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Rubin: An ode to loud cars from a guy due for a ticket

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Radio host Jim O’Brien is driving a 707-hp Dodge Challenger Hellcat this week — and says it could ultimately be a costly experience.

Jim O’Brien can see his future from the driver’s seat, and it involves traffic court.

“I’m going to get a ticket this week,” says the WCSX-FM (94.7) morning co-host. “I just have to figure out how big.”

Thursday, he hopes to go for a roaring spin in an 840-hp reproduction of the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am from “Smokey and the Bandit” — a car considerably more muscular than the version Burt Reynolds drove in the movie.

As he talks about that Monday afternoon, he’s churning north on Woodward Avenue in a 2016 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, savoring every rumble from a 707-hp engine that sounds like a cement mixer full of wrenches tumbling off a cliff.

“It’s so pretty,” O’Brien says, and he means the roar, not the handsome Dodge in a color he calls give-me-a-ticket red. “So pretty.”

Some people will flock to the Woodward Dream Cruise on Saturday for the sights. O’Brien will be in that group, sure, but he’s also in a smaller subset that savors the sounds, the louder the better.

You say potato, he says PO-TOT-O!, at a decibel level you can feel in your chest.

We have started out chatting about cars with enough horsepower to propel a fleet of Chevy Sparks, the lack of practicality of such a mode of transportation, and what exactly you’re supposed to do with one.

(His response: “It doesn’t matter.”)

Shifting gears, the conversation turns to the simple joy of noise. “That blub-blub,” he says, and he sighs.

“It’s a Detroit thing.”

Reveling in the road

Reasonable people can decry the din from a ferocious engine, and they will get no argument from me.

Other people can revel in it, and they will get no argument from me, either, at least not during Dream Cruise week.

O’Brien, 50, has just checked his Hellcat out of the auto reviewers’ car library, and his destination is unknown. When Nissan loaned him a GT-R a few years ago, he made an unplanned, seat-of-his-blue-jeans trip to Frankenmuth.

“If I didn’t have to sleep,” he says — he’s up at dawn for the Trudi & Jim Show, which airs from 5:30-10 a.m. — “I would drive all day. I’m going to stretch it out before the rains come.”

After Monday’s show, he went to breakfast at a diner with Saturday morning host Ken Calvert, and the manager followed them out and asked them to rev the engine.

Again, there are plenty of people who regard loud muscle cars with undisguised Fury, and would like to feed their owners to Barracudas. Consider yourselves acknowledged.

But there are also plenty of fans: Dodge doubled production of the $62,495-on-up Hellcats for 2016.

Bob Seger, it turns out, can appreciate the music in a V-8. He and O’Brien just taped a podcast, and it turns out Detroit’s most venerated rocker owns a 1971 Cobra Jet Mustang and used to drive a ’77 Firebird.

“I asked him,” O’Brien says. “He did not wear a Burt Reynolds cowboy hat.”

WCSX-FM will display an 840-hp Bandit Trans Am, based on the car Burt Reynolds drove in “Smokey and the Bandit,” during the Woodward Dream Cruise on Saturday. It’s one of 77 scheduled for production.

Smokey, meet Bandit

Reynolds signed the dashboard of the Trans Am that will arrive Thursday and be parked at the Art Van store on Woodward for the cruise.

It’s one of 77 to be produced by Trans Am Depot of Tallahassee, Florida, crafted from new Chevrolet Camaro bodies with a starting price of $115,000.

O’Brien can’t wait to see, feel and hear it in action. Others are not so eager.

A post on his Facebook page advised, “Smokey will be looking for you!” That was from Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard.

Then there’s minivan-driving Kathi Ader, a teacher-turned-jewelry-maker from Waterford who’s been married to O’Brien for nearly 24 years.

“I don’t mind driving a fast car,” she says, “but I don’t necessarily want to ride in one with somebody else.”

Specifically, she’d prefer not to ride with her spouse, who squealed out of a supermarket lot in a road-test Honda on Sunday and sent a gallon of milk airborne.

She told him to cut it out.

It was nothing he hadn’t heard before.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn