In which I buy (North) American again

I finally bought another American car. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s just that what I’ve driven over the past several years has been dictated more by circumstances than by choice.

Red 2012 Dodge Challenger

My Challenger

My first car was American—a 1973 Ford Pinto Squire wagon, complete with fake wood side paneling, in a color Harrison Ford’s character from American Graffiti described as “a cross between piss yellow and barf green.” I had my issues with it, but it got all my stuff to and from college, and hauled my double bass drum set without complaint.

My next American car was a 1994 Chevy Suburban. I have long maintained that they are simply the greatest vehicles on the planet. They haul everything, kids and junk, and last forever. I still own it.

For the past few years, I have been driving a Lexus SC430 I inherited from my grandmother. A good car, to be sure, but we never really bonded. I had been looking around for a while for possible replacements, but wasn’t really thrilled by anything. The closest I came to a match was the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, a car that always caught my attention whenever one went by. Not enough to make me trade in the Lexus, however.

Then some co-workers visited from Norway, and they arrived telling me about this great muscle car they had rented. At lunch, we went out to see it, and my jaw just dropped. It was a 2012 Dodge Challenger RT Hemi in Hemi Orange. It was, as the British say, brilliant.

After a brief visual tour, we went to lunch. I loved the sound and the feel. They said, “Hey, it’s insured by the company, so any employee is insured in it. Want to take it for a ride?” Didn’t need to ask me twice. I test rode it three times during their visit.

Surprises?

  • It went around turns with authority, thanks in part to the Super Track Pack option, which I deemed a necessity when finally purchasing one.
  • It didn’t rattle. For years, I’ve associated American cars with rattling, sometimes major, sometimes minor.
  • It didn’t look cheap on the inside. We were shopping for something with six seats last year, and started by looking at Chevy Impalas, then Ford Tauruses. We didn’t look at Chargers, because frankly I don’t like the look, and we avoided the 300 because every time I’ve ridden in one the noise reverberation had been unbearable. Chevy did the best with their interior, and Ford was simply unacceptable. The Charger only has a couple of boo-boos on the interior, the major one being the chrome trim ring around the shifter which reflects sunlight at the wrong moment.

What was I not surprised by?

  • The inability of the car to respond instantly with a kickdown when getting frisky with the gas pedal. I’ve never driven an American car that does this properly. My two Lexi and my Mercedes did this flawlessly. I suspect it’s related to emissions control issues. Fortunately, the flappy-paddle shifters render this point more or less moot.
  • The lovely sound. I never tire of the noise of that fantastic V-8 in full song.

I visited two dealers and test drove the V-8 in a manual and a V-6 in an automatic. I came to the conclusion that the V-8 automatic was for me. I drive manuals mostly by sound, and I just wasn’t getting the cues I needed, given all the acoustic insulation. The flappy paddle shifters give enough control while still making a commute bearable. The V-6 just didn’t have enough grunt down low – getting on the freeway was awful. And let’s face it, a muscle car with a V-6 is just wrong.

I arrived at an agreement with my wife that I could buy one if I sold the Lexus and my motorcycle, and I arrived at the dealer a few minutes after that. I found a beautiful metallic red Hemi RT in the back lot, test drove it, and then drove home with it.

It’s been a few months since I brought it home, and I still grin every time I look at it. I also find myself looking out the window at it. It’s like owning a full-size Hot Wheels car.

And the “North” qualification in the title? Turns out the great American muscle car is built in Canada.