Remember the 1987 Suburban I glowed about recently? It blew up. After I bought the thing in Colorado and used it for a great road trip with my kid, the 109,000-mile, super-minty Sub became my daily driver—until it went into nauseating rod knock on the Grapevine grade here in SoCal. I got out, nearly stepped on a rattlesnake (who wasn’t happy about it), then waited three hours for a tow truck. I had plenty of time to think and realized I owned 20 vehicles and not a single one is capable of driving to Famoso Dragstrip and back—or at least not in a tolerable way. The next day, I bought a 2017 Dodge Challenger R/T.
This is uncharacteristic for me. I’ve only purchased three showroom-fresh vehicles ever: a 1999 Dodge Ram 2500 V10 4×4 that I still own but don’t drive due to brutal death wobble, a 2001 Mustang Bullitt that I sold soon after I bought it because it was too slow, and a 2013 Jeep Wrangler that’s my wife’s daily driver. As it turns out, I’m just not a late-model guy, and I haven’t been ever since I saw the December 1981 issue of HOT ROD that proclaimed the new third-gen Camaro as “The Best Z28 Yet,” despite a photo that made it intuitively obvious that the statement was either hyperbole or delusion.
I like to overstate my distaste for new stuff, but I loved borrowing late-model press cars in my days editing 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine and HOT ROD magazine. I wanted to learn all about them so I could be more educated and discriminating in my critique, and some I fell in love with. There was a brief time when I wanted a Viper. I wished for a second-gen Dodge truck as soon as I drove one. I was involved enough with then-new Jeep Wrangler TJs and Grand Cherokee ZJs that I later bought used ones almost for the nostalgia of it. I thought the Bullitt was a very cool package. More recently, I’ve been so impressed with the horsepower output from all of the Big Three. I just never thought I’d own any of them because I’m old enough to fear all the touchscreens and electronic gizmos.
In truth, I wanted a new pickup. Those dreams were immediately dashed by the reality of today’s marketplace, which is that: 1) 10-year-old trucks with 200,000 miles on them are $20,000, 2) All the newer 3/4-tonners are priced like a two-bedroom house in Oklahoma or thereabouts, 3) The 1/2-tonners are mostly crew cabs, which I don’t want, and they have those miniature beds, and, 4) Regular-cab, longbed, 4×4, mid-trim-level trucks hardly exist anymore. And on top of all of that, I was dumbfounded to discover that GM (gm?) sells fullsize trucks with four-cylinder engines. Four!
So, through desperation and a touch of midlife crisis, I almost accidentally bought the five-year-old Challenger instead of something practical. It’s stuffed with all the electronic junk. Cooled seats? Yeah. They don’t work that great, for the record. I was definitely beguiled by the Green Go paint, a color pulled from the 1970-1971 High Impact Paint palette, therefore making the purchase somewhat of a Pavlovian response. I have enjoyed every Hellcat Challenger that’s been loaned to me, which let me know I’d be happy with the interior comfort and stuff, but unfortunately that 707-hp seat time makes my base 5.7L model feel like a modern equivalent of a 318-powered car. I highly recommend the 392 Scat Pack cars as step one, but the extra $7,000 to $10,000 made those a fiscal impossibility for me. I have many other cars to feed, and this Challenger is the most expensive thing I’ve ever purchased that I am not living in.
They say there are five stages of grief, and I’ve found a similar count for buyer’s remorse: 1) Guilt for not getting the wife a newer SUV instead, 2) Panic over committing to the expense, 3) Agony over the car being slower than you’d hoped, 4) Acceptance that it’s the quickest and most comfortable daily driver I’ve ever owned, 5) More guilt and panic over not getting the wife an SUV. Nevertheless, that acceptance phase showed me that a midlifer can really feel like he’s in the evolved version of a 1971 Challenger when he’s driving one of these things. I feel the Mustang and Camaro are more refined, but the Challenger is an actual muscle car. I don’t think I’ll ever modify it, because of expense, fear, and lack of need. But that’s not to say I haven’t thought about it.
Some of my social-media followers spit ridicule at my never-ending cycle of buying and selling different cars while fantasizing a future for each one before inevitably selling it. Like the 1987 Suburban, I don’t suppose this Challenger is a forever car for me, partially because I feel I’ve betrayed my ethic of driving uncomfortable, unreliable junk. Still, I’ll feel mentally enrichened, if not fiscally poverty stricken, by the process. Even though this is the newest and most off-character thing I’ve ever had, it still fills my desire to think about a lot of cars, learn about them, own them, and then get bored and move on. Each time you do that, you learn something, and every car is a story to tell in the coming years. Or to you right now.
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