The End Of The Road…For Now

 

When Scott and I were asked to develop an enthusiast-based tour featuring the 2011 Dodge Charger R/T and Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, we had no doubt it would be an amazing experience. Piloting two of the last true rear-wheel-drive, HEMI V8-powered American muscle cars across 8,000 miles of the good ol’ US of A, taking them to Dodge’s most devout fan-base was sure to be one helluva time. My trusty stead for the trip was the 2011 Dodge Charger R/T Max, loaded to the gills with every option. Not a bad way to get around.
 

I’d seen the new Charger once prior to the HEMI Highway Tour at a Dodge Brand Immersion Day at Chrysler Headquarters last August. I was absolutely awestruck with the car’s new look. In the months before I had seen the spy shots of the 2011 Charger circulating on the internet. You know, the ones with the cover peeled back and that new nose prominently poking out?

 

 

Based on the photo, I was apprehensive about the new design; after all, I loved the current Charger. I fondly remember working at the Chicago Auto Show back in 2005 shortly after we unveiled the 2006 Dodge Charger – it was polarizing, to say the least. Ten days of consumer feedback left their mark, and the next five years of consumer feedback at auto shows played out much the same as those 10 days in February of 2005.

 

 

There were plenty of folks who absolutely LOVED this new Charger. It was unlike anything else out there. An aggressive-looking rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered performance…sedan.

But, the newest incarnation of the historic Charger nameplate also had its detractors. The classic Mopar guys? They were undoubtedly miffed. “Four doors on a Charger?!?! An automatic tranny?!?! What happened to the 1999 Charger Concept Car?” All valid points. (Although, for the record, the 1999 Dodge Charger Concept was a four door, many people didn’t realize that.)

 

 

I was a fan of the new Charger, for both the fond memories I had of its launch when I was new to the whole auto show world, and also for what it represented. You mean, I can own a modern HEMI-powered piece of American muscle car history, and fit my family in it?!?! I know all the classic Mopar guys out there are trying to keep their blood pressure in check at this moment. I know what they’re thinking, or yelling at their computer screens right now for that matter. “Who is this girl?” “She wouldn’t know a HEMI from a hole in the ground — how DARE she!?!?” And I get it; the original Dodge Charger was a thing of beauty – legend even – especially the coveted 1968-1970 model years. With their plethora of engine/carb/tranny options, the available 426 HEMI powerplant and memorable roles in classic muscle car era films and television shows like The Dukes of Hazzard and Bullitt, the classic Chargers were the stuff muscle car aficionados dream about.

 

 

I understand that my age prevents me from ever appreciating the original Charger the way someone who grew up in the muscle car heyday does – the days when you could afford a new Charger while still in your teens if you worked hard enough, when two doors outsold four, when fuel economy and the smog index weren’t even a concern, pesky safety devices like airbags didn’t exist and seatbelts were optional. But, as a girl who grew up and has spent her whole life in the suburbs of Detroit, where you needn’t look farther than down your own street to see examples of some of the finest automobiles the Motor City ever made, a girl who took Auto Lab in high school and a girl who has spent the last seven years representing Chrysler’s products on the auto show/specialty event circuit, I’ve developed a true appreciation for American muscle cars, both new and old. I mean no disrespect to the original Charger by the things I say in regard to the new Dodge Charger, I just think it’s okay to like both, even if for different reasons.

 

 

On that day in August, Scott and I stepped into Ralph’s Design Dome and got our first glimpse at the 2011 Dodge Charger. We were blown away. The spy shots had done this car no justice. In person, it was menacing and elegant at the same time. What, in the most famous spy photo seemed to be an exaggerated “nose-forward” front-end, appeared, without a doubt intimidating, but in the most refined way possible. The new muscled hood with its throwback scallops looked slick and aggressive.

 

 

 

Prior to that day, the front was really all we had seen. There in person, the profile was striking, all sleek lines and the return of that “Coke-bottle” design was a thing to rejoice! Those door scallops, reminiscent of the ’68-’70 Charger looked magnificent! And the rear, those taillights – STUNNING!!! A total of 164 individually illuminated LEDs set the entire rear-end ablaze, and as evidenced later on the HEMI Highway Tour, were visible from blocks away. These elements came together so beautifully, giving the 2011 Charger what will prove to be one of the most recognizable designs of the era, both coming and going.

 

 

 

What would the interior look like though? That was a biggie. I’d spent the last six years hearing complaints about the previous Charger interior with its hard “plasticky” dashboard and lack of sophistication. This new interior was so entirely different, it was almost unbelievable. Every panel was sculptured and soft, with the use of aluminum and LED lighting; the look was sporty, but more luxurious that ever before. The new steering wheel and logo looked great! Features like Adaptive Cruise Control, power tilt and telescoping steering never before seen on a Dodge Charger were now available. To say I was blown away would be an understatement – knowing that I’d be piloting one across the country in a few months made my first look at the new Charger that much more satisfying.

 

 

So, the fateful day when I got my first look at our HEMI Highway Charger came on November 7, 2010. I had just returned from SEMA, where the rest of the world got a look at Mopar Underground’s Redline Charger and the public’s anticipation of the production version was nearing fever pitch. I had even met a few enthusiasts there whom we ended up seeing on the actual HEMI Highway Tour a few weeks later.

 

 

Seeing the new Charger back in August was one thing, cruising down Woodward Avenue in it added an entirely new element to my opinion of the car. Watching people do double-takes and the thumbs up I received from a guy in a Mercedes S550 really proved how striking this car was.

 

Scott got to drive it for the first time a few days before I did, and he recounted the story of watching two drivers on I-75 jockey to capture photos on their cell phones – more evidence of the car’s magnetism.

 

I really love the new Uconnect® Touch system, and I found that getting acquainted with it was a breeze. Although I am not technologically stunted, I am far from what anyone would call a “techie” and I breezed right through the functions and features, feeling comfortable with the system within the first hour and proficient within the first day. I love the fact that every one of the vehicle’s functions are controllable through the Uconnect® Touch unit.

 

Shortly after hitting the HEMI Highway, I realized that there were several other convenience features that I was exceptionally fond of. In an effort to avoid sounding like a paid endorsement, I’ll narrow down the top two.

 

The passive entry system proved to be unbelievably convenient. I loved being able to walk up to the Charger, key in my pocket, backpack or clipped to my belt, and simply place my hand on the trunk or door release for instant access. The passive entry system, combined with the push-button start feature, meant that as long as I had the key on me, I had full operational control. Never did I have to dig at the bottom of my purse or search my backpack for the key.

 

I never want to live without Adaptive Cruise Control. This was immensely convenient when traveling long distances like we did on the HEMI Highway Tour. I could set the cruise control speed and distance I wished to maintain from the vehicle in front of me and the car was able to adjust its speed accordingly when I approached a slower vehicle. Once I passed, the Charger smoothly returned to my intended speed. It was fantastic!

 

I love the idea of the new lifestyle packages. Several people we met on the road appreciated the fact that Charger buyers are finally able to get options in the SE V6 models formerly reserved for the R/T HEMI V8 models or never before offered.

 

Speaking of that 5.7L HEMI V8, where else do you find that these days? This is what I really love about the Dodge Charger – it’s in a class by itself. Sure, it has some major competitors, but they don’t offer V8 power paired with rear-wheel-drive and performance-tuned suspension and steering for around $30K? If they do, they’re missing two doors and a generous backseat, which makes them a different class of vehicle all together. And let’s get something straight, a twin turbo V6 doesn’t sound or feel like a 370 horsepower HEMI V8, folks.

When you think performance and the thrill of driving, a front-wheel-drive biased platform isn’t what comes to mind. If a V6 is what you’re looking for, we’ve got a sweet 292 horsepower DOHC Pentastar V6 in our Charger SE. Fancy all-wheel-drive? We’ve got that too, complete with an active transfer case, front-axle disconnect and paired with a naturally aspirated HEMI, thank you very much.

 

As far as the use of Continuously Variable Transaxles/Transmissions is concerned, we know there’s a place for them, and it isn’t in performance cars. Shift shock? Give me a break. Because I really hate feeling my tranny shift gears, but could you give me paddle shifters with my CVT that allow me to simulate the feeling of shifting gears, because I miss it sometimes. I mean really? I’ll take some more vanilla ice-cream with my vanilla ice-cream, thanks.

 

But, I digress. Day by day I fell more and more in love with the new Charger. Its combination of styling, performance, comfort and convenience stole my heart. I loved showing and telling people all of Charger’s new features and watching current owners be blown away by this newest incarnation while people new to the Dodge brand had their misconceptions washed away.

 

The HEMI Highway Tour proved to be a smashing success. Scott and I loved taking these cars on the road to Dodge’s most devout enthusiasts before they ever hit showrooms. We also made sure to leave a little something to remember us by whenever possible.

 

 

Prior to HEMI Highway, I represented Chrysler Group exclusively for seven years on the auto show and specialty event circuit. I knew this tour would be unlike anything I had done before, because we would be taking Dodge’s two most historic nameplates out to Dodge’s biggest fans. As different as I thought this tour would be, I couldn’t have predicted the outpouring of support we received at each and every one of our stops on the HEMI Highway Tour. What I knew would be an awesome experience, proved to be the best 40 days of my life. Even taking into consideration the long hours detailing the Charger, longer drives on little sleep and six weeks of “road food,” we met some of the best people in the world. We had a blast getting to know these wonderful fans, seeing their passion for Chrysler Group products and learning their stories. The people we visited are enthusiasts, yes, but now, we’re happy to be able to call them friends!

 

 

The amount of love, commitment and appreciation demonstrated by Dodge fans nationwide left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. There is no more satisfying job than one you’re passionate about and that allows you to share your passion with like-minded people. I feel so lucky to have had the good fortune to share my passion and pride for Dodge products with all of the wonderful enthusiasts out there.

 

People often tell us that we have the best job in the world…and they’re right!

 


  • SUBLIME

    Heather, the HEMI Highway Tour was an excellent idea and we are all glad that you got to come out and visit with all the die hard loyal mopar fans. I know it is a lot of time to be on the road eating out, but everyone appreciated it. Thanks again!

  • moparman

    Heather, firstly, I have to say, if I was 10 years younger and single, I’d offer to buy you dinner, ’cause you are very, very cute! Happy Valentines Day!

    The argument has been beaten to death, but since we’re still talking about it, my wife and 2 kids fit very nicely in my ’69 charger. We used it as the daily driver as much as possible before putting it in the body shop in 2008. There was never a problem tilting the seat forward and climbing in the back. And the trunk space is huge, you could get several bodies in there. When I was installing an amp and some speakers, my friend Mark and I were both completely inside the trunk, and there was still room, I’m 6ft 1in and he’s 6 ft. Groceries? Half of Wal-Mart or Winn Dixie could fit in there!

    I was born in 1970, so I didn’t live through the era either, but I still know the deal.

    Posted this on another thread, but it’s more relavent here. It’s a recent video of chrysler’s designers talking with Autoline Detroit, in which they say if they had known the 2006 car was gonna be called charger, they would have changed the design.

    http://www.autolinedetroit.tv/show/1507?play

  • So Cal Challengers

    Another great article Heather! Thanks for bringing the tour to Bobs In Burbank and talking with us about the new Charger and Challenger. We hope to see you and Scott when you come out to So Cal. Thanks again!

  • HEMIhead

    So, if the present charger looked just like a ’68 or ’69 or ’70 charger, but with 4 doors, would everyone be O.K. with that? What about if it looked just like it does today, but with only 2 doors,
    and was called the Charger, would everyone be O.K. with that? Whether they knew what it was going to be called a charger or not, you don’t design a car like the present charger, with a meanacing look, fast back looking window, and huge rear hips, based on what you thought the next intrepid replacement should look like. It’s a total departure from the “Cab Forward” design. They had something in mind when they designed this car, and previous statements said it was the early charger. Retired Design VP Trevor Creed Quote; “The Chargers of the ’60s were distinctly styled, conveying fast, powerful and affordable performance,” said Creed. “That was a winning design formula then, and that’s our design formula for 2006.”
    So, if now they knew it was going to be called “charger”, why didn’t they drop two doors?
    Because they need a 4 door sedan, and we already have the muscle car: Challenger.
    They can say what they want, or change the design on it anyway they like, but there are people out there who won’t dignify it the “charger” name because it has 4 doors.
    Thanks Dodge for the HEMI HIGHWAY TOUR!

  • amer

    r they going to make a 2011 SRT8 charger???

  • moparman

    Easy there HEMIhead, I think your confusing yourself.

    I’m just passing along a link I found to a video release last friday. I don’t work for chrysler, those people in the video do, and did. I didn’t make the video.

    THEY said, if they had known it was going to be a charger, they would have done it differently. If you think THEY are BSing you, please, set THEM straight about it.

    My guess is that if they HAD known, then the 2006 would have looked alot like the 2011, perhaps even more retro though.

    And if it had, I might have bought one, because it would have at least LOOKED like a charger, four doors or not. I think the reason soo many people hated/still hate the 2006-2010 car is because it wasn’t just the four doors, it was the truck looking front end, and the lack of anything that looked like a ’66 to ’74 charger, in any way. Then the “daytona” and “superbee” “packages” just kind of rubbed it in people’s faces. HAHA, we’re making money off the name, HAHA!

    You can’t change history. The Mustang II is just now being recognised as being a mustang by car clubs. And please, check the sales figures for the ’90s mustangs compared to the retro versions that have been out since 2005.

    I will wager the 2011 Charger sells better than the 2006 to 2010, and it won’t because it has 4 doors. It will be because it’s a v-8 rear wheel drive car that finally looks the way people remember a charegr looking. Even I, am considering buying one. Yes, the absolute hater of the “four door charger” is considering trading in the daily driver on an orange one.

  • SUBLIME

    amer, no they aren’t. That is what they said before because they are releasing the SRT8 later in the year they thought it was best just to release it as a 2012. This is better for resale value anyhow because you will have over a year before the 2013s come out. It will not depreciate as fast. Hopefully, they will reconsider and not paint the center bumper section black. Again, a black peel off tape would be great.

  • blcd74

    Bill Pittman from the Amarillo Area Mopar thanks for bringing the Challenger and Charger to Amarillo. The tour was great we all loved seeing Heather and Scott with there rides. All of our members were excited about seeing the 2011 before they hit the showroom. Thanks for sharing them with us. Hope to see someone at the Mopars at the Strip in April.

  • patrick cooper

    I am the owner of a 1973 and a 2010 dodge challenger,both were purchaced new,you did a great job on the challenger,I also am the owner of a 1979 dodge magnum xe,the new magnum was a bust,anyone from the seventies would know that the magnum was not a station wagon,and any dodge man would know the charger was not a four door,make it the way it should look,,2 doors.

  • HEMIhead

    Moparman, no, my comments weren’t directed towards you. I am replying to the video and to Heathers statements that she’s been through the whole event from the beginning. I guess on the road she hears a lot of different opinions. I was just asking what people would have chosen if they had a choice. Like you stated you wouldn’t mind a 4 door charger if it looked like a retro/original. If it had been called “LaMancha” would sales been any different? And, yes I agree that the new charger sales will be better. There were 24 months that nobody would touch a Chrysler/Dodge because they thought they were in the toilet for good. So that will hurt ’06-’10 sales figures. Also, when the new challenger debuted in ’08, if you were looking for a pure muscle car, I don’t know why anybody would bother with the charger unless they needed a 4 door. As for the new charger looking like an original, I think it looks more like the 1999 concept car than any charger I can remember from the past. Someone also mentioned here that they don’t ever remember the Dodge Magnum being a station wagon. And that’s my point exactly! I never heard one sound from anybody saying the ’05 Magnum was nothing like the original and it shouldn’t have 4 doors and a hatch. It’s a good thing they didn’t decide to call that car a charger! So, if you like the new car/old car buy it. It is what it is. Don’t base your decision on a 1 piece, chrome plastic nameplate stuck to the trunk lid.

  • HEMIhead

    BTW, I think the Redline charger looks way better than the SRT8. They should have just put the 6.4
    HEMI in that thing with all the SRT8 engineering goodies.

  • moparman

    Oh, sorry about that HEMIhead, and I agree with you, the redline one was way cooler than the SRT8.

    It had a few more retro cues that really looked good, like the blacked out tail panel and the badges on the doors.

    As for what I buy, it’s a toss up between ordering an ’11 and waiting to see what they come up with next. I just read on LLN that they are looking at ditching the cross hair grill completely on the Dodge brand. Since one of the things I don’t like about the ’11 is the grill, maybe I’ll wait and see.

  • HEMIhead

    Yes, moparman. Plus they want to ditch the W5A580 Mercedes five speed automatic transmission. You may want to hold out for the 8 speed ZF. I am sure they’ll say they had a gun to their heads when they used the W5A580. They didn’t mind selling them though.
    I don’t like the chrome grill on the 2011 or the ’06-’10 for that matter, but the black one is pretty good.

  • moparnut

    I think the tour was a good idea that turned out good, as far as the new charger goes I think if theyed of stuck the challenger nose or something close on the new charger it would have just been a perfect looking modern rendition of my favorite style of charger. All n all its a good looking car and if I look at it at the right angle I can invision it orange with an 01 on the door! (Sorry I’m a dukes fan) but really it is a good replacement for the current charger. Just hope I can learn to like that grille a little more. They definately nailed the rest of the car and finally gave it that late sixties early seventies looking tail light assembly that I love so much!

  • SUBLIME

    Does Heather get to keep the car? She looks like she is really attached to it. Was that one of her perks? Come on RLD, give her the car. She is good PR. I know she could talk everyone she meets into buying one. Its a used car anyhow since she drove it all over the country.

  • STEVE SMITS

    These articles on the Hemi Highway Tour have provided some great reading.
    As a Mopar Enthusiast I knew we were the greatest auto enthusiast out there but had no clue how Great we were.
    Great Articles Looking forward to your next vehicles tour!
    STEVE SMITS
    President
    Durango Owners Club

  • CJ

    I have to say that the blacked-out bumper on the SRT8 looks awesome. It’s definitely a high performance look.

  • http://www.spacecitylx.com Rob/SCLX

    heather and scott, we were so glad to meet you during your tour stop to Houston. we are honored to be selected one of the stops and look forward to the next chapter. thank you for bringing those two great cars to the enthusiasts that bleed Mopar.

  • http://www.westcoastchallengers.com West Coast Challengers

    Those having not met you on the Tour and simply reading the updates during your trek, might assume that you were just a pretty face behind the wheel. In the conversations that we had with you, you never once missed a beat in answering our questions regarding the new Charger. From how much horsepower and torque, to braking, to the on-the-spot “:what’s this do,” “what’s that do” and “why this” questions. All answered without hesitation and never having to search for a scripted answer. That showed us that you were readily familiar with every aspect of the Charger and more than just a pretty face. Kudos. Job well done.

    If you and Scott ever get around to it, We’d love to read about the things you both saw and experienced on the trip. Like the story behind the turtle and similar things that happened to you while traveling across the country.

  • moparman

    Gosh, I hope noone took my first post that way.

    I was just honestly paying Heather a compliment. The fact that she’s attractive and into/knows about cars…well that’s just two plusses in my book.

    Since, for whatever reason, Oregon didn’t make the list, I can only go buy what I read on here and see in the photos/videos.

    I’ve only read and seen postive things when it comes to Heather.

  • Breezie

    Great article Heather, and it was nice meeting you all. You guys do have the best job in the world.

  • Pyrate

    Cannot express how much we enjoyed following the tour and meeting you and Scott
    People cross paths for so many different reasons, for us it was the Dodge tie
    In some cases you cross paths with people who will forever be part of your soul

    We so much appreciate the Hemi Highway effort, Hats off to Dodge, and they could NOT have had better ambassadors

    Here is hoping our paths cross somewhere else down the hemi highway