Report by Rick Carey, Auction Editor
As good a car as you could ask for.
392 cubic inch 470hp @ 6,000 rpm, 470 lb-ft torque @ 4,200 rpm hemispherical head V-8, 5-speed paddle shift, auto-stick automatic transmission, 3.06:1 limited slip (Dodge used to call it Sure-Grip) rear axle, 20 inch 244, 255/45 ‘3-season’ Goodyear tires, power steering, power Brembo disc brakes, two-mode adaptive suspension and engine management, 115 inch wheelbase. Four surprisingly commodious seats and all the bells and whistles imaginable (except navigation).
The 16-speaker Premium Sound Group was superfluous. The only sound system this Challenger needed was the earthquake-like rumble from its exhaust above about half throttle. It awoke like a bear after hibernation, grumbling to gobble up road after miles of starvation.
LAX to Monterey is one of the best ways to test any car, even starting out on a hot Sunday afternoon driving through the crowds of surfers cruising PCH in Santa Monica and Malibu. The Header Orange Challenger stayed cool – in more ways than temperature. Above Oxnard PCH becomes 8-, then 6- then 4-lanes, but the best lies ahead. Over the hills to Lompoc California 1 gives way to two-lane through the hills above Vandenberg AFB and the fields of Guadalupe.
The Challenger is in its own on 2-lane, seeking dotted centerlines like a missile and sweeping past slower traffic in lunges that validate CAL DOT’s decision not to keep all traffic in line behind formation.
Above San Simeon and Hearst Castle the road gets complicated and the Challenger revealed its best side: clicked into Sport mode the shift points go up, the shocks get stiffer and the whole car tightens up, turning in sharply on its Goodyears and charging out of corners smoothly, but always controllably.
I’ve made some memorable trips from Morro Bay to Carmel and back. This was one of the best. The Challenger was crisp and balanced, not the over-engined leaden lump of its heritage with a big cast iron V-8 in a challenged (not Challenger) chassis.
My 11-year old granddaughter twice asked to be driven to school in ‘the Orange Hot Rod’, an important endorsement.
We dropped three people in the Challenger for a drive to dinner (one of the few nights when dinner is possible during the Monterey madness) and the 6-footer in the back commented with amazement on the rear legroom. The front seats fold fully forward for rear seat access. They’re comfortable, with sufficient side support but easy to get in and out of, even for an old guy.
Fuel mileage? Uh, who cares? I put premium in it in order not to compromise its performance and didn’t care. An anti-knock sensor retarding ignition timing when pulling out to pass three or four cars in a one-car long passing zone would defeat the purpose of this heavy hammer with its earthquake-temblor tuned exhaust. It could have been fueled with Regular in its last stop in Carpenteria, but that might have spoiled it for the next lucky driver.
The Challenger is full of nifty, subtle tweaks. There’s a hill-hold that keeps it from rolling back on steep upgrades (useful around Monterey and on Pebble Beach’s 17 Mile Drive). Keyless entry and starting is surpassingly convenient when running from auction to auction to car show at Monterey. It’s terribly geeky, but attach the key module to a belt loop with an S-biner and it never has to leave: approach the car, touch the door handle and it unlocks; sit down, belt in and touch the start button. That’s it, you’re off.
The brakes? Did I mention the Brembos? They’re fabulous, converting kinetic energy to heat even faster than the 6.4 Hemi and the 5-speed box convert gasoline to velocity.
The Challenger SRT8 package is state-of-the-art, an exemplar of how far automobiles have come in the last few years. It doesn’t do everything well (trips to Lowe’s for 2x4s are not recommended) but for getting down the highway – 6-lane, 4-lane and particularly 2-lane – it leaves nothing to be desired.
It looks good, too.
And it sounds like the San Andreas Fault coming unhinged.
Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 – Additional Photos
[Source: Rick Carey; Chrysler]