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Reappearing Point

They stirred our souls, even if we were thinking about them in our Austin Allegros

Richard Hammond
April 15, 2008

The new Challenger is a beast, and every hot-blooded male wants one. Why? Richard Hammond explains

There are those who don't like muscle cars, who can't understand their appeal and frown at them in confusion and bewilderment. They will not like the new Challenger. And we should pity these people - pity them, but not fear them, because they are spineless and have no soul.

If a car is a dynamic creature, if it's about taking you from where you are to where you need to be and making your hair tingle in the process, then a muscle car is the ultimate expression of that form. A muscle car is about, as the name might suggest, the muscle - it is there because of its engine. Yes, there are lots of other fiddly bits that keep the wheels on the ground, make the windows go up and down and tell people when you're turning left, but the engine is the living, beating heart of the thing.

And in a muscle car, the chassis, the wheels, the wires, electronic gizmos and you, the driver, are there to tend to the engine's needs - to nurture it, nourish it, flatter it and give it all that it demands to go about the business of firing you towards the horizon. Ideally without a big fire. They are about power. And power, in whatever form, has been perhaps the single most alluring thing for human beings since the moment we crawled out of the primaeval ooze and threw a spear at a mammoth.

Cavemen celebrated their power and achievements in cave paintings. These did not generally show them pottering about the place in a neatly pressed loin-cloth tending their herb garden. They showed them running, chasing stuff, killing stuff and mastering their world. We don't paint on caves anymore, we paint on film. And the films that have caught this power thing, that have communicated the muscle-car experience, are the films that have celebrated the muscle car's riot of noise and attitude and let us revel in the dumb-animal, head-down determinedness of the things.

'The original American muscle cars were created with the idea of generating myth and legend from the start'

They have not praised the cars' 'faint whiff of comforting lift-off oversteer' or their 'remarkable mid-corner adjustability'. They have set them free to charge across the world roaring at the skies and tearing at the ground. Bullitt's Mustang 390 GT pursued by black Dodge Chargers, the 'Eleanor' Shelby Mustang scaring Nick Cage to death in Gone in Sixty Seconds and, of course, the Challenger being chased by 'Blue Meanies' as it charges towards the horizon in Vanishing Point; the cars are legends.

They are the stuff of fable and myth. They are dragons. When they stalked the world, they stirred our souls, even if we were thinking about them on the way to school in an Austin Allegro.

Those original muscle cars, yes, the American ones, were created with the idea of generating myth and legend from the start. The names: Charger, Firebird, Challenger, Barracuda, Road Runner, all evocative, exciting names, names to pin legends to. They did not speak of efficiency or neatness, they did not whisper of practicality or predictability. They are names to savour, to roll around the tongue and slip into your dreamscapes. And they changed the world. Well, a bit, anyway.

We in the UK struggled to provide direct answers to these simple, powerful American brutes, but we tried nonetheless. The Ford Capri, the Vauxhall Firenza, these were our own, admittedly modest versions of the muscle cars. They lacked the power perhaps, but they brought the style, the passion and the affordability of the muscle car to a British audience.

Fuel prices, pollution concerns and rising costs of the cars themselves eventually killed off the muscle cars. It didn't stop us loving them though, like characters in the Terminator movies - er, sort of, anyway - even if we went 'underground' to nurture our passion and beliefs.

To do my bit, I bought a lime green Dodge Charger. It was bigger than the village I tried to keep it in and would not, technically, fit into any of our major towns. I am still paying for the petrol it used during its 12-month tenure with me. I adored it then and adore it still. Driving it, I felt as though everything but the engine was transparent and invisible, that it was reduced simply to a massive V8, rumbling and growling its way along the roads. I was subservient to the engine, and happily so.

I replaced the Charger with a Mustang. It's a 390 GT, the same year and model as the Bullitt car and, originally, in the same Highland Green. I treasure it more than my legs, despite it recently forgetting that it should have brakes and depositing me in the field opposite my drive. And now, with the arrival of the Challenger, a new generation can embrace the muscle car and feel the power.

Chrysler got it right. The Challenger uses the platform from the 300C. Not a bad thing to base a muscle car on, but ultimately, who cares? At the front, it's got a massive 6.1-litre Hemi V8, and it puts out the same 425bhp as the original.

That power charges through a five-speed automatic 'box to the rear wheels via a limited-slip diff, which should handily remove the need for a steering wheel. I have a limited-slip diff in my Mustang and find the best way to park it is to drive up perpendicular to the parking space and apply a massive amount of right boot, encouraging the tail to slither round, slotting the car in and making cool marks on the road.

'All I want inside is a wide rear-view mirror for those Vanishing Point shots of the road receding behind'

There are some suspiciously sophisticated features about the place: independent rear suspension - rather than the more traditional cart springs - and coilover gas-charged dampers at the front.

These are not, strictly, in the tradition of the muscle car - they smack a bit too much of *****footing about the place trying not to trip over, rather than running into the saloon and kicking people's heads in. But owners don't have to tell their mates about these things - they can be a dark secret under the surface. What they will not be able to hide is the look of it; and it is bang on.

How a modern car manufacturer has managed to create such a long, low, lean and sinister shape and still adhere to the pedestrian safety laws and regulations that have everyone else turning out cars with big squashy bonnets five feet off the ground and bumpers like wheelie bins strapped on front and back, I just don't know. And I'd rather not - the more mystery the better.

The interior is terrible, and so it should be. I hope they have the sense to do a black plastic option with a vinyl dash. All I want inside is a super-wide rear-view mirror for those Vanishing Point shots of the road receding behind. There's probably room in the back for a couple of passengers, but who cares? It will have a boot, you can put stuff in it, so what? There will be a 3.5-litre V6 version next year, for idiots to buy. Why would you want that? It's like popping into the dragon shop for a pet and coming out with a poodle.

In the States, the SRT-8, with the proper 6.1-litre Hemi is going to cost $37,995, which is 25p. It won't be officially imported to the UK, and there won't be a right-hand version. There will be a lot of them on our roads very quickly though. If there's any hope left for us at all.


5,424 Posts
Damn.........just wait till Clarkson gets ahold of him! :eek:

Great impressions though :clap:

1,649 Posts
There will be a 3.5-litre V6 version next year, for idiots to buy. Why would you want that? It's like popping into the dragon shop for a pet and coming out with a poodle.
I got quite a laugh out of that. That's what I think every time someone tells me I should have gotten my Solstice with an automatic. It just drives me crazy.

I wonder where Hamster got his love for muscle cars from.
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