In our last episode of “Horsepower,” I warbled along to this essential point: New cars just don’t really do it for me.
Editor Pickering, my Instigator in Chief, responded with, “That was great! And now I have a new car coming for ya!” I think he likes to watch me squirm. Having already piloted a Hellcat-powered Charger down the West Coast and back on one of his trips to Pebble Beach, I think he figured some seat time in a grotesquely overpowered daily driver would do me some good.
A week or so later, I met the man at the office, presented my driver’s license, and signed on the dotted line. With that, a press fleet-sourced red key was mine for a week.
Bark and bite
Out on the street sat Pickering’s counter-argument — an F8 Green Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat widebody. To say the thing had curb appeal is akin to saying Mr. T wears a gold necklace. I felt like the Hellcat was staring me down, chest puffed out, like, “BRUH! Do you even lift?!”
I’m not ashamed to admit I was maybe just a wee bit intimidated. I’ve heard these things can smell fear on you. The entire editorial staff crowded around and, I’m assuming, quietly pondered how far I’d make it before needing to be winched out of a ditch.
I climbed in, hit the button, and it roared. I’m not exaggerating. It was as if the king of the jungle had been abruptly awoken from a much-deserved nap by a hapless cub poking his bellybutton — “RRRWHHHAAATTTT???!!!” I giggled. I couldn’t help myself.
Pickering reminded me one more time to “try not to wreck it.” I promised I’d do my best.
I don’t want to sound too much like a teenage gossip queen, but it’s possible that I spent the week or so prior to pick-up telling everyone who’d listen what was coming down the pipe. As a result, I had a line of kids I know who look and dress and sound like middle-aged men lined up around the corner for a turn in the passenger’s seat.
Pickering warned me that I’d be impressed, and he wasn’t wrong. I could say that the ease with which I racked up several hundred miles on hot summer evenings while slogging through traffic and mortifying buddies in a 707-horsepower street car is impressive, but that’s like saying a blue whale is big.
In the previous issue of ACC, I wrote about how the ’93 Z/28’s 275 horsepower rattled me to the bone 25 years ago. That car was so close to the magical 300-horsepower number that, for the first time, I could see the world of everyday high-performance cresting the horizon like a new dawn. The Hellcat might just be my high noon.
There were times that I felt as if someone, engineers and designers and engine builders to be specific, actually had been listening over my shoulder all these years. The damn thing had a 60,000-mile/three-year drivetrain warranty, for crying out loud. Who would’ve ever thought that would be a reasonable expectation?
I spent quite a lot of my cruising time running through scenarios where I imagined taking the $75,000 it takes to own the red key and throwing it at my Chevelle instead. I could probably make my old car some combination of as fast, as reliable, as comfortable, or as safe as the Hellcat, but certainly not all of the above. It was a humbling exercise.
Making it fit
Unfortunately, my time with the Hellcat just so happened to overlap with my sons’ summer vacation with the grandparents at Camp Dowhatiwant. I’m disappointed the three of us didn’t get a chance to give it hell together, but to them, my Chevelle currently holds the record for being the fastest car in the solar system. I guess there’s no real need to kickstart a controversy.
In an effort to take advantage of the elusive opportunity for a date night, my wife and I got ourselves cleaned up, hit the button, and vroomed our way over to our favorite fancy restaurant. On the way, she looked over at me and said, “It kinda feels like we’re living someone else’s life right now. No kids, fancy new car. Not bad!” With those words, she managed to nail down exactly the feeling with which I had been wrestling.
As much as I was enjoying my time behind the wheel of the monster, I had already resigned myself to the fact that my time in the driver’s seat was exactly as my wife described it — a window into someone else’s life. After all, the spot in my garage is full of Chevelle, and that car’s not going anywhere.
But for some reason, I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty. It was as if I had been asking all my life for a perfectly tailored suit. And then, over time, some anonymous admirer procured my measurements and painstakingly assembled exactly what I had always been asking for. And now, here it was, laid out before me in all its tangible glory. How then do I tell the tailor that after all these years, jeans and a T-shirt is all I want?
Pickering was right — I was more than impressed by my time with the Hellcat. The suit fit like a glove, and I looked pretty damn good wearing it, if I do say so myself. But I can’t help but feel that this particular cut might be a better fit on someone else.
Maybe I should try it on again?