By John Lamm
Hang on, we’re about to burst some bubbles.
They contain some pony cars and their bursting demands a bit of Then and Now explanation.
Then: As a young editor at Motor Trend magazine, I helped test all the pony cars. Overall they ranked Camaro (king is the 1969 Z/28), Mustang, Trans-Am, Javalin, Challenger and Barracuda.
Sorry Mopar guys. Truth hurts.
Yes, the Chrysler cars were fast for their time, a 1970 Challenger with the 426 Hemi able to get to 60 in 6.3 seconds. Floor a 440 Six Pack and those 490 lb-ft of torque felt like they would crank you over a half lane. Great styling too. Fondly recall Sam Posey under heaving braking for Turn 5 at Road America in 1970, headed for 3rd place in the Trans Am race with a lime green Challenger. Good memories.
But the rest of the car, Mopar fans, was Subpar. The shock absorbers were cheap, the springs little able to contend with the power from the engines and the brakes potentially overwhelmed. How do you feel about understeer?
Worse yet, the build quality was dismal. To quote Fred MH Gregory, an old friend who also tested the pony cars back then, “Chrysler cars were superior in their inferiority.”
Now: None of this would work in 2017. That generation’s build quality would be laughed off the road. We’re able to report that the 2017 Dodge Challenger T/A 392 we had for test was right up to 2017 standards.
Better yet, the test T/A ticks all the right boxes: Brembo 6-piston brakes. Bilstein shocks. A 392-cubic-inch V-8 with 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. Through the 8-speed paddle shift automatic, the 0-60 time is just 4.5 seconds. On a curving road the car is nicely balanced.
Dodge did an excellent job of bringing the 1970-1974 styling of the original pony car up to date. One of the men responsible was Jeff Gale, son of the famous former Chrysler design director, Tom Gale, a frequent visitor at Revs.
The T/A’s interior is also up to date, from seats that not only grip your backside nicely but also heat or cool that backside. Great asset. There’s an 8.4-inch navi/infotainment screen mid-dash and it has FCA’s Uconnect system, which is among the best in the car biz. Unlike the bunker roof Camaro, vision left, right, rear and out front is just fine.
There is a question of whether or not a pony car is relevant in this era of Prius Hybrids and Chevrolet Bolt electric cars. Then again, if gasoline prices remain low in the U.S., there is little reason for pony car fans to think otherwise.
There’s no arguing that modern Challengers are great fun. We’ve run the supercharged 707-horsepower, 650 lb-ft-of-torque Challenger SRT Hellcat down a drag strip and thank goodness for launch control. Accidentally did a non-launch control, full-rev start…oh, what fun. And 0-60 in 3.6 seconds.
Can’t wait to try the Challenger SRT Demon with its 840 horsepower, 770 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 in a claimed 2.3 seconds…and it does wheelies.
But let’s go back to Then again. Burst another bubble? While the original Challengers could be had with the big-block 383s, 427 Hemis and 440s, there were many of us who preferred the 340-cubic-inch small-blocks if you were headed somewhere other than a drag strip. Less horsepower of course, but a better balanced package on a twisting road and in general use.
We suspect that in 2017 we’d feel the same, opting for the T/A 392 over the Hellcat or SRT Demon. Honest, Dominic Toretto, life is more than a 1/4 mile at a time.
So, what price progress? The original Challengers, well equipped, cost somewhere over $4,000 even with the big engines and automatic transmission. Given inflation, that would be about the same as $25,000 in 2017 dollars. Our test car from this year had a base price of $37,995 and its options kicked that up to $55,l50.
Here is the irony. If you want to buy a nice 1970 Dodge Challenger with that 340 engine we mentioned a few paragraphs back, you’ll likely be in the same price range as a brand new T/A 392. Want a cherry Challenger from 1970 with the 426 Hemi and you could be looking at $200,000 or more…more than twice the price of the 840-horsepower 2017 Challenger Demon.
Nostalgia can be a tough (and pricy) mistress.
For the record: There’s no denying the wide-fender Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is a monster car that will tickle the fancy of its owners. And the imaginations of speed fans worldwide. But not Automotive News. That is the highly regarded weekly in Detroit that tracks the auto industry. Its editorial fancy is not tickled by the Demon and you can read why at: http://www.autonews.com/article/20170424/OEM06/304249979/keep-the-dodge-demon-off-our-roads
Then again, Automotive News’ sister publication, Autoweek, has a different point of view:
Read and ponder…
What is your opinion?
It appears the Autoweek story really got people talking, so much that two more articles were published.