Saturday, December 21, 2019

Comparing Modern Dodge Muscle Cars to the Iconic Vehicles of the 1960s (VIDEO)

My buddy Greg Joseph is interviewed in this L.A. Times feature on the new Dodge Hellcat lineup.

See, "Do modern Dodge muscle cars capture the magic harnessed by Big Willie Robinson?":

I couldn’t get any seat time in the late Robinson’s car — it was destroyed in 1971, and his wife’s matching car was wrecked a few years later. But I did track down a 1969 Hemi Daytona owned by car collector Greg Joseph.

Joseph actually knew Robinson; he met the leader of the Brotherhood of Street Racers in the 1990s via former Times Publisher Otis Chandler. At the time, Joseph was curating the muscle car collection of Chandler, whose holdings included a 1969 Hemi Daytona of his own.

Joseph said he was touched by the realization that he, Chandler and Robinson and his street racer wife each owned one of these unique rides.

“They truly were icons,” Joseph said. “It kind of brings back the nostalgia, the memories of the time when I went to all the drag races.”

Joseph, a retired history professor who long taught at Long Beach City College, said he sees the through line from the Daytona to the Redeye, in part because both harness what he called “state-of-the-art technology to go fast.”

“This is all-out high-performance,” said Joseph, gesturing at the Redeye. “Same with the Daytona.”

Still, the Redeye isn’t entirely state-of-the-art. It derives its power from a pushrod V-8 — that’s old-fashioned technology in an era of overhead cam motors with variable valve timing — but I get Joseph’s point. This is a car whose launch can be programmed via a special mode that holds the RPM at a desired spot in the power band for optimal acceleration.

And the Redeye carries over other technology from the 2018 Challenger Demon, an even higher-performance version of the car that put out 840 horsepower — and did zero to 60 in 2.3 seconds — but was sold for only one year. Among the goodies that have found their way from the Demon to the Redeye is an intercooler chiller system that keeps the motor at the ideal temperature.

Although the Redeye was the more extreme of the two cars I tested, the Charger Hellcat seemed to turn more heads during the week I drove it. As with the Challenger, this version of the Charger has been around for several years, but in Hellcat guise, the exterior modifications stand out. Perhaps that’s because they’re transforming a sedan with comparably more sedate looks.

At one stoplight, a man in a black minivan eyed the Charger Hellcat lustily from the neighboring lane. I edged the car forward, summoning a bark from the big V-8, and the other driver laughed appreciatively. Up the street, our lanes merged into one, and he happily ceded the road.

The minivan may have been no match for the Charger Hellcat, but the American muscle car rivalry is alive and well. And in many ways — even as manufacturers move toward increased electrification and hybridization — we are in the midst of a new golden age for these vehicles. A horsepower war touched off by the launch of the 2015 Challenger and Charger Hellcats shows no signs of slowing down. Chevrolet’s Camaro ZL1 offers 650 horsepower, and Ford is readying a top-end Mustang — the Shelby GT500 — packing 760 horsepower.

The Hellcat cars both deliver a quintessential muscle car ride. But it wasn’t easy for me to see a link to the Dodge drag strip heroes of yore, amid the many trappings of modernity.

Still, I was able to find a connection to the past in an unexpected place: some of the new cars’ shortcomings. Details like the Redeye’s subpar seats — yielding in all the wrong places — seemed to telegraph Dodge’s focus on speed, and little else. Thinking about the Hellcat cars this way, I grew to view many of their flaws as charming. And the ties to the 1960s were ultimately driven home via a mishap.

Before the Redeye was lent to The Times, it underwent some mechanical work that left the interior smelling of gasoline. Workers had attempted to mitigate it, but the bouquet of fuel stubbornly persisted.

But it didn’t bother me. It felt a little rough, a little raw. Like how old cars sometimes smell after they’ve been throttled hard.

Even if it was unintended, it made the Redeye feel a little bit closer to 1969.

A little bit closer to the Daytona. A little bit closer to Robinson.