Dodge Challenger: Authentic American transportation

Larry Printz
Tribune News Service

Authenticity isn’t hard to discern.

For instance, you could make hamburgers a million different ways and still not imitate the taste of one from McDonald’s. Similarly, you could dress in Ralph Lauren Polo attire, but if you live in a trailer home, no one will mistake you for a trust-fund baby. That domestic first-class airline seat you bought? It’s merely what a coach seat was 30 years ago.

All are affectations of something more authentic, corporate subterfuge in the name of profits.

And product authenticity is questionable when it returns after a long hiatus. Reviving classic consumer products is always fraught with peril, as evidenced by the Volkswagen Beetle, Pontiac GTO, Buick Roadmaster and the Maybach.

Then there’s the Dodge Challenger.

Introduced for 1970, it was a latecomer to the muscle car/personal luxury coupe wars that were then in full swing. Incredibly, it was offered with nine powertrains and six models, running the gamut from a 145-horsepower six-cylinder to a 425-horsepower Hemi V-8 in coupe and convertible models.

By 1974, the Challenger would succumb to the escalating insurance rates and EPA mandates that laid low its competitors. It reappeared from 1978 through 1983 as a compact built by Mitsubishi, a conglomerate best known today for their in-wall air conditioners.

Yet the Challenger re-emerged in 2008, looking much like its first-generation forebear, like a four-wheeled Captain America, soldiering on with performance upgrades that speak to another era.

Which brings us to the 2018 Challenger Hellcat Widebody, sporting flared fenders and wider 20-inch Pirelli P-Zeros that accent the Brembo brake calipers that can be had in black, orange or gunmetal. Beyond the minor styling update you’ll find the car’s nature hasn’t changed.

After all, muscle cars and personal luxury cars have always been over the top, almost clownishly so.

What else would you expect from a car with a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 mated to a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic? After all, speed is the Challenger’s native tongue. Twist the key. Listen to its menacing, throaty rumble. This car is nothing but trouble. Mash the throttle and adult concerns give way to childish glee as the tail twitches a bit as you wrestle it keep the nose pointing straight. As the massive tires quickly connect with the pavement, you’re propelled forward at NASA-like speed, pushing your brain further back in your skull, mashing it up against juvenile passions like pop rocks, loud music and “Charlie’s Angels.”

This ride flips off those driving a space-efficient crossover or an allegedly environmentally friendly EV or hybrid.

Yes, you could nitpick its fit and finish, just as you could in 1970. But this is merely one sign of its authenticity.

Thankfully, the 2018 Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody continues to fulfill an American need for an outrageously cool tool for going fast.

Authentic? No question.