Annual All-Stars Notebook - Dyer Consequences

Automobile Magazine's annual All-Stars test inevitably features a few predictable outcomes. For instance, I fully expected the Chevy Corvette ZR1 to rip my face off, and indeed I am now faceless. And I wasn't even driving it at the time. I was in the Jaguar XF, following executive editor Joe DeMatio, who floored the throttle and nearly triggered the Jag's air bags with the concussive boom of the ZR1's exhaust.

But that, as I said, was expected. Ditto the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which was completely unremarkable except for the fact that it gets 40 mpg, which is itself remarkable. Also, the BMW M3 was about as close to universally popular as a car can get. I could've told you all that without leaving the house.

The joy of this endeavor, then, lies in the surprises. And fortunately there were plenty of those, too. Consider the case of the Dodge Challenger R/T.

I wasn't excited to drive the Challenger at all. The Challenger, to me, seemed like nothing more than a cynical attempt to squeeze a few more sales out of Chrysler's LX platform. I've driven the Dodge Charger, and this is a two-door Charger, right? Why should I care?

Well, between the loss of two doors and the addition of a six-speed manual transmission, some kind of freaky alchemy took place, I tell you. I fired up the 376-horse Hemi, the Doobie Brothers' "China Grove" came on the radio, and within half a mile I was Wooderson from Dazed and Confused, asking rhetorical questions about high school girls and wondering where to find the next keg party. My sideburns started growing like a Chia Pet doused with Miracle-Gro.

This car isn't about finesse, because it's pretty obvious that it wouldn't keep up with a BMW 128i on any back road. This car is all about the Rice Krispies exhaust note, the six-speed pistol-grip shifter, and the way it lights up the tires through third gear in the rain. I love it. It's not a sports car, and neither is it very practical. The Challenger is whimsical, and it makes me nostalgic for an era that I don't even remember. The high point of my day was probably when I ripped a donut in the Challenger, slewing sideways while I blasted "Space Cowboy" on the stereo. Eventually, I pulled into a parking spot, but I didn't get out of the car until the song ended.

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