For me, Monterey Car Week started off with a bang. That bang was the sound of my brand-new Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, on loan from FCA for a review in ACC, getting punched in the rear bumper by a Honda CR-V in stop-and-go freeway traffic somewhere outside San Jose. I’d been in California for maybe an hour.

Nobody was hurt, and the damage was minor — just a few wrinkles in the Hellcat’s otherwise pristine purple bumper cover. The other guy just didn’t see me stopped until it was too late. Chalk it up to real-world bad luck. But I felt pretty horrible about it, and I spent the next few hours eyeing those wrinkles. I seriously considered parking the car for the duration of the week.

I’ve been going to Monterey for 10 years now, but this was the first time I’d been there with a car that stood out among the ranks of exotics and rare classics that make the week so interesting. Among car people, the Hellcat has a way of drawing attention to itself, and for good reason, with a wail that can be heard blocks away, a window-rattling rasp, and those evil little fender cat badges that clue everyone in that this is no basic Hemi R/T.

So I did keep driving the Hellcat, and I’m glad I did. Gobs of people stopped to look at it. I answered questions about the engine at crosswalks. Star-struck kids took photos of it with their phones, undoubtedly tallied up with all the other exotics that passed by. I was behind the wheel of an American beacon of power and street cred. For a muscle car guy with a family (like me), it’s the car to end all cars. And nobody said anything to me about the bumper.

You can read my full report on the Hellcat on p. 85, but it wasn’t the only car I drove in Monterey. Superformance also loaned me one of their MKIII Cobras for a few hours, and I was banging gears in it as much as I could before my time ran out.

The MKIII had a great sound and feel, and while it couldn’t have been a more different experience from the purple monster, it was a fantastic guttural wind-blown ride. More heads turned for this red roadster than for the Mopar, and while it wasn’t overpowered in the same way, the Superformance was fast. Read more about it on p. 66.

At roughly the same price as the Hellcat, depending on configuration, this MKIII was easily as much fun, even if I was looking over my shoulder for blandmobile CR-Vs bearing down on me whenever I stopped. But it was while I was driving that MKIII — a well-balanced old-feeling but still new car — that the Charger bumper I’d been wringing my hands over stopped bothering me.

Why worry?

My time in both the Hellcat and the Cobra got me thinking a lot about how we use our cars, and what the best course of action is in general when it comes to getting out and driving in a world filled with commuter culture and countless distractions.

I can’t blame owners of all-original cars for wanting to use them sparingly. Today’s roads aren’t very kind to rarities. For any car, having good insurance certainly helps, but I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that even the best insurance isn’t nearly as good as not getting hit in the first place.

But these are dream cars and they’re supposed to be fun. Driving them should be the best part of the experience, regardless of the worries that might surround using them. With cars like the Hellcat and MKIII Cobra, the worries are smaller, and for good reason: Fixes aren’t a big deal. They aren’t erasing history.

I love original muscle as much as the next guy, but I’ve been a longtime supporter of the use of clones and replicas out on the road. Why? Because an L88 Corvette is now worth too much to be flippantly driven the way it was originally designed to be driven. But a 327 car that grew a high-compression 427 sometime later? May as well sidestep that clutch daily, because there’s not as much at stake if you blow it up or someone rolls into you at a stoplight. It’s the same story with the still-in-production Hellcat, or the currently produced Superformance MKIII. Use it, love it, fix it as needed, and repeat.

I’m sure that Hellcat’s already been repaired with a new bumper cover and is back on the prowl and no worse for the wear. I don’t feel too bad about it now, as the reward of the drive does not come without risk, and the drive is absolutely worth it.

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