Next we drove the Challenger to Mike Campbell's house. He's the owner of this great-looking '70 'Cuda. He's had the car for nine years and drives it almost every day, so we were especially interested in his opinion of the new Challenger. Until now, all the feedback had been favorable, as well it should be. We expected a salesman and a couple of enthusiastic owners to really sing the car's praises. But what about a guy who lives with and loves an original E-Body? Would this new model have any of the mystique of the old car? Would he ever consider buying the new one?
We lined up our cars for comparison's sake and let Mike have a thorough walk-around. "It's big," he said of the new car. The contrast is striking when you see the two cars together. Compared with the '70 model, the '09 looks taller and bulkier. Still, the dimensions are all there and look right. Most people we've talked to say the Challenger is the best looking of all the retro-new cars (Mustang, Challenger, and Camaro). It's true to its heritage without trying too hard to look stylish. Mike especially liked the gas cap on the new car, which we were relieved to discover was actually made from aluminum and not cheap, chromed plastic.
The differences are much greater inside the car. "The seats are so different-very comfortable," Mike commented. Indeed, the SRT8's seats are a pleasant place to spend a lot of time. They are comfortable but still supportive enough to hold you in place during cornering. Not so much with the 'Cuda, however, "My sister calls the '70 the organ donor car," referring to the relatively flat, low-backed, vinyl-upholstered, and lightly padded buckets in his 'Cuda.
Time behind the wheel reveals even more differences. Mike was impressed with the car's controls: "The shifter has such short throws. In the '70, I feel like I'm rowing a boat. This had very smooth acceleration. The engine feels good. I don't think it's as fast as my car, but it doesn't feel as big and heavy as it looks. I could get used to this. Ten minutes into the thing, and I'm already enjoying it more than I thought I would." Pretty strong praise, we'd say. Still, would he buy one? He was not sure. He liked his '70 because it felt more raw-it was more of an experience to drive. "I want something with a little more personality," he said. "You feel everything with the 'Cuda. There's no question which gear you're in. It squeaks and rattles, you're turning 3,500 rpm at 65 mph, and there's no radio. Even if there was, I wouldn't be able to hear it."
Seeking yet another opinion, we met up with Scott Wagner, owner of a '71 383 Challenger and a '68 Barracuda with a 318. He's been a self-described Mopar-or-no-car guy since 1979, owning and racing several vintage cars in the last two decades. Though he's never bought a new car, he had some extra money saved up and was considering buying one of the new Challengers. Scott was impressed with the looks of the car but echoed Mike's comments on the size of the '09 versus his '71, saying the new car looks a little thick in the middle. After a few minutes behind the wheel, Scott said he thought it would be faster. "It doesn't feel like a 13-second car." We should say here that Scott also rides sport bikes and he admitted that most cars feel slow to him. He was impressed with the ride, however. "It's quiet, it rides great, and the handling is great," he remarked as we blasted down a curvy freeway offramp. "It doesn't drive big," he said, agreeing with Mike's assessment that though heavy at more than 4,100 pounds, the car doesn't feel like a barge lumbering down the road.
So would he buy one? He wasn't so sure, either, repeating several times that he had expected the car to feel faster. He felt that if he were to buy a new Challenger, he'd probably opt for the less expensive R/T and invest in a supercharger. Spoken like a true car crafter.