When I arrived in America and got settled I wanted a car. An American car, because that’s what you do when you move to a new country – you immerse yourself in its culture and try to understand what makes it tick. If you like cars then the most obvious aspect of American car culture is of course the muscle car, and as far as I’m concerned the Dodge Challenger is the only true muscle car in current production.
People can bang on about the dictionary or technical definition of a muscle car being a “two door American car with a V8” all they want, but if someone lives by technical definitions then they either have no soul or they’re fifteen years old and everything they know about cars is built upon the base opinions of the internet.
As far as I’m concerned a muscle car is this:
A bad ass car affordable to blue collar workers, values power over handling, looks cool as it eats up the miles on a road trip and has room for adults to be comfortable. Also enough room in the trunk for two dead bodies and a couple of shovels so you and that friend from the memes can go bury the bodies in the desert if the bad ass part goes horribly wrong.
All of that the Challenger is. The ride-o-meter is leaning a little more towards a truck than a sports car and there’s no genuine track pretension here as this is pure road car. When confronted the Challenger replies “Oh, you can do the Nurburgring in under eight minutes? That’s nice. What’s a Nurburgring?”.
The Challenger is not a car you take to track day, this is the car you load up with friends, chairs, food and drink then road trip to watch stock cars at the track for the day. This car isn’t competing with the Mustang, this is the car that makes the Mustang look like America’s Miata.
The muscle car is meant to be a simple bad ass car and the Challenger R/T is at it’s core a bad ass engine in a bad ass looking car. I mean… look at it. The front missed the class on aerodynamics because it was making out with the principles daughter underneath the bleachers. The rear of the car has only the lines necessary to show the definition of it’s muscles, and the rear light clusters know that the technology exists for novelty lighting arrangements but all they still need to do is show the brakes are on, indicate an intended direction and glow white when reversing. It doesn’t have any single overstated design element yet over all it’s the pure statement of “I am a muscle car!”.
When companies do that whole retro thing they tend to go with subtle cues and nods to the original styling where it doesn’t effect aerodynamics or date the car. Somehow Dodge managed to say “screw that” and paid true homage to the old school muscle car by laying out a slab of pure Billy Bad Ass.
But therein lies the problem. When a car outwardly makes a statement like “I’m a badass” it then attracts the sort of person that needs to make the statement “look at me I’m a badass”. Now, I’ve grown up in places full of real bad asses. In my experience the guy who has to tell you he is a bad ass isn’t a true bad ass. He might be an ass who’s done bad things, but unless you’re unwise enough to be the woman going on a date with him then he’s just a bundle of “come at me bro’”.
That’s a real shame for this car, because this is a bad ass car that has no control over who buys it. It’s not perfect, but the one I drove gave me an excellent idea of who it’s really for, and if I didn’t want something that handled corners in the back roads it would certainly be for me.
The suspension did actually surprise me as I wasn’t expecting it roll around like it did. Once out on the open road though you realise why the suspension is a little soft. Allow the relentless push of the Hemi V8 to build up to mostly legal cruising speeds and there you are; burbling along eating up the bumps on the crappy California road. The interior is a little on the cheap side and that’s fine because it’s a realistically attainably priced muscle car for someone that really wants one. It has no pretensions of luxury but car is comfortable enough to make a real road trip without having to stop every forty five minutes to stretch, bang a Monster energy drink and flex the tribal bicep tattoos before getting back in.
Damnit. I did it didn’t I? I put the stereotype in the car. That was cheap. Let me try again.
The seats and the suspension are comfortable enough to make a real road trip without having to stop every forty five minutes to stretch out the back muscles and pop a Cialis before climbing back in, checking you have just the right of grey hair before looking deep into the eyes of your hot middle aged wife whose idea of romance is separate bath tubs outdoors and under a sunset.
For those of us out of their twenties and under fifty years of age with a bit of disposable income this can be the perfect beast. It’s a big nod to the old school and reminds us of our fathers and/or grandfathers that worked on their own cars at the weekend and would approve of this big slice of Americana done right. It sounds as good as it moves, it’s not scary fast but it’ll put a grin on your face every time you plant the pedal in the utilitarian carpet. Every car guy or girl you pass will take a good look knowing that’s a great car even though they would never buy one. Every old boy at the gas station glances with admiration, and every kid stares because even if you know nothing about cars… that size, shape and noise says it means business and speaks primally to the psyche. Women subject to bored cliche will judge you negatively, but either you have a tribal bicep tattoo and no self awareness or you simply don’t care because this is a bad ass car that’s perfect for you and what you do.
If you’re female, then driving one of these will get you the maximum amount of male attention short of a prison visit. You’re going to get judged in the same amounts as a guy but in very different ways. Some good, some bad and some I wish it was legal to stab sexist morons in the eye with a nail file.
As far as I can tell this car wouldn’t work in any other country except Australia. It needs big roads to make sense and a chunk of culture that will defend the V8 until the last drops of petrol run out. Yet still it’s hard to believe a car like this exists in a time where cars are held up to the world market and irrelevant times around a track in a different country.
It’s a car unapologetically built for a smaller demographic instead of for as many demographics as it can catch. This is America’s one true current production muscle car. Drive one before it’s too late.