Brave New Year (or Maybe Not)

It’s later in the month of December as these words go up on cyber-paper. The winter ice storms sweeping the Midwest and Northeast have not been a problem down here in the Tennessee mountains, but the bad news we are getting from the financial and OEM auto sector seems to be blowing through every corner of the country. Before I get all worked up about that, I probably should to put 2008 into perspective.

If you really want to look at it honestly, 2008 was a great year for Mopar guys, at least until the third quarter when the bloodletting from Detroit got really serious. Who would have guessed ten years ago that we would have a Hemi Challenger available that could run 13-second times and still get moderate mileage? Not me. Heck, I’ve made my living during this decade talking about the past glories of the musclecar era, yet we truly got to live in it again. Still pricy, these cars will always be rare in my opinion, and very collectible if not abused, especially if changes that occur with any congressional action on a bailout after January 20 will likely stipulate more regulation. Is the era dead again already? After all, a bigger concern for all performance enthusiasts is the activist side of the legislature beginning to make good on their promises of not letting a crisis go to waste. But I digress – I think we’re all tired of politics right now…

Meanwhile, the race-bred Hemi Challengers for the 2009 racing season may well be on their way as this goes to press; I have not heard much out of the Motor City except what Burk has here on the site. It will be interesting to how Don Garlits ends up doing with his new 2009 machine. On a down note, Dave Hakim, perhaps the best spokesperson in the corporate world for the program, and engineer John Donato, who put the SS package together, both got their walking papers during a fall salary bleedoff at Auburn Hills. Soon thereafter, another member of the Mopar Performance management team was shown the door, coupled with some serious accusations of mismanagement; the lawyers will the only winners in that case. Since I did not do the fall trade shows this year, I haven’t heard what the future holds for the Mopar brand nor product line.

Another shot picked up this year – the Rod Shop Challenger at Martin,  Michigan summer 1971  

In fact, regarding Chrysler as a brand, the internet and phone conversations were both lively as to what might happen if they do go down or end up partnered with Nissan or even GM. My feeling is that the company will get parted out, with sections like Jeep going to the highest bidder, before the company merges outright – there will be a lot of models falling by the wayside. Want the inside track on the rarest performance Mopar of 2008? Try to find an SRT8 300C…

Though Chrysler is now a privately-owned company, the Cerberus management team apparently has their hand out to the feds for some of that big money getting spread around. GM does, too. The Bush White House was cool toward the idea, believing that the trade unions need to give a little to get a little and the companies needed to be restructured for the 21st century. It a dangerous game considering what could happen if the OEMs do go belly-up, but Bush and GOP had little to lose pushing the unions into a corner, a small revenge since those groups had worked so hard to place Democrats into office this cycle. Beyond that, it was frankly a philosophical logjam that would have required either side to blink hard; neither did, so nothing was done before the Congress convened. Come January, the whole mess will lie on the new president’s shoulders, and he can take the credit for solving it, while conveniently blaming the now-minority Republicans for any failure.