SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. ? Smoke pours from the Dodge Challenger Concept?s rear wheels after dumping the clutch at 5,000 rpm and matting the accelerator to the floor.
The tail slews until we speed-shift into second, and another stab at the throttle results in another set of thick, black stripes on the pavement as the Challenger picks up speed and rips past 60 mph before the upshift to third. Now we?re rocketing toward triple digits, the functional butterfly-valve intakes scooping desert air into the humongous Hemi V8, the exhaust roaring beneath us, the landscape blurring, blurring by on either side of the Orange Pearl performance hood?s bulges...
Gotcha. We drove the Dodge Challenger Concept car that wowed the crowds at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this year, and which also appeared in illicit nudie photos after a young lady sneaked into Cobo Hall late one January night, but not the way in which admirers of the vehicle fantasize. All that?s true about the opening paragraph is that the butterfly-valve intakes inside the classic performance hood?s twin scoops are functional, that the Challenger Concept has a humungous Hemi V8 engine under the hood, that the car is painted a bright hue called Orange Pearl, and that we were in the desert. The rest, well, we can only dream along with you.
Driving a concept car is not like driving a production car, making any observations about the experience irrelevant to what might actually roll out of a factory in the future. The Dodge Challenger Concept is a one-of-a-kind vehicle, valued at more than $1 million. It has no Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and cannot be driven legally on public roads. The Challenger is hand built, and while the running gear works, it?s about as reliable and refined as that Baja Bug your uncle built in his garage back when he was a pot-smoking, war-protesting hippie. During our drive, Dodge asked us to keep speeds below 40 mph, to close the doors with care, and not to make sharp turns. Most of the Challenger Concept?s interior features are for show and not go, so the driver?s seat offers minimal adjustment, the gauges don?t work, the air conditioning is an idea rather than a reality, and the exhaust system fills the cabin with life-shortening fumes. Good thing the power windows worked, one at a time and at a snail?s pace.
Nevertheless, it was a treat to accelerate the Challenger for the cameras, even if the engine stalled approaching every other three-point turn. Dodge is working on a business case for building the car, a car that, if we dare extrapolate from our short time behind the wheel in a controlled environment, would sell quite well right out of the gate unless fuel prices double again. In production form, the Challenger would be equipped with Chrysler?s Street and Racing Technology go-fast goodies in top trim, and if the concept car?s seats and interior were literally translated for the assembly line, this would be an immensely satisfying take on the modern muscle car. Especially if it?s able to re-pave roadways in the first three gears.