Almost a year ago this week I was issued a challenge by the fine people at 0-60 magazine that I just couldn’t refuse. The test? To drive a (then) brand new Dodge Challenger SRT8 from New York City to Alabama in 5 days, hitting at least 10 states and traversing 1,000 miles… and using no technology that existed before 1974. That’s the last year the original incarnation of the Challenger was built, which means no cell phones, no laptops, no Crackberrys, no satellite radio and, most importantly, no GPS. All the guys at 0-60 issued us was a US Atlas they bought on eBay printed in 1971. Seriously, 197-freaking-1. And along the way, just because shit wasn’t hard enough already, we had to complete 4 Challenges.
Oh, and one more thing: we couldn’t use highways.
Armed with only a map from the Nixon era, the idea seemed steeped with the possibility of disaster. I mean, if we can’t use highways then we should be able to use GPS. Or, kill the GPS but let’s use highways. Either way, driving through the smoky backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains with a roadmap printed only 2 years after we landed on the moon stunk with the fetid malodor of trouble. Still, the SRT8’s 6.1 liter V8 Hemi burns a healthy 425 horses under its air-scooped hood, and pushes the hulking beast to 170 mph (an impressive feat given the car’s torpid 4,140 lbs), so at least failure would be a magnificent blast.
Because blistering acceleration or not, lap time to hell and handling be utterly forsaken, we were about to find out the Dodge Challenger will transform you into goddamn Bon Jovi in Knoxville, Tennessee. But more on that later.
This was simply supposed to be a standard “testdrive”. It was supposed to be a harmless boilerplate narrative about two guys driving a car. But it turned out to be anything but. What we found was that Dodge, aka Chrysler, aka MOPAR — usually considered the most expendable of the American brands — is anything but. To the people of America, and more specifically to the soul of the south, MOPAR blood pumps strong and pure… and to them the Challenger was more than a car, more than commodity bought and sold at dealerships like Neons or Fits. It was, and still is, an indelible thread in the very fiber of Americana. The Challenge wasn’t just about joy-riding a muscle car with tires aflame across a dragstrip, it wasn’t about getting strippers to spread their wares on its hood, it wasn’t about doing burnouts in front of cops or acquiring enough tickets to invalidate 3 licenses… Ok, it was about all that, but it was also about giving America a piece of its history back. It was about a drive through America, and strangely enough, about hope. And if you think I’m being hyperbolic then, well, just read ahead and maybe you’ll see what I mean…
The Challenger Challenge: 1,000 miles, 10 states, 5 Days, 4 Challenges, 2 hardened journalists and one supreme American Muscle Car. Bring it on.
Continue reading DAY ONE of Nicolas Stecher’s 5-Day Challenger Challenge (including a mega-gallery of pics) after the Jump!
All images by Robert Kerian
1:22 pm Jackson Hole Diner, Queens, New York
We’re eating fries, burgers and grilled cheeses (with bacon) in the Jackson Hole Diner in Queens, better known as Airline Diner. Or rather, even better known as that spot where Goodfellas was filmed. We’re huddled around a table full of dressing-slathered salads, mounds of meat and perpetually empty coffee mugs discussing the rules for this ill-imagined Challenger Challenge we’re about to embark on. The shadow of mobsters, diner grease, muscle cars, and rules-about-to-be-broken loom everywhere… seems like a fitting place for our adventure to begin. Then the 0-60 guys hand us papers describing the ludicrous restrictions of our trip:
1) No Technology can be used created after 1971. This means no modern maps—you must use the 1971 roadmap supplied by us.
2) No Cell Phones (they hand us a roll of quarters for daily payphone updates)
3) No interstates
4) Must at least clock 1,000 miles before you decide to turn around and head back north.
5) Must hit at least 10 states
6) No navigation
1) Get the car Dynoed. Oh, and of course you must convince them to do it for FREE because you are driving THE CHALLENGER.
2) Get an Alabama police officer to testdrive the Challenger; need a photo for proof. (20pts). Add 5 pts if he does a burnout. Add 10 pts if the photo is accompanied by a speeding ticket (not that we are encouraging this, but you’ll need the points if you catch a ticket).
3) Bring back a ¼-Mile Drag Time Slip. (20pts) If you break the 13.9 claimed by Dodge, add 5 pts, if you can’t break 15 seconds, subtract 5 pts. And get it done for FREE, again because you are driving THE CHALLENGER (20pts)
4) Get airborne (20pts). C’mon, even Dodge included a jump photo in the press kit. Obviously that means it’s okay to imitate. BUT DO NOT BREAK THE CAR! (And don’t hurt yourself, seriously — if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, will change it to a 25 point system of 4 tasks. And call you a pussy.)
Additional Bonus Points
1) Get photo of new Challenger with original Challenger (1pt for Orange, 2pts for sublime green)
2) Get a photo with a state police officer from each state you visit (1 pt each)
3:23 pm New Jersey
We’re cruising down I-95 trying to beat traffic out of the Guido State. My navigator, photographer, wingman and general man-about-town Robert Kerian and I are discussing the rules, and have decided to amend as needed. First off, there’s simply no way we’re getting outta New York without using interstates—we wouldn’t be in Maryland till next week. We agree to initiate Rule #3 as soon as we exit the Tri-State area. Second, the 1971 road map they’ve supplied is a goddamn joke. It’s so broadstroked, it doesn’t show anything other than interstates, so it’s either cheat with the SatNav, or cheat with a better map. Being the honorable men that we are, we decide to buy a quality roadmap at the next stop.
3:31 pm New Jersey
“You picked the wrong place to test this car out, bro,” says the New Jersey trooper from the passenger window. The blue lights fill my rearview mirror, and the anger of getting caught so soon out of the starting gate is welling up inside me. I was making short work of traffic, cutting up the right lane at about 100 mphs over a hill, and suddenly there was this guy just waiting for me. “I probably would’ve let you go if you hadn’t been in the right lane, but that’s where all the old ladies drive, man. You gotta be more careful than that.” Curses. What was I supposed to say? We’ve just been pulled over for the second time today, and we’ve only just left New York 40 minutes ago (the first time the cop just said, “Pull over. I wanna check out your car.” Is that even legal?). We’re only in our first state of 10, and I just got ticketed for going 97 on a 65. To make matters worse, I just got a 70 on a 35 hit in Nevada a week ago test-driving the Nissan GT-R, and another 95 on a 35 in the Audi R8 a couple months back. I think this could be the nail on the license coffin.
I need a new job.
3:47 pm New Jersey
Back up to 88 mph, even after I promised myself I wouldn’t speed. But it’s just impossible in this car—the engine idols at 80. All this open road, and the warm rumble of the engine…who in their right mind could drive at 65 in this thing?
3:52 pm New Jersey
Blue lights in my rearview make my heart plunge like the dollar. Fuck. Me. “What’s the problem, officer?” I ask in frustration after pulling over. He tells me I was going 76 on a 65. “Sir, I just got pulled over 10 minutes ago. I was doing my absolute all to keep it legal. You must have gotten the wrong car,” I tell him.
“Is your car orange?” he asks.
“Was it in the passing lane?”
“Is it a Dodge?”
“Then I got the right car.”
9:45 pm West Virginia Highlands
Driving up through the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, the fog is so deep we can’t see more than 5 feet in front of the Challenger’s Xenon headlights and blaring fog lights. It’s the deepest fog I’ve ever seen. Robert, with his typical been-there-done-that tone of knowledge, says he’s seen worse. I call bullshit on that. The fog’s thicker than San Francisco at dawn. On Fog Day. During a Spinal Tap dry ice malfunction. It’s impossible just to see the far end of the carbon-fiber stickers on our hood (yeah, stickers – kinda tacky), and we’re creeping at 5 mph around some of the windiest roads summiting the Appalachians. But I’m just blessing my stars at this point that the last cop in Jersey let us go with a warning, or I might be navigating the rest of the trip. Either way, there’s no way we’ll be speeding any more today with this fog.
11:04 pm West Virginia
We took this roundabout route through the rural outback of West Virginia in order to avoid the entire state of Virginia. We’d heard in that militant state it’s a mandatory year sentence if you’re caught driving just 10 miles over the speed limit, and being pulled over for 1 mph over was not unheard of. Seeing as we’d been pulled over 3 times before we even left Jersey, we knew we’d have zero chance surviving Virginia intact.
Besides, the Challenger will not let you drive the speed limit. It goes against its primal programming.
Problem is, in taking this ancient route we’re lost in some godless stretch of hicksville. Unconvinced we’re headed in the right direction, I pull over to the local Gas N’ Slurp (true story) to get directions to the closest “big” town nearby. Three women there have no idea how to get to Bridgeport, even though its only 40 miles away. They just look at each other, dumbfounded, as if I asked the square root of pi. In fact, 2 sets of people give us wrong directions before we even leave the station. “Don’t ask me, I got no idea!” says a short, avocado-shaped twenty-going–on-fifty-something woman in glasses. “Not even Bridgeport? Isn’t that the next town over?”
“I dunno. I done never been there.”
My god, we’re talking about the primordial slime of the human gene pool (sorry, West Virginia readers!).
1:06 am Bridgeport, West Virginia
We find a small hotel, though not a single bar in town is open. We’re dying for a cold beer, but we’ll have to wait another day to taste one. Besides, we’ve had enough action for one day and rest our weary heads in preparation for Day Two…
Continue reading Day Two of the Great Challenger Challenge…
Here’s a quick video of what we did with when we let one of the cops take the Dodge out for a test-drive…we decided to take their car out on a test-drive of our own. We showed him this video when he got back, and Officer was not very happy with us to say the least…