the only Chal­lenger we can use on a test­drive, and it has a man­ual trans­mis­sion. You prob­a­bly don’t know how to drive a stick shift, do you?” I didn’t know how to re­ply po­litely. I learned how to drive with a man­ual trans­mis­sion when I was 12 or 13. I’ve owned more than a dozen cars with man­ual trans­mis­sions and have changed prob­a­bly about 50 to 100 clutches in my life­time. Plus, I’ve prob­a­bly driven and/or raced over 200 cars in my life­time with three-, four-, five-, and six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sions. How­ever, I replied that I was sure I’d eas­ily be able to drive the car with its man­ual trans­mis­sion on a test­drive.

The young sales­man then dis­closed he didn’t know how to drive a man­ual trans­mis­sion, and I’d need to first pull the car off the lot — as long as I was com­fort­able do­ing that. Again, I agreed. So in a dark cor­ner of the lot, with lots of cars tightly parked to­gether that even­ing, we piled into the car, and he handed me the keys.

As I set­tled into the seat, I no­ticed the front and back win­dows were cov­ered with lots of writ­ing and add-on stick­ers, min­i­miz­ing the night­time vis­i­bil­ity. And each seat had clear plastic ship­ping cov­ers pro­trud­ing and par­tially block­ing the rearview. So I took the keys, pushed the clutch pedal to the floor, started the Hemi en­gine, and put the shifter into re­verse. Then, be­fore re­leas­ing the clutch pedal I thought to my­self, now watch me start to back up and stall the en­gine in front of ev­ery­one, and then have to restart the en­gine and try again. Gosh, I hope that doesn’t hap­pen. So at that mo­ment I just thought, con­cen­trate, con­cen­trate. I pulled the clutch pedal slowly up and ap­plied some throt­tle. The Chal­lenger ef­fort­lessly moved rear­ward out of the space with­out stalling. I pulled for­ward out to the street and drove off shift­ing through the gears. I felt like a teenager on his birth­day!

… a cur­rent model Chal­lenger with a 392 Hemi will cover the quar­ter-mile in the 12-sec­ond range — with the air con­di­tion­ing run­ning.

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