550 Miles: Long Beach, California, to Beaver, Utah
The day started pretty much like any other for me...wake up before 5 am, check the e-mails, and start to pull the day's activities together but today was different, very different. There was an undeniable sense of excitement given that today, after waiting nearly two and a half years, I would finally be getting the keys to a brand-new 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8. And not only that, I would be driving it from Southern California to Denver for the start of another one of my dream drives, following the route of James "Jimmy" Kowalski in the epic 1971 cult classic "Vanishing Point." If there's ever a Dodge-themed "gotta do" road trip, this has to be every Moparaholic's automotive wet dream.
My personal involvement with the new Challenger goes back to even before its unveiling at the 2006 North American International Automobile Show (NAIAS), when the rest of the world first saw the seductive exterior lines of Michael Castiglione's groundbreaking concept. Back in the fall of 2005, when word leaked out that one of Chrysler's three NAIAS concepts would be a Challenger, I arranged with my contacts at Chrysler Public Relations to shoot the car so it could appear on the cover of Musclecar Enthusiast magazine. The problem is that magazines are put together up to 60 days in advance of publication and there was just one three-hour slot available to me in November 2005 to get the shots at the Chrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
The automotive Gods were with me and everything fell into place, in spite of a delayed flight that almost ensured that I wouldn't make my rendezvous with Dodge destiny. Fortunately, it all worked out - with an added bonus: I had arranged with Chrysler employee Dwayne Buckner to bring his own 1970 Dodge Challenger to the session. It was the first time that the two generations of Challengers were brought together.
That was then, this is now.
Because of very strict enforcement of Chrysler's driving impressions embargo on production-spec Challengers, I can't tell you how the Challenger actually drives until May 1, but I can tell you where we're driving it. It's called "skirting the embargo" and other publications have already done it before me so I'm pretty certain I'm okay.
Monday started at the facilities of Event Solutions, who handles Chrysler's press fleet in Long Beach, where I would have to wait for "my" Challenger to return from having been flogged last week by a Los Angeles-based publication. It got back a bit later than anticipated - I figured that it had to be pried from their garage - but the team of Carlos Rivas and Brian Pineda. I jumped on the car like a flock of seagulls to prep it for our cross-country milk run to Denver. In less than 20 minutes it was ready to go, no the worse for the week it spent in the hands of the previous group of automotive journalists.
After taking a shot of the ESI team with the car, we set off. My co-driver for the trip is Heath Nelson, one of the principals of Team Performance Products, makers of twin turbo setups for a number of applications, who stepped in at the last minute to make the drive with me. It takes a brave man who can sit in on a 2,500-mile drive without knowing me, but it's turned out that despite the disparity in our ages - Heath is apparently young enough to be my son - he's already shown himself to be an exceptional driving partner.
I'm writing this from the Best Western Butch Cassidy in Beaver, Utah, on Tuesday morning just after sunrise. We covered more than 550 miles on Monday, stopping just three times: Barstow for In-N-Out Burgers, North Las Vegas to meet up with a group of four Mopars who had been alerted to our drive-through, and a final stop for gas in St. George, Utah. Because of the embargo on actual driving impressions I can't say too much yet, but I can tell you that everything has gone off without a hitch and that there will be a lot more to tell as the trip moves forward.
On the road just as the sun was rising above the horizon, I cruised down the main street of Beaver (naturally called Main Street), to check out photo locations where we could take advantage of some great early morning light. As we posed for the cameras, temptation overtook me, and with the ESP off, loose gravel beneath my tires, and nothing close by, I was reminded why 425 horsepower is a good thing.
If you live in the Denver area and want to see the car -- as well as the companion 1970 Dodge Challenger (owned by Buzz Graves) that will make the trip back to Los Angeles with me starting Wednesday -- we will be at the Best Western at 3440 South Vance Street in Lakewood, Colorado. Armed with a copy of the "Vanishing Point" shooting script, it promises to be a memorable drive.
Check back here regularly for updates on our schedule: We will be in Moab, Utah, on Wednesday night; Salt Lake City from noon to 4 pm on Thursday; West Wendover, Nevada, on Wednesday night; Las Vegas from 6 to 9 pm on Friday evening; and the Cars and Coffee show in Irvine, California, on Saturday morning from 7 to 9 am. And beginning on Wednesday, check out our exclusive Challenger image gallery for high-resolution photos of our week-long adventure.)