2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8: “Vanishing Point” Returns

Written by Kimatni D. Rawlins

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It’s time to “challenge your senses” behind the wheel of one of America’s most notorious muscle cars and show you how great it is to mash the pedal of the Hemi V8! I sure did during a recent test run through Pasadena, California and on the hairpin turns of Willow Springs International Raceway. To say the least, Dodge has done a remarkable job replicating the 1970s Challenger.

Speaking of which, all those aficionados of the original Challenger must be pretty familiar with the road running movie Vanishing Point starring Barry Newman as James "Jimmy" Kowalski, an ex pro driver, biker, and cop, who is assigned the task of delivering a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T from Colorado to California. It’s become a classic among muscle car enthusiasts because it showed the Challenger in its purest form, racing through the desserts of Nevada like a Bat out of hell. The vanishing point occurs when Kowalski has to make a decision to either turn himself in or attempt to escape Five-0. Yet, the true star of the film is not Kowalski or disc jockey “Super Soul,” but in fact the car. And after 35 years of non-existence on the scene, Vanishing Point returns with an all new iteration of the famed Dodge Challenger for 2008.

Chrysler first teased the media and Challenger fans in 2006 with the Challenger Concept. It made so much noise that the company had no choice but to produce the iconic classic. Then, it was a hit at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show as Chrysler showed off production versions of the Dodge Challenger SRT8 retro rocket. The Challenger SRT8 pushes 425-horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque from a huge 6.1-liter V8. That’s 69.8 horsepower per liter. With 0-60 times of 4.9 seconds and a 170 mph top speed, the “Pony Car” war has heated up. When the Chevy Camaro joins the fray, look for V8 American iron to dominate our reader requests for test drive reviews.

Dodge also had no problem sending challenges to Porsche, Audi, Ford and BMW. With high performance four piston Brembo brakes (allows vehicle to stop from 60 to 0 in 110 ft), 20” staggered forged rims wrapped in available Goodyear F1 Supercar tires and an advanced electronic stability control system, you see where the confidence comes from. “The all-new Dodge Challenger SRT8 is engineered to give customers everything they want in a modern muscle machine,” stated Mike Accavitti, Director, Dodge Brand and SRT Global Marketing, Chrysler LLC. “The new version of Dodge’s American classic boasts tire-smoking performance and head-turning design while offering a wide array of state-of-the-art technology.”

Up close, the “HEMI Orange” Challenger with black hood stripes was stunning in presentation. The designers were so good with keeping the original design DNA it’s scary. Not just the outline and shape of the Challenger, but the grille, side mirrors, tail lamps, black rear spoiler and four-bomb gauge cluster all remain key attributes to the vehicle’s heritage. Add dual hood snorkels, dual rectangular pipes, and a metal fuel filler cap and the machine comes to life.

The drive itself was spectacular! The Challenger’s wide, massive body felt like true muscle and the HEMI growls like hungry wolves in the winter. Before I hit the track with my boss hogging driving partner Howard “Howie from Maui” Walker (a true Kowalski fan) we took the adrenaline filled roads of Angeles Forest and Angeles Crest highway, the same path that bikers rule. Yet, the vehicle is well endowed to handle straights, tight turns, and rapid stops. Based on the Dodge Charger platform, the Challenger is 4” shorter and has a 116” wheelbase. With a five link independent rear suspension, the Challenger is able to maneuver more fluidly opposed to muscle cars with a live rear axle. It’s why I was never a fan of the Mustang. The entire rear end jumped around like kids on sugar doses. Offered now with only the HEMI V8 and a 5-speed “AutoStick” automatic, expect the 6-speed from the Viper and a V6 engine to debut this summer. Additional upgraded safety technologies (28 in total) include “Brake Assist” and “Enhanced Accident Response System.”

Convenience features consist of SIRIUS Satellite Radio, “Keyless Go” remote starting, “MyGIG” multimedia infotainment system with navigation (stores 30 gigs of music) and “UConnect” Bluetooth for hands free conversations. Not enough? Check out the on board performance meter that gauges 0-60 runs, “G” forces and other performance parameters. The dark interior is typical of the Charger and really does not offer much inspiration with the use of heavy plastics, photographing of carbon fiber for trim, and big, bulky seats. Yet, Dodge is about value. So the Challenger definitely needs a custom interior upgrade. But this vehicle is all about the rush from the drive. Especially when you need Smokey the Bear to put out fires from tire burnouts!

The synthesis of this vehicle is all muscle. And though it hit the muscle car era late, the Challenger made its mark. And now Dodge has beaten Chevy and its Camaro to market and gets the head start on muscle mania. And no worries on pricing! Expect a base model Challenger SRT8 to price at $37,995 with only three options: MyGIG ($890), power sunroof ($950) and three season Goodyear F1 Supercar performance tires ($50). For such nostalgic performance and styling you certainly get your bang for the buck.

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