Accepting the Challenger

I’ve got Pony Car fever and you should too! Though I was born in July of 1964 and not at all car conscious when the first Mustangs caused a nationwide sensation equaled only by the arrival of the Beatles, being an infant in a crib, I pretty much missed the pony car phenomenon the first time around. But now it seems America has rediscovered the fun and excitement that only a rear wheel drive, two door pony car can deliver. And this time I’m all ears and eyes.

Now, we all know that Ford’s Mustang started it all and that GM and Chrysler Corp. arrived late to the party, but what matters most is that Chrysler got in there and fought with a moderately successful run of 1964-1969 Barracudas. But when the 1970 E-bodies arrived, Dodge finally got into the long-hood/short-trunk pony car act with the mighty Challenger (so too did Plymouth with the Gen III Barracuda). Too bad the timing was all wrong and socio-economic factors shut them down within four short years.

But now that we’re entering Round Two of the pony car phenomenon (after over 30 years of pony car hiatus from Chrysler), I’m thrilled to watch the three-way battle as Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet are picking up the pieces right where they left off. This is a pared down, lean and mean fight (the Mercury Cougar, AMC Javelin, Plymouth Barracuda and Pontiac Firebird are missing) but with entrants from each member of the Big Three (Challenger, Mustang and Camaro), key pieces are still in place for a fierce struggle.

Here’s my little silver surfer rental car. Though I only had it for three days, the soul of the original 1970-1974 Challenger spoke to me each time I looked at or drove this humble public servant. Here, it’s parked inside the Andaz Hotel on Sunset West Hollywood. I stayed at the Andaz because it’s located next door to Pauly Shore’s Comedy Store. Any time I hit L.A. I always carve out time to visit the Comedy Store. Pauly drives a Hemi powered Dodge Magnum wagon – with a full vinyl body wrap promoting his movie “Pauly Shore Is Dead”. Lunatic comedians are among my favorite things in life – right behind interesting Mopars, old and new.

I read recently where Detroit industry analysts were raving at how total pony car sales (Mustang, Camaro and Challenger combined) exceeded the quarter-million mark last year (2010). That’s a lot of fun machines and a clear indication that consumers are ready for even more. This is not a shrinking market segment, but rather an area where we can expect to see annual growth for well into the foreseeable future.

So when I was recently assigned to fly to L.A. by Motor Trend Classic to interview the owner of a pristine ’68 Hemi Charger for an upcoming story, I rented a 2010 Dodge Challenger to see what it’s made of. No, I didn’t go for a Hemi car – as none was offered by this particular rental agency. Remember, these are fleet cars, so mine was a silver SE with the 3.5 liter V6 and automatic transmission.