2009 Dodge Challenger: Giving Respect to the 70s Like It's No One's Business
Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen quite a few retro-styled vehicles come into the marketplace. Most of them have been inspired by icons from the 50s and 60s. And why not? These were happy times for many, and the cultural icons from those days are still looked upon with great fondness.
There seems to be far less nostalgia for the 1970s, though. It was a time that represented challenges for many Americans. Unstable energy costs, mass unemployment, and economic turmoil meant tough times for many. Chrysler needed a bailout from the government to survive. Um, wait a minute, am I talking about the 70s or right now?
Fact is, there are lots of parallels between the 1970s and right now. Heck, even mustaches and harvest gold are coming back. If we’re living the 70s again then, why not embrace it fully?
Actually, to be honest I’m really into the whole 70s thing right now. If there were a Regal Beagle near my home, I’d get drinks there every night. Boston and Kansas rock, and I’m not talking about places. I even think wallpaper should make a comeback (apparently I’m not alone). So it was with much delight that I took the keys to Dodge’s Challenger redux.
The new Challenger is a very literal homage to the iconic 1970 model, and to my knowledge the only retro-styled car taking inspiration from that decade (hooray!). At first glance, you could be looking at an immaculately restored classic Challenger, not a brand new 2009 model. Our R/T Classic included such 70s touches as American Racing-inspired polished wheels and Challenger badges in that awesome 70s cursive script, as well the 5.7L V8 and six-speed manual that comes standard on all R/T models.
Plugging the iPod into the car’s dedicated connector that allows seamless control of playlists and such through the audio system interface, I cranked up the Black Sabbath, revved her up, and accelerated away. Let’s get this out of the way first: it’s a completely different sort of beast than the Mustang or Camaro. While the latest editions of those pony cars are relatively compact and sharp handling sporty coupes, the Challenger is a big, comfy cruiser in the most 70s kind of way. It rides softly, the steering ratio is slow, the body rolls dramatically through corners, and the tires squeal at any hint of hard cornering.
And do you know what? I love it. While Mustang and Camaro bring retro style to modern sports coupe standards, the Challenger gives you that authentic 70s cruiser experience. I love how it wallows in turns and the way it requires armfuls of steering to negotiate S-curves. I love the super-soft ride. I love how the view out of the windshield is of expansive, horizontal hood surface. I love the surprisingly big back seat. I even love the shiny and slightly cheap-looking sheen and grain of the dash and door panels that I remember so well from the two Chrysler products our family had when I was a kid in the 70s. And yes, of course, it’s fast and makes all the right V8 noises.
You could spend a little more and get the SRT/8 version with a 6.1L V8 and firmer suspension settings, but why bother, I say? That SRT/8 handles really well and rides in a tauter and more controlled fashion, but to me that’s besides the point of this car. The R/T is plenty fast enough and provides a far more authentic experience.
Given its parent company’s troubles, though, I certainly hope this car isn’t a requiem for Chrysler. It’s too good for that. Chrysler did survive its 1979 bailout back in the day. Hopefully Chrysler (and by association the Challenger) will survive this one. Let’s just hope though that a 21st century K-car isn’t what keeps the company alive!