Thank You Shelby Dude!
No, I haven’t seen the production version of the ’08 Challenger SRT8 yet, except in the magazines. And my brief in-person contact with the Challenger Concept at Barrett-Jackson / Scottsdale ’08 was tinged by the knowledge that its hand-built body is a couple inches wider than the production version. Plus the Concept has no fixed B-pillar – among other significant differences to the hood, grille, gas cap, wheels to name just a few.
But during a recent visit to the Irwindale 1/8 mile drag strip to take in some Thursday evening race action, I had a near-Challenger experience. No, I didn’t spot a camouflaged engineering mule sitting in the staging lanes and no, even though these Hemi Orange Pearl, Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl or Bright Silver Metallic dream machines were juuust beginning to ship to dealerships at the time, there were none on hand on that night.
Instead, it was a ’08 Shelby GT500 Mustang that gave me Challenger fever. I spotted the car, a black coupe with white LeMans racing stripes (you can delete ‘em if you’re not into standing out in a crowd – or around the fuzz) sitting in the tech inspection line as I drove in and parked. Later, from the top of the spectator stands I kept an eye on the Shelby and waited anxiously for it to hit the strip.
Numerous oil downs and a few minor guardrail benders delayed the event for a few hours. But I remained patient. I wanted, no make that needed – to see what this crazy thing was capable of on the strip. With its aluminum tall deck 5.4 block pushing the displacement-limited 4.6 aside, and its DOHC heads sporting fist-sized ports, this thing is a modern day version of the 1969/’70 Mustang Boss 429. But the belt-driven twin-screw supercharger steps things up to a whole new level. These things make over 500 horsepower, meet applicable EPA smog and safety standards and can be driven from coast to coast without hassle – or draining your wallet along with the gas tank. The window sticker claims 14-mpg city / 20-mpg highway. Heck, these things even come from the factory with an aluminum hood. They’re pretty special.
If you caught the Shelby GT500’s lengthy silver screen cameo during the opening scenes of Will Smith’s recent I Am Legend flick, you’ll have to agree the thing is an incredible piece. The blower whine and V8 roar mix in perfect harmony. I sat there watching the bigger than life Torch Red ‘Stang blitz through the deserted streets of Manhattan and caught myself wishing it was a Chrysler product. Then, I reminded myself, we have something just as good. The Challenger SRT8! Throw in the upcoming Camaro, and we finally, finally, finally have the necessary three legs under the pony car performance table, and we all know a two legged table makes for a precarious balancing act while a three legged table can stand on its own – unless the floor drops out.
You see, in a one horse race, you (the muscle car consumer) must take what you are given. In a two horse race, customers can be more selective so dueling manufacturers quickly learn they need to step up with better bait. But in a three horse race (Chrysler, Ford and GM), the customer has too much choice so carmakers pull every stop to out-do each other and win the sale. It’s war.
No matter what your brand allegiance, you must thank the other guys for stepping up. In case you didn’t get the memo, Detroit (and much of the off shore competition – heck even Hyudai has a V8 in the works) has been embroiled in a slowly evolving horsepower race for nearly a decade and its just about to come to a head. Sure, gasoline costs a bunch and 35-mpg CAFÉ standards loom, but we’ve got at least five years before the current model cycle feels the impact. So get ‘em while they’re hot. And even when the 35-mpg CAFÉ mandate hits with full force in 2020, we’ll have technologies like direct injection, cylinder deactivation, cheap to produce bioreformed ethanol and maybe even regenerative hybrid drive to save the day. The point is, Detroit needs halo cars like the Challenger, Mustang and Camaro to remind consumers why they should buy American. (About that bioreformed ethanol, check out Frank Markus’ editorial on pg. 37 of the April, 2008 issue of Motor Trend or Google Coskata Inc., a biology-based renewable energy firm with some very bright ideas).