After the positive response to Half-Price Bimmer, I’ve asked another guest columnist, whom we shall call “Bark M.”, to detail his recent attempt to buy a high-power American sporting car, complete with drive notes on both the Mustang and Challenger, and an almost convincing rationale for his decision to let his wife drive a Boss before he did. “Bark” is an SCCA National Tour autocrosser and former professional musician. — JB
“Are you still interested in buying a Boss 302? We just got one in stock today.”
That was the e-mail that popped up on my phone while I was sitting in a meeting last Friday morning. But in order to explain this e-mail, I have to take you back a bit.
Three years ago, due to the increasing size of my young family, I did something very sensible-I traded in my Mazda RX-8 and bought a sedan. Granted, the sedan was a 2009 Pontiac G8 GT with 361 HP, but there was no getting around the fact that it was a sedan. The MAZDASPEED stickers on the hood of the RX-8 were soon replaced by “BABY ON BOARD” sunscreens on the rear windows of the G8. The O.Z. wheels shod with Hoosier A6 tires that I used to carefully arrange in the backseat of the RX-8 on the way to the autocross gave way to Mom-Reviewed baby seats. Sure, there were times, when nobody was looking, that I would leave the kids at home with their mom, punch up the G8 to triple digits on the highway, and feel like I was driving a sports car again…but then I would get out and be reminded that I was, in fact, driving a sedan. I satisfied my occasional sports car dreams by autocrossing a friend’s S2000. That was more than enough for me.
Then, out of the pure blue sky one day about three months ago, my wife said to me, “You know, since we have the crossover for the family, I guess we don’t really need to have TWO family cars.” I started to say, “Does that mean Corv-“ but was interrupted by my four-year old son saying, “Daddy, I don’t want you to get a Corvette, because I won’t be able to ride in the front seat in my car seat with you.” It’s possible that I might talk a little bit about sports cars with my son.
I sat down with my computer, weighed all of my options, and settled on one car: The Dodge Challenger SRT-8. When I’d seen Paul Walker improbably dueling it out with Vin Diesel in a blacked-out SRT-8 over the credits of “Fast Five”, I’d fallen a little bit in lust with the car. It was bold, brash, and unapologetic for what it was. It drank fuel like I used to drink Crown Royal in my college days. Plus, it could pull. I’d once selected a white V6 Chally rental during a business trip-it was slow, it had mismatched tires, and when I posted its picture on my Facebook page, I had to delete three or four comments from young women who described in great detail what they thought of the car, and more explicity, the things they’d like to do in the backseat of it. Clearly, a no-brainer of a choice.
I built my own Challenger on the website, searched dealer inventory, and found one about a hundred miles away that met all of my requirements. White, manual transmission, summer tires, and an MSRP right around 45K. Having made my choice, I pre-arranged financing at a good rate with my bank.
During my search, I had also seen a few Mustang and Camaro listings as “Cars you might like.” I had no interest in the Camaro-no point in driving a perversion of the Zeta platform that I had already owned for three years. And despite the well-known excellence of the V6 Mustang on every ZOMG message board in America, I couldn’t get over the fact that the Mustang was largely considered by my friends and me to be the exclusive ride of rednecks, strippers, and secretaries when we were kids.
However, I had read great things about the Boss 302 when it was released for the 2012 model year. Something about how it was supposed to be an “M3 killer,” that it had actually run a faster time around Laguna Seca than the holy E92 M3 itself, that it wasn’t your typical Mustang, etc. However, a quick search online showed me that dealers all across the country were marking them up as much as 7-10K over sticker price, and they were actually getting it. When my insurance company’s car buying service (which normally finds dealers willing to sell cars at or below invoice) couldn’t find one in stock within 200 miles of me, much less a dealer who would be willing to sell it anywhere near sticker, I decided to stick with the Chally.
So it was with that mentality that I contacted the local Dodge dealership on a Thursday afternoon, told them I’d be back in town on Saturday, and that I would be up early with my wife and son to take a look at the Challenger that they had on the lot. If we liked it, they would go get it for me on a dealer trade that afternoon. Perfect.
I was all set when that e-mail arrived on Friday morning. “Are you still interested in buying a Boss 302? We just got one on the lot today.” Fudge. I had spent all week convincing my wife that the Challenger was the way to go. No worries, they probably were going to sell that Boss at 10K over sticker. I figured that I’d just give them a call to confirm my suspicions, and then go happily buy my Dodge.
“Hello? Yes, I just received an e-mail from you that you got a Boss 302 in stock?”
“Yes, sir, and it’s a beautiful car.”
“What’s the price on it?”
“Does that include the Recaro seats and Torsen differential?”
“Send me some pictures of it.”
The pictures arrived — of a Boss 302 in an absolutely hideous shade of yellow. Whew-I was set on a white car. I replied via text message that I didn’t want yellow, that white was my preferred color, and that I wished him luck on the sale of the car. The bastard replied and said that he’d happily dealer trade for a white one and still sell it to me at sticker. So I called my wife, told her that I just wanted to stop by the Ford dealership on the way to the Dodge dealer and quickly take a look at this hideous yellow car. She reluctantly agreed.
Upon my arrival at the Ford dealership, it wasn’t hard to find the car. Five salesmen were hungrily glaring at it on the lot, circling it like vultures. And the car was gorgeous. For some reason, the School Bus Yellow that I had nearly vomited at when I saw it on my phone was stunning in person. The 2013 graphics were flamboyant but not obnoxious.
My sales guy quickly bounded out of the dealership, introduced himself, and handed over the keys. I had heard rumors of Bosses being under lock and key around the country, and here this dude was going to let me take it out without him. I snatched the key, moved my son’s car seat from the G8 to the backseat of the Boss, and did what any smart married man should-I handed the key to my wife.
She gave me an “I already know I’m going to hate this” look, and got into the driver’s seat. I got into the passenger seat, gave my son a thumbs up as he sat happily in the back seat, and we left the dealership.
As we drove down the road, a surprising thing happened. She liked it. She really liked it. A car with cloth racing seats that one must manually adjust, no navigation, no satellite radio, no multi-disc CD changer…she loved it.
We pulled back into the dealership lot. I looked at her and said, “Honey, do you mind if I drop you guys off here and take the car back out by myself?” The sales guy immediately suspected hoonery, and volunteered to join me. He was not disappointed. Immediately upon exiting the dealership, we headed for an exit ramp. Expecting the normal understeer that one might expect from a Mustang, I put my foot down in second gear and the rear end damn near came all the way around on me. This was not a pony car. This was a bigger, faster, and meaner looking S2000. I had to do my best to temper my downright joy and enthusiasm. The car was loud, yellow, and drove like nothing I’d ever driven before. When I put my foot on the gas in fourth gear, something actually happened. The 444 HP was usable throughout the entire powerband. The steering rack was nimble and responsive. No one-wheel death peel around corners. This was the car I’d been looking for my entire life and had never known that it existed.
When we got back to the dealership, my wife and I patiently waited for their assessment of my trade. I told them that I wanted $18,500. I should probably mention that my G8 had 74,XXX miles on it, totally bald tires, and the backseat had been abused by two children for years. They countered with $15,500. I asked for my keys back and we left immediately.
While I was switching the car seat back to the G8, my salesman ran out to my car. “Listen, man, I’ll get you that $18,500. Even if we have to discount our car, I’ll get it for you. You guys go have some lunch and I’ll call you.”
We left, but not to get lunch. We went to the closest Dodge dealer I could find that had a Challenger SRT-8 on the lot. Sure enough, when we got there, my previously unbeaten dream car was prominently displayed-a black Chally with a silver stripe running right down the middle. A salesman approached us and introduced himself. When I told him that I was cross-shopping against the Boss 302, he invited us to drive his car and see what we thought. We pulled out of the dealership and headed down the road.
The Challenger was a great car. A GREAT car. The seats were comfortable, the large navigation and entertainment display were intuitive. One step on the accelerator was enough to let us know that it meant serious business. There was more room in the back seat, more room in the front seat, leather seating, SRT badging throughout, heated seats, a sunroof…and yet.
When I got out of the car to switch driving position with my wife, I walked all around the car. It was certainly beautiful. The brash red 392 logo screamed at bystanders. The slightly awkward stance of the car seemed to turn its nose up at BMW and Mercedes owners. This was clearly not a car to trifle with.
But it didn’t speak to me. On the return trip to the dealership, one word kept entering my mind. Safe. This car was a safe choice. Sure, it looked sexy. But inside, it was no sports car. It was a touring car. And frankly, I’d driven one of those for three years. Had I never driven the Boss, I would have loved it. Having driven the Boss, I knew I’d never forgive myself for buying the Challenger.
We returned the car to the dealer. As soon as we pulled in, my phone buzzed. Looking down, I read, “Would you take 17700?” I replied, “I’ll take 18. Make it happen.”
The sales manager came out, thanked us for visiting his dealership, and handed my wife a comparison test from a website he had visited which ranked the Challenger over the Boss. Of course, it was for all the reasons I didn’t want to buy the Challenger-it was roomier, it had a better interior, it had a real trunk. Each positive on this comparo was another nail in the coffin of the Chally for me. But the salesman and the manager were both so nice.
Almost on cue, my phone buzzed. This text was from a different number-my Ford salesman’s boss. “Call me with great news about your car.”
As my wife spoke to the salesman about the car, I excused myself and called back.
“Yeah, I got a message to call you back about some good news?”
“Yes, sir! I’m happy to offer you $17,200 for your Pontiac.”
“Are you serious? I just got a message from your salesman offering me $17,700.”
“Well, we called around to some wholesalers…”
“Listen, I’m at a Dodge dealership writing up papers on a Challenger. If you want to sell me a car, you’d better get serious about it and quit fucking around.”
“We want to sell you a car, sir, but we can’t lose money…”
“You aren’t losing a dime. In fact, you’ve got $3,500 of profit in your car plus 3% holdback. That’s $5,000. If you really want to lose my business over $800, I wish you luck.”
The conversation continued back and forth like this for another five minutes, and involved a lot more swearing on my part. The manager was determined to hold his number, and I was determined to hold mine. I hung up as he was telling me how much my Challenger would depreciate.
I thanked the salesman and the manager at the Dodge dealership, told them to work some numbers on my car, and that I would be back after taking my wife and son to lunch (shopping for cars with a four year old should be in the Olympics. It’s hard). I told them that I needed $18,500 from my car, and they assured me that it would be no issue.
While at lunch, my wife and I sat in silence, looking at each other. We both knew what we wanted to do, but we didn’t want to admit it. Almost simultaneously, we said, “Let’s call back the Ford dealer.”
Luckily, I didn’t have to. My phone rang. It was the Ford manager I had cursed out not 15 minutes earlier.
“Sir, you’re not planning to finance with us, are you?”
“No. I have financing in place.”
“If you finance with us, I can get you the money you want for your car.”
“$18,000? No surprises? No 96 month terms? No 18% rates?”
“No, sir. We’ll get you the best rates possible. No down payment.”
And that’s how I ended up with a 2013 School Bus Yellow Boss 302 Mustang in my garage. It doesn’t have leather seats. It doesn’t have a sunroof. It doesn’t have navigation or an entertainment system. But it does have adjustable shocks, Recaro seats, a Torsen rear differential, and something else even more important. It has a soul. It has character. It has toughness, individuality, and it evokes passion in this owner. And somewhere at an autocross near you, it will have Hoosier stickers and “199 AS” on the side of it.
I have a sports car again.