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|Dodge Challenger Dream Drive: Day 3|
|Written by Richard Truesdell|
|Thursday, 24 April 2008 05:35|
360 Miles: Lakewood, Colorado to Moab, Utah
Today's post is all about how the car drives, but not the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8. We're talking about Buzz Graves’ 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi. There’s no embargo on publishing driving impressions on this spectacular example of what defines the apogee of the American musclecar.
The day started with a cross-town run in rush-hour morning traffic to the offices of the Auto Driveaway Company, the spiritual successor to Argo’s Delivery Agency (the car delivery service immortalized in Vanishing Point). A non-descript industrial office building on Evans, if Kowalski was looking to pick up a driveaway for a run to the West Coast, this is probably where he’d look first.
Driving the original Challenger in rush-hour traffic was a harrowing experience. Buzz’ car is equipped with a four-speed manual transmission – originally it was a 383 R/T with a three-speed TorqueFlite – so navigating bumper-to-bumper traffic was quite stressful. For the trip back to the hotel, Holly had to contend with drivers repeatedly cutting in front of him as she lagged just a bit behind the new Challenger.
Heading west out of Denver on I-70, we photographed both cars at the Eisenhower Tunnel, 11,013 feet above sea level. Yes, the 1970 Challenger spent a bit of a time adjusting to the rarified air over two miles up but no more than the rest of our crew.
The long, three-lane downgrade out of the tunnel past Dillon gave us ample opportunity to shoot both cars with the spectacular Colorado mountains in the background. Holly and Heath Nelson took turns positioning both cars for the lens as I hung out the window of our Dodge Ram escort vehicle.
In Avon, it was my turn to get behind the wheel of the Challenger R/T for the first time in over two years (the first time was when I drove it on the Pacific Coast Highway during a 2006 concept car drive). In the intervening two years, Buzz has substantially upgraded every aspect of the car, bringing it up to as-new condition. The biggest change was ditching the automatic transmission for the four-speed, now connected to a 3.73:1 rear end.
While Buzz takes great pride in his factory-correct 8-Track, the only music I was interested in was what was coming from under the shaker hood. Getting situated behind the wheel, the car felt tight, tighter than almost any other vintage muscle car I’ve driven, and that includes many of the cars I’ve profiled for Musclecar Enthusiast.
With the windows down, my vision of heading west on I-70 was fulfilled and I could imagine the orange exterior turning to white as I was transported back in time to the summer of 1970 when the Vanishing Point film team first covered the exact same route. The best part of the run was the elevated roadway through the Glenwood Springs Canyon, one of the most difficult to build in the entire Interstate Highway System. Here I put the R/T through it paces; coming off the gas of an original Hemi is an experience that every petrol head should experience once in life, surpassed only by gunning it through the tunnels approaching Glenwood Springs.
I put in a call to Buzz in Reno (who will be joining us today in Salt Lake City) to tell him that driving his car was a truly singular driving experience, equaled only by my drive across France almost two years ago in an original Ford GT40 MkIII road car on my way to the Le Mans Classic. In Rifle, I literally had to be pried out of the car before heading to our last photo stop of the day, the ghost town of Cisco, Utah, where we lucked out by finding a bulldozer sitting abandoned in the fields presenting a photo opportunity we could not resist.
We pulled into Moab about 9:30 and settled in for a steak dinner before retiring to try to get some sleep. It was a truly exceptional day.