Friday, 22 August 2008

Dodge Challenger SRT

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. The hordes of revivalists, aficionados, backstreet spanner jockeys and fabrication geniuses that keep a steady supply of refreshed retro metal on the roads are testament to the enthusiasm with which we view the history of all areas of automotive design; from humble Allegros and 2CVs to stratospherically unobtainable works-built rally cars, every corner of the scene has a devoted following. Manufacturers haven’t failed to notice this and, of course, the revival of classic marques is a practice that’s been growing in prevalence for the last decade or so.

Sometimes they hit, sometimes they miss. You can’t deny the success of the new Mini as both urban runabout and credible track car, and the Mustang revival has certainly undone a lot of the negatives brought forth by, for example, the old Mustang II by cleverly blending modern aggression with classically mischievous styling cues. (Sure, it gets all confused when you try to drive it round a corner, but it’s American - they all do that.) The new VW Scirocco looks to be a winner, as do Fiat’s Panda and 500. Conversely, the revived Thunderbird seemed to stagger into the desert with an arrow in its back, while VeeDub’s reworking of the Beetle was a cynical styling exercise at best, with few sensible people choosing to buy what was basically just a less-practical Golf.

So where will the new Dodge Challenger fit into this spectrum? Well, hopefully it’ll be sitting somewhere around Mustang territory. Although this may be rather less than objective as I really just want it succeed. You see, I’m in love with the new Challenger. Actually properly in love with it.

For starters, just look at it. It’s very rare to find a car that you can’t find a single fault with - Ferrari 308 GTB, Lamborghini Miura, mkI Ford Cortina, Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, that’s about it – but the Dodge is so achingly, jaw-droppingly beautiful, so perfectly crafted, that it’s genuinely hard to look away. It’s like an ocular vacuum, it sucks your gaze right in. The front end acts as a solid statement of intent, seemingly designed specifically to look intimidating when spied looming in a rear-view mirror. Admit it, it’d be a reflex action to move over, right? The side-view offers a sumptuously flowing classic coupe silhouette, the wide hips giving a nod to its predecessor, while the mammoth 20” five-spoke alloys bring the profile cleanly up to date. As for the rear… well, it’s pure sixties traffic-light hero, isn’t it?

There’s extremely good news under the bonnet. The evocative Hemi name sprawls across the cam covers like a menacing promise of imminent annihilation; anything less than a V8 in a car dripping in as much drag strip heritage as this would be tantamount to sacrilege, so the 6.1-litre Hemi certainly doesn’t disappoint. It churns out an unstressed 425bhp – the same amount as a Formula Renault racer, for example, or an Audi RS4 or a Prodrive Aston Martin V8 Vantage – and 420lb.ft of torque, which is roughly enough to twist a Detroit drag strip into an attractive double-helix. The legacy of the classic Hemi is echoed in myriad styling cues throughout the car; the fuel filler cap, for example is a work of chromed art. The full-width tail lights are extremely sixties, and the snarling air intakes in the bonnet are pure retro mopar.

All of these glorious revivals are melded with some essential modern advances, with the 2009 model year SRT coming equipped with a six-speed manual ‘box and a limited slip differential. Everything – everything – about this car is absolutely spot-on. And you know what the most exciting thing is? The new Dodge Challenger retails for $40,000 in the domestic market. With current exchange rates you could have a shiny new one imported, SVA’ed and sitting on your UK driveway for around £25,000. Which is a fucking bargain. Furthermore, a quick Googling shows this sum to be approximately the same market value as one of my kidneys. I’ve got some serious thinking to do…

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