72 Hours in So Cal Car Culture On Fridays, Ricky and Ronnie's in Torrance, California, draws people who want to look at muscle cars like our Challenger SRT8. But some just want to eat a burger. By Erin Riches, Senior Editor Date posted: 04-16-2008 "I'll never be able to face my muscle-car friends if I don't ask you for a ride around the block," Brooks reminds me. "Sure, get in." It's not like I'm going to turn him down. This 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 in all its Hemi Orange splendor has been illegally parked in front of motorhead bookstore Autobooks in Burbank, California, for an hour, so I'd be totally cold to just drive off without giving one of the guys a ride. Dropping the keys into the cupholder, I press the start button. It's plastic rather than some kind of pretentious metal, yet it wakes up the 6.1-liter Hemi V8 all the same. It's a hot afternoon in Burbank, but I put the windows down so Brooks can get the full aural effect. "It idles quieter than I thought it would," he says. "I was expecting it to grumble and snort like the old cars that my friends have." I pull onto Magnolia Boulevard, take a quick right down a side street scanning for children and pets, and go for maybe two-thirds throttle. "That's more like it," says Brooks, bracing himself a little. "The exhaust note gets all loud and old-school as the revs build, and even though it's an automatic, the car feels fast." A minute later, we roll up to Autobooks and my only Challenger ride-along of the weekend seems to be over. But Brooks knows better. "Wait here a second. I'm going to see if my manager Hiram wants to ride with you." 72-Hour Cruise We get lots of requests to rev the 6.1-liter Hemi V8; one guy even asks if he can drive the Challenger. It looks like a classic when we garage it for the night. This is the first weekend that the production version of the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 has hit the public road, and we figure there are a dozen of them prowling the streets of Los Angeles. If I'm lucky, I have 72 hours to parade it through the Southern California car scene and collect opinions — the fresh, candid kind that you only get from people who have never before laid eyes on the car. So I've planned a weekend cruise for the SRT8 that includes Ricky and Ronnie's in Torrance, Donut Derelicts in Huntington Beach, Cars and Coffee in Irvine, and finally Supercar Sunday in Woodland Hills. If you've been to L.A., you know these places. They're famous weekend hangouts for car guys. Had it not been for the enthusiasm of this crowd, Chrysler might never have resurrected the Dodge Challenger. Food 4 Less, Hidden Gem of Torrance So I'm trying to hide the Challenger behind a Food 4 Less supermarket until the usual Friday-night crowd gathers down the street at Ricky and Ronnie's. But within 30 seconds of parking the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8, my bright-orange cover is blown. A black Cadillac CTS speeds down Vermont Avenue, and I hear the driver scream, "Oh, my god! It's the new Camaro!" A very illegal U-turn ensues and the CTS pulls up alongside the Challenger. "I'm sorry!" says the neatly groomed driver, who's about 30 and out of breath. "We had to take a look at your car. I thought it was the new Camaro." "Would you have come over here if you'd known it was the Challenger?" I ask. "Maybe not, but he probably would have made me," he says, gesturing at his friend in the front passenger seat, evidently a Mopar guy. "So is it an automatic or stick?" With that in mind, here is our own Inside Line list of the top three questions asked about the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8: "When does it go on sale?" (This spring, but you'll have to order one and wait.) "How much does it cost?" (That would be just over $40K with the gas-guzzler tax included.) "Is it an automatic or a stick? (The 2008 Challenger SRT8 is an automatic, but if our experience is representative, Chrysler better build plenty of 2009 Dodge Challengers with the six-speed manual and an authentically cool pistol-grip shift lever. The people want it.) Hanging Out at Ricky and Ronnie's The Donut Derelicts ask, "Why didn't Dodge put a 392-cubic-inch V8 in the Challenger SRT8?" We're getting ready to roll down the street to Ricky and Ronnie's when a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla carrying a full complement of guys of similar vintage cruises by. "You know you look good in that car!" the front passenger shouts as the Corolla sputters past. And from the backseat, "Hey, is that the new Camaro?" Then a kid on a skateboard restores world order by correctly identifying our 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 from 300 feet away. He's yelling so loudly into his cell phone it's as if he's standing next to me instead of across the street: "Giovanni, get down here now! The new Challenger is at Food 4 Less." Just as I'm about to leave, a well-kept BMW 745i pulls up and an equally well-kept driver steps out. He knows what he's looking at. "Oh, the Challenger," he says, his eyes dancing the length of its 1970s silhouette. "This is the kind of car that men like. Can I see your engine?" He studies the exposed iron-block V8 and properly appreciates the "Hemi 6.1" badge on the valve covers, then inquires about horsepower (425 hp at 6,200 rpm, thank you for asking). Finally, he says, "Come with me to Beverly Hills tonight," and I'm almost sure he's ogling the Dodge's orange flanks. "Uh, I'm...I mean, we're on the clock right now," I say. If I stick with the Challenger, I might actually have a social life by the end of the weekend. More Serious Than Fritters Excitement is at a fever pitch as I pull up to Cars and Coffee in our 2008 Dodge Challenger. Ferraris are so been-there-done-that when a Hemi Orange Challenger pulls up. It won't be happening at Donut Derelicts, though. These guys are highly skeptical of anything built after 1971. When we show up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, several of the regulars remember when we appeared in the Challenger concept two years ago. A bearded guy in his 60s steps away from his mid 1960s Ford Ranchero to tell us, "This car is one of only a couple modern-day choices for us old muscle-car guys. The rest of 'em look like jelly beans with windows." An owner of a 1967 Firebird is nursing a black coffee and concedes, "I like the look of it, but the stance is just too high, and those 21-inch wheels just can't force it into having the right proportions." We hear murmurs of agreement in the crowd. We leave. A Cup of Coffee or Two I didn't see a single stock 1970-'74 Challenger all weekend, just these 440 'Cudas at Cars and Coffee. But a '70 Challenger drag racer turns up. It has a blown 440, a three-speed automatic with reverse manual valve body and a 3.73:1 rear gear. It runs low 10s, says owner John Anderson. About an hour later at Cars and Coffee, the owner of a 2005 Ford GT suggests the '08 Challenger should be 8/10ths its current size. "It would look better," he says, "and it wouldn't weigh over 4,000 pounds." Another man (possibly a distant relative of Don Garlits) insists that Dodge should have specified a 392-cubic-inch V8 for the SRT8. "It would have been so much more nostalgic, so much more of a performance advantage." Some of the SRT gearheads must be thinking the same thing, as Chrysler is actually studying the feasibility of a 6.4-liter V8 — and you'll recall the Challenger Super Stock concept had a 392-cid crate motor. We park our '08 Challenger next to an equally orange '70 Challenger drag car. It has a blown 440 V8, and in its better days, was probably making somewhere in the neighborhood of 650 hp, says its owner, John Anderson, who found it in Biloxi, Mississippi, thanks to eBay. Anderson occasionally takes the car to the drag strip, where it'll run low 10s for the quarter-mile, but he dials down the boost so he can drive it on the street. When the shredded rubber from drag-strip burnouts falls off the back bumper, he does a burnout in his shop to restore this badge of honor so people know it's a working drag car. This is the kind of guy Chrysler wants to own the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8. Probably Chrysler isn't looking for an owner like the woman who asks me, "Why doesn't it have real neon lighting in back? People really like that. Was Dodge concerned about proper storage of neon gas?" Let's Settle This Outside Here's a comment on exhaust tuning: Whenever I floor the throttle in the SRT8, everybody stops in their tracks. On a warm morning at Supercar Sunday, held at Village Coffee Roaster in Woodland Hills, I encounter Mr. Mopar. It takes a couple minutes to get the Challenger backed into its space here, and I hear someone say impatiently, "Is the visibility really that bad? I've got a 40-year-old muscle car that can beat that car in a straight line." I turn around to see an unassuming, black 1966 Plymouth Satellite optioned with the 426 Street Hemi V8. I doubt his claim, because the 2008 Challenger SRT8 shouldn't have much trouble matching the Charger SRT8's 13.6-second quarter-mile time, and the Satellite would have been hard-pressed to run a 13.6-second quarter-mile time 40 years ago, even with slicks. Yet the Plymouth's white-haired owner persists. "This is a real Hemi. Jay Leno wants to buy my car." I reply, "Maybe you assume that I don't know the difference between a big block and a small block." "Well, women come here and they usually don't know anything about cars, so I like to educate them." Nice guy. We drive away before he has a chance to put out a cigarette on one of the Challenger's hood scoops. The Past Is the Past People are looking for that pistol-grip shifter, but otherwise like what they see. Those who get inside declare the driver seat "comfortable." Weekend reading for the literate and well-informed 2008 Dodge Challenger driver. Later that day I meet muscle-car owners who get what the 2008 Dodge Challenger is all about. It looks like an old car, but it's never going to be an old soul. It has too many modern conveniences and too many shared components for that. But that might be for the better. An Infiniti service technician taps on the driver window while I'm refueling with 91 octane. He's as excited to see the new Challenger in the metal as everyone else. "It's a good translation of the original," he says. "I prefer it to the new Camaro, because I think GM messed up its front end." It turns out his personal car isn't a G35 or Z car, but instead a '69 Camaro. He tells me, "I grew up during the '60s so I will always have an old muscle car in my garage. "But I'm going to replace my Camaro's 327-cid V8 with a fuel-injected 6.0-liter V8 crate motor, because I want to be able to drive the car every day and I want it to start reliably out in the desert. I'm also putting in a four-speed automatic and I might even add power steering and brakes. This is a realistic restoration." This Is What Dodge Needs Regularly scheduled adult film shoots are disrupted in Woodland Hills when everyone's attention turns to the new Challenger. How do you escape the 897th "How the hell did you get that car?" question. On Sunday afternoon, I get a chance to hustle the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 through the corners of Old Topanga Canyon Road. The black fuzzy dice on the rearview mirror swing wildly, but everything must look OK from outside the car because kids are always trying to hail a ride. Later I'm traveling south on the freeway, and a current-generation Mustang GT convertible speeds by in the carpool lane with its top down. In the passenger seat, a small boy has turned around to face the Hemi Orange Challenger, his arms folded on the door sill, an expression of pure bliss on his face. The 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8? Kids get it.