After several decades of unimaginative designs, Detroit decided to take on the future by using a page from its storied past. Called “Retro”, this new/old design philosophy took hold of the car business sometime in the mid-90’s, giving us such fads as the PT Cruiser, and the Chevrolet SSR.
The idea was to not only take an iconic name from the past, but a general shape as well. Something that the customer could relate to, there by triggering an emotional connection with the car. Buick used fake wood siding to attract old people to their re-invented Roadmaster, just like Ford used flared fenders Steve McQueen to attract ‘boomers’ to their uber-retro Mustang.
The retro-Mustang idea worked well for Ford, and it sparked other automakers to exhume pony cars from their past as well. Chevrolet announced its new Camaro before the ink on Ford’s press release even had a chance to dry. And Chrysler was hot on the General’s heels with its retro Challenger.
So with the stroke of a designers pen, it became 1970 all over again. Sideburns, free-love, and platform shoes were once again in vogue. And Detroit’s Big 3 were drafting stoplight soldiers for their Pony Car Wars part Deux. But does Chrysler Corp’s nod to the past really live up to its ozone-annihilating forbearer? Let’s find out…
1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi
For the purposes of this comparison, we’re going to pit Hemi against Hemi. Both of the following cars were the top model of their day, so let’s see how they compare.
The 1970 Challenger T/A was designed to get from one stoplight to the next, with a maximum of drama. Prod the throttle and the PolyGlas tires would give way to the 426 Hemi’s massive wave of torque, resulting in a smoke filled dance between the greens. The almighty 426 Hemi produced 425 horsepower & 490 lb-ft torque, thanks partly to its dual 4-barrel carburetors. This car measured fuel economy in Feet-per-Gallon, but when you’re behind the wheel of this snarling beast, you wouldn’t care if gas cost $100/gallon.
The Hemi motor cost nearly 1/3 the price of the car, so Chrysler didn’t sell many of them. And it’s a wonder they sold any at all, because the build quality was, to be kind, hideous. The center console, the dash, the door panels. They squeak like a mouse orgy. And the vinyl seats would be more at home in the back room of a strip club. But Chrysler wisely included a built-in cure for the Challenger’s squeaks and rattles. It was called; the gas pedal.
Press it, and the thunderous machine under the hood takes a big gulp of dead-dino juice, then belches fire and brimstone out the twin exhausts. In the 1970 Challenger R/T, you feel the Hemi’s power in the base of your spine. It awakens your senses like a psychotropic drug, then it takes you for an endorphin-enriched magic carpet ride. Try as they may, Dodge engineers simply couldn’t replicate the original’s sensory…extravaganza in the new car.
When you’re driving the car, you get the distinct impression that you’re piloting a big, angry machine. There’s no idiot stability control to keep you out of the ditch. The brakes are made from pizza dough, and the suspension has about as much grip as a chiwawa on a wet hardwood floor. To pilot an original Hemi Challenger successfully, you must summon every ounce of that old-fashioned oddity called; skill. If you’ve got enough, then this car will make you giddier than a stoner outside a Rolling Stones concert.
2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392
Instead of using a ruler to design the new Challenger, chief designer (at the time) Ralph Gilles used a Ouija board. After conjuring up the old car, Gilles modernized the design, adding a suspension with actual grip, brakes that did more than suggest a reduction in speed, and seats that weren’t from a sex shop.
The end result was a car that not only looked like the original, but it addressed all of grandpa’s faults too. The ride is quieter and more refined. There’s no cheesy fake wood trim, or squeaky plastic panels. The gas mileage breaks double digits, and the 6.4 liter Hemi (392 cid) doesn’t claw through the ozone layer like an incensed tiger in a Cambodian poppy field.
All in all, the new 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 is a fantastic car to drive. And it’s a faithful tribute to the original. But it lacks the soundtrack and the mechanical feel of the 1970 Challenger 426 Hemi. However, with a base price of $43,700, the new Challenger costs considerably less than the 6-figures commanded by the original.
1970 Challenger vs. 2011 Challenger Comparison Table
|Specifications||1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 426||2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392|
|0-60 TIME||5.9 seconds||4.6 seconds|
|¼ MILE TIME||14.5 seconds @ 99 MPH||13.0 seconds @ 111 MPH|