The hand held radio crackled, “Pace car, flag’s on the white RX-7. Get in front of him.” I was at the first ever 24 Hours of LeMons race to be held in Kershaw, South Carolina. I was behind the wheel of a Vitamin C Dodge Challenger SRT8 with a 6.1-liter Hemi good for 425 hp. We were using it to pace the race. My job was to get in front of a 1981 Mazda RX-7 running under yellow. No problem. 370 cubic inches of American muscle against a wretched 26-year-old rotary? I was about to be the Godzilla to his Japan. Hell, I’d even light it up a bit– give the crowd something to cheer about. Yeah right. I could barely get in front of the Mazda, let alone woo the teeming masses.
Grossly obese and saddled with perhaps the worst automatic transmission in recent memory, the piggish SRT8 struggled to get in front of a $500 beater. Sadly (for the Dodge) the road wasn’t perfectly straight and the acceleration featured more bog than a swamp. Forget about smoking the tires; I could barely keep the beast from sailing off into the mud. I was stunned; horrified, too. Really? This is the car everyone was making such a fuss over? Long story short, the emperor was quite naked. And fat.
Look at the numbers for a moment. You have the aforementioned 425 horses along with 420 lb-ft of twist. Huge power, on paper. Yet a 0 – 60 time of just 5.4 seconds. And a price tag of $41,045. Compare this to the Ford Bullitt, which stickers for $10k less, produces “only” 315 hp/325 torques yet can hit 60 mph in 5 seconds flat. I know (trust me, I know) that there’s more to a car than it’s zero times. But these are straight up muscle cars. There’s not really much more! I just told you what happened when you turn the wheel (numbest steering ever). One more number to chew: 4,170 pounds. No, really — that’s what this blob weighs.
I won’t even mention the Chrysler-grade interior. Instead, let’s talk exterior. Or rather, the part of the Challenger that causes so many people to be so forgiving of the car’s multiple weak (and fat) spots. Not me. I’m just not into fraud, and the Challenger — even gussied up in SRT8 trim — is a phony. A fake. It looks like the car Kowalski ran flat out from Denver to (almost) San Francisco. But it isn’t, by any stretch.
First of all, unlike the real Challenger which was smaller than the Charger, this imposter is just as big as its stable mates. Making the appeal akin to those who bought PT Cruisers because they looked like old hot rods. Ridiculous, by all accounts. There’s been some grumbling that the new for 2009 six-speed manual redeems the SRT8. I guess I’ll have to see for myself, but I’m neither holding my breath or, frankly, even thinking about it. For the record, two stars.