Hello everyone, my name is Steve Magnante and I’ll be posting a regular blog here on redlinedodge.com. Some of you may know of my work in car magazines for the past 20 years (I’ve written for, or been on staff at Chrysler Power, Mopar Action, Mopar Muscle, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Motor Trend Classic, Muscle Car Review, Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car, Drag Racing Monthly and a few other titles focused on non-Chrysler products).
My other work involves hosting automotive cable television programs like Hot Rod Magazine TV (Speed TV), Off Road Adventures (The Outdoor Channel), Classic Car Restoration (The DIY Channel), Rides Reunited (The History Channel), and perhaps my most recognized work, as an on-stage vehicle commentator during the Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions on Speed TV – with 3-million viewers.
I will say right here that I love all American-built cars but am partial to Dodge vehicles, past, present and future. My interest in Dodges started a long time ago. Since I was born in 1964 (the same year the mighty 426 Hemi was introduced and the year of Dodge’s 50th anniversary) I was just a toddler during the first muscle car era. But by the time I was about 8 years old, I knew what a Hemi was – thanks to its inclusion in many of the 1/25 scale plastic model car kits I built.
In 1974, I distinctly recall my Mom buying a bright yellow Dodge Colt 2-door coupe from our local Dodge dealer (Brookfield Motors, in Brookfield, MA). I liked the car, but as a 10 year old I was painfully aware that a mere three years earlier, from that very same dealership, brand new 383 Magnums, 440 Six Packs and 426 Hemis were available. Of course, 1973/’74 was when OPEC placed a six month embargo on oil shipments to the U.S. With the price of gasoline skyrocketing, the Colt was certainly the right car for the times. My Mom owned it for several years and it gave good, dependable service.
Fast forward to 1982, I’m an 18 year old high school senior. In those days you could still catch a glimpse of a Super Bee or Charger R/T rumbling along in regular traffic. Not yet valued as collector’s items, their owners were usually dudes who didn’t want a Camaro, Mustang or GTO but wanted to stand apart from the crowd at the burger joint or drag strip. Nobody was restoring these cars at the time, rather the Direct Connection catalog was their primary source of new parts. The ultimate status symbol was a Direct Connection window sticker or license plate. It meant the car was packing a hotter cam and should be treated with respect.
The new car scene wasn’t much fun at the time. Sure, Dodge offered plenty of competitive cars, but economy was the watch word and the K-car was just getting started. Again, they were the right cars for the times – and sold well over a quarter-million units every year between 1981 and ’88. But the big switch to front wheel drive left me cold. I had no choice but to look elsewhere for rear wheel drive performance offerings. Not that I could afford a car of my own at the time. But as an observer and student, I had a difficult time accepting the Charger 2.2 as a serious performer.
All of which brings us to the present day. Never, ever would I have imagined – in those dark days three decades ago – that I’d be able to walk into a Dodge dealer and drive away in a Hemi Challenger. The thought of it was as realistic as becoming an astronaut – or President of the United States. But here we are and as I write these words, I can happily say that I saw two Challenger R/T’s on the road just yesterday.
The best part of it all is how they were probably cruising along in V4 mode and delivering over 20 mpg when I spotted them on the highway. But given the command to get going, the 5.7 Hemi under their domed hoods would easily outrun a 1970 Challenger with the 383 Magnum mill. Really! And this doesn’t even take into account the existence of SRT8 Challengers. With 392 cubic inch Hemis and 470 hp, these machines – I have a hard time saying it – will outrun any 426 Street Hemi powered 1970-’71 Challenger ever built. Not only that, the 5.7 and 6.4 Challengers are far superior in just about every dynamic mode (braking, cornering, ride comfort and crash safety). So even though I had a rough time in the Eighties and early Nineties, these new rides are making up for it very, very nicely. As my high school Latin teacher used to say, “everything old is new again”.
And let’s not forget the modern era 4-door Hemi cars. I do recall thinking certain automotive journalists completely missed the point when they criticized the revived Charger’s 4-door body style. I mean really! After so many bleak performance years, these guys had the nerve to gripe. At every opportunity I’d meet up with these guys – many are good friends – and remind them how the Charger nameplate was once applied to a small front wheel drive car. If the use of the name on a 4-door, rear wheel drive Hemi car was a transgression, let’s have more of it please!
And how about the new Viper? Or the growing legacy of Hemi powered Ram trucks? These are the good old days. In the coming months, we’ll get to know more about what’s new in the world of Dodge performance offerings – and keep an eye on where we’ve been. My garage is home to seven vehicles including: a 1976 Dodge D100 factory 440 pickup truck, a 1963 Dart with an altered wheelbase and 512-cube Max Wedge that I built as a tribute to Jack Sharkey’s “Rampage” match racer of the Sixties, a stock 1963 Dart GT with a 225 Slant Six, a 47,000 actual mile 1954 Plymouth Savoy 4-door sedan and a couple of Brand X machines (an ’84 Mustang GT convertible and an altered wheelbase ’63 Nova – with a Chrysler-sourced push-button 727 Torqueflite).
Again, my automotive tastes are wide and varied, but Mopars – particularly Dodges – are at its core. I’ve got to get going for now, but I’ve included some pictures here to help you get to know me better. See you next time! –Steve Magnante for redlinedodge.com
I was so wrapped up in the legend of the Hemi I made it part of my high school yearbook page. The year was 1982 and though the final Street Hemi powered Dodge was built only 11 years prior, it seemed like a million years to me. The Hemi in the picture belonged to a local racer and was in his ’69 Dart GTS (a former factory 383 car). Note that I included Tom Hoover and the Ramchargers in my “Thanks” list. I didn’t know it then, but I’d have the privilege of interviewing the guys at the 2012 Chryslers @ Carlisle show (see the recap here: http://www.redlinedodge.com/2012/07/12/recap-redline-dodge-at-carlisle/)
My senior year high school art project was this copy of the famous “Beat It” Hemi ad of 1968. I placed the original ad on an overhead projector and traced the lines in pencil. Then I filled in the spaces with water-based acrylic paint. My art teacher thought it was “a futuristic space city”. I got an A.
My two Darts. The tan ’63 GT is my current daily driver. It’s a 225 Slant Six car (no 273 V8 option until 1964) backed by a push-button 904 Torqueflite automatic transmission. The Rampage is also a ’63, but is a 270 series sedan (note the fixed B-pillar). I built it as a tribute to an actual altered wheelbase match racer from Chicago. 1963 was the first year for the A-body Dart car line. It was Dodge’s answer to compact cars like the Ford Falcon, Chevy Nova and Rambler American. The Dart’s torsion bar suspension and rugged Slant Six gave it an engineering advantage over the competition. Half a century later, today’s revived 2013 Dart plays a similar role – offering higher base content – at a lower price – than its chief competitors.