Edmunds Feature - New and Old Dodge Challengers Take Vanishing Point's Last Ride

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  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Channeling Kowalski along the Vanishing Point Route

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    What's old is new again.

    By Josh Jacquot, Senior Road Test Editor
    Date posted: 05-05-2008

    "Our sole Challenger has just broken the ring of evil the deep blue meanies have so righteously wrought — get through 'em baby, get through 'em." — Super Soul, Vanishing Point 1971

    It happens deep in the Nevada desert, just past Austin. On a long, straight section of road with nothing to lose, our friends in the white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T finally put the hammer down. At once, the rawness and purity of Kowalski's ride pulverizes the well-insulated interior of our 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8, shredding the peace inside the modern car's cockpit with the same brute force Kowalski used to pierce a hole in the cool desert air 38 years ago. Even with my right foot buried, I see nothing but taillights until they disappear into the desert.

    In these few brief seconds, the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is clearly defined by its soft edges and quiet exhaust. Manufacturers don't let us feel cars raw and unfiltered anymore. Hammering down a desert road with a thin-rimmed steering wheel and pistol-grip shifter — that's raw. Four hundred and forty cubic inches and a four-speed — that's raw. Powerslides unhampered by electronic intervention — that's raw.

    In 1970, when Kowalski drove this very road — U.S. Highway 50 through Nevada — he felt it. And it was raw.

    Kowalski, Can You Hear Me?

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    Being Kowalski is easy on a road like this. Having the right car doesn't hurt, either.

    If you're unfamiliar with Kowalski and his mission, here are the CliffsNotes: Kowalski — a former racecar driver, motorcycle racer, Vietnam veteran, cop and lover — turns (for whatever reason) to delivering cars for a living. At 11:30 on Friday night, he bets his friend and dealer that he can make the run from Denver, Colorado, to San Francisco, California, by 3pm on Saturday. And he pursues this promise at all costs.

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    For us, like Kowalski, the journey begins in Denver, Colorado. Without the help of uppers, the driving diatribe of blind DJ and narrator Super Soul or the inevitability of our own mortality for motivation, we're not going to make the trip in 15.5 hours. But we are reliving Richard Sarafian's cult car-chase classic Vanishing Point in all its glory.

    Show Me How To Live

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    It really is a timeless shape.

    Our 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T is Kowalski's ride — right down to the OA5599 Colorado license plate, hood scoops and pistol-grip shifter. This 1970 Challenger R/T, which was used to recreate footage for the Audioslave video "Show Me How to Live," breathes Kowalski's soul into its four-barrel carb and out of its dual exhaust. In between, there are 472 cubic inches of Mopar bottom end and Indy cylinder heads — a bit of an upgrade from the 440 cubic inches Kowalski used in the film.

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    The engine, which started life as a 440, has been bored and uses a stroker crank, Demon 950 carburetor and PTI headers to achieve 607 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque. It channels every cylinder's power through a Keisler five-speed manual transmission conversion. Bias-ply tires keep it real.

    And of course, just to see how it measures up to the original car's character, we're driving Dodge's 2008 Challenger SRT8. Its 6.1-liter Hemi is good for 425 hp that goes to the ground through several electronic filters, a torque converter and the automatic tranny's five gears.

    Blind Leading the Blind

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    Burnouts are easy.

    I don't run any Colorado State troopers off I-70 as we pass through Glenwood Canyon — which, by the way, looks nothing like it did in 1970. One of the last sections of modern freeway to be completed, this bit of road was one lane in each direction when the film was shot. Today, it's a bi-level freeway sure to keep any errant renegades from crossing into oncoming traffic. Today's roads, like today's cars, have taken on a more somber tone. But as I pass Exit 25 for "No Name," I can feel Kowalski's heavy right foot as well as his indifference for speed laws urging me on.

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    Kowalski's Challenger feels it, too. After all, this seriously juiced-up piece of 38-year-old American iron is running loose through the American West. As we clear the Rocky Mountains heading toward Grand Junction, the words of Super Soul seem frighteningly honest: "You can beat the police, you can beat the road and you can beat the clock, but you can't beat the desert, you just cannot."

    We know what Kowalski would say: "Go to hell."

    It's somewhere near here where he had his famous run-in with the crazy joker in a Jaguar E-Type Roadster. Hammering down the road in the 2008 Challenger, the idea of a Jaguar, any Jaguar, leveling a genuine contest of muscle against this car seems laughable. The new Challenger isn't outrageous, but we're not worried about any Jags.

    Speed Means Freedom of the Soul

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    Super Soul's studio was through the doors to the left of the Challenger in this shot. With the exception of some green paint, the Goldfield hotel still looks just like it did in 1970.

    According to Super Soul, true freedom is achieved through speed — plain and simple. Crossing Utah on I-70, I have ample opportunity to test this theory. True speed is an experience most of us desire, but few of us fully indulge. Not on this road trip.

    Just past Cisco, where the film's final scenes were shot, I witness a true 170 mph on the new Challenger's speedometer. Unfettered by speed limiters or other electronic trickery, this massive velocity is probably the new Challenger's most genuine and promising character trait. And it's certainly faster than any of us wants to go in the old car.

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    But there is something missing. Trading out of the modern Challenger into Kowalski's white beast is like upgrading from first class to saddling up directly on one of the 747 General Electric 2B67 turbofans.

    From the first twist of the key, there's something honest about a car this old and this powerful. There's a lot of mechanical momentum here and all of it — every rotating gram — can be heard and can be felt. Every cylinder fires deliberately and independently. Every stoke of the long-travel throttle is made obvious to anyone who can hear, feel or smell. This, friends, like solid rocket fuel with two seats and dual exhaust, is a serious ride.

    Buried deep in triple-digit speed, I reach a point where the thrill is quickly and distinctly overcome by the fear of death. But I've arrived here so quickly and there's so much to occupy the brain when the Challenger's speedo is pegged that I'm shocked by the sensation. Kowalski wouldn't understand. He used the fear of speed.

    Kowalski Earned It

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    The new car's interior is a welcome change.

    The sensation of speed in Kowalski's car manifests itself in a way it never could in the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 — or any modern car, for that matter. Momentum builds with serious burden in this car, like Newton himself is sitting on your lap and gaining weight with every added mph.

    Power is never the problem — just the frightening reality that this is an old car going very, very fast. There's a sense here that the faster you go, the less physics will constrain you — sort of like the old "the faster you go, the smoother it gets" adage. Still, if it comes undone, there are no crumple zones, no door bars and certainly no airbags to save your ass.

    Driving a car like this should be a rite of passage for anyone who calls himself an enthusiast. Better yet, it should be a requirement. The idea of the electronically assisted masses piloting a vehicle that requires this much motor skill, this much strength and this much commitment is as ridiculous as it is smart. Few would survive. And the roads would be better for it.

    What's He Trying To Prove Now?

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    Go, Kowalski, go.

    Back in the new Challenger, I'm glad to have modern amenities like, say, air-conditioning. And despite its lack of personality relative to the original version, it serves as an elegant reminder of just how far automobiles have come in the last 40 years. This is especially true as the elevation increases to 5,700 feet outside of Goldfield, Nevada. The Goldfield Hotel, where Super Soul's studio was located, was built in 1908 and still looks the same as it did during shooting.

    At this altitude, a massive carburetor just isn't as good as modern fuel injection when it comes to adapting to the thin air. And despite its older brother's Mopar Performance torsion bars and modern Koni shocks, the new Challenger's body motions are better controlled. But, like big girls who can really samba, both cars handle well considering their distinctly muscle-car stations in life.

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    Back on Highway 50 and rapidly closing on the California border, we're picking up the pace. It's here that the new car is given the hard lesson in old-school speed. And as the white car's taillights disappear into the desert, I can't think of this demonstration of raw power as anything except a tribute to the last American hero to whom speed meant freedom of the soul.

    Crossing through Cisco, California, Kowalski's final resting place (although the film's penultimate scene was actually shot in Cisco, Utah), Super Soul's timeless words echo in my head: "The question is not when he's going to stop, but who is going to stop him."

    The answer, though, isn't simple. Kowalski was stopped in Cisco, but he was never caught. His spirit lives on in every Dodge Challenger — new and old. Hang on now, brother, hang on.

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    Let 'er rip!

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  2. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Good article. Would read again.

    Kinda makes me wish I didn't care about things like gas mileage and independent suspension and power windows. Maybe someday I'll get over all that stuff.
     
  3. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    It's very liberating owning a car like that. They just don't make them simple and pure anymore.
     
  4. you know me

    you know me OT where the douchbags play

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    I love the old cars....i hate their interiors......
     
  5. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    More photos.

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  6. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Generally they are uniquely style, not full of parts bin stuff every other car has and have real substantial metal parts and have very simple controls. Also the stuff you don't like can be fixed, like low-back seats.
     
  7. you know me

    you know me OT where the douchbags play

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    i mean gagues/wheel....wouldn't stop me from owning one though....I want a 69 ss396 chevelle
     
  8. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    I want a Buick GSX or Chevelle as a daily.
     
  9. you know me

    you know me OT where the douchbags play

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    if I had the money, I'd buy my cousins 69 396, slap a 4 or 5 speed auto in it, fuel injection, open pipes dumping behind the rear tires, and drive the fuck out of it
     
  10. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Or I'd love a 1970 442, stock with loud mufflers.
     
  11. twistid

    twistid Banged By Super Models Moderator

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    videos no work
     
  12. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    The funny thing is, while I kinda like the idea of owning a simple, purposeful vehicle, in real life I'm trying to decide if it's worth buying the $5000 premium package to get the dual-zone climate control.
     
  13. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    I'll help you.



























    No.
     
  14. Possum Stomper

    Possum Stomper The Great Bird of the Galaxy

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    old cars are where its at

    Man...Machine...that's all you need
     
  15. Possum Stomper

    Possum Stomper The Great Bird of the Galaxy

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    rather have the original one any day of the week
     
  16. Mr3GTP

    Mr3GTP OT Supporter

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    O motherfucking HI-O
    :werd:


    Gimme a Hurst/OldsW-30. :cool:


    An Olds V8 had it's own special sound, and gobs of torque.
     
  17. twistid

    twistid Banged By Super Models Moderator

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    i want to build a vanishing point challenger.
     
  18. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    But it's so cool and gadget-y! Seriously, you're talking to a guy who bought a 3"-wide titanium mini camping stove that runs on rubbing alcohol just to keep his coffee hot at work.

    In all honesty, though, the climate control is the only feature in the premium package that I want, and it's not worth five large to get.
     
  19. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    I went from a car with all the bells and whistles to one that just has electric adjustments and manual A/C. And it's so much better.
     

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