Design Trumps Performance

2008 Dodge Challenger Srt8 Front View

I had the chance to drive a 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 to lunch last week. I didn't drive the car long enough to really evaluate it, but it only took a half a block to turn heads on the street. I was particularly amazed by how many people were reaching for camera phones and pointing. It's not like the Challenger design is new it pretty much looks like a 30-year-old car. Still, people were very interested in the Challenger, especially in orange paint, and it was impossible to go unnoticed.

This mostly amazed me because I had the 2009 Nissan GT-R for a night a few weeks ago and almost nobody noticed that car. I know the GT-R is more of a cult car than the Challenger, but it still amazed me that the best bang-for-your-buck rocket ship on the street only turned a handful of heads. Sure, the design of the GT-R isn't as timeless as the Porsche 911 Turbo it was designed to dethrone, but the GT-R was bright red and should have stuck out. If nothing else, it looks like it drove straight out of Gran Turismo 5.

Maybe it isn't surprising, but to the general public, the design of a car is much more important than the technical sophistication or ultimate performance. Do you connect more with the performance or design of cars?

I took the Challenger to northern (that is, rural) Michigan where one might assume there'd be a healthy interest in the throwback Challenger. First, the parking lot of Jay's Sporting Goods, where I stopped to see if the owner J.J. Poet had brought his Chesapeake Bay retriever Kimber's puppies. No puppies, plenty of guys with camera phones. Driving down the road back to the freeway, a pickup driver coming my way passed with his thumb stuck way up out the window.Then came the outlet mall at West Branch. Good heavens. By then, I was letting people sit behind the wheel while I worked their cell phone cameras. The golf course at Garland: old white guys in bad pants in the parking lot gathered like I was handing out free martinis.The security guard at the Kroger's in Jackson: Yelling back to someone in the store, "I TOLD you it wasn't a Camaro!"I don't know if design is more important, but it's clear that in troubled times, Americans sure did love a good old fashioned American car on Memorial Day weekend!Jean Jennings

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