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Freedom From a World Gone Mad

A long time ago, in what seems like a world far, far away, I wrote about buying a Pontiac GTO. The fact that Pontiac Motor Division has been dead for almost eight years should be testament enough to exactly how long ago that was. Since then a lot has changed: we went from nobody being able to believe that George W. Bush was president then, to today when nobody can believe that Donald Trump was just elected to the same office. When you combine that with all of the extreme folks from either side of the political spectrum all vowing to end each other, it’s not hard to imagine that I’m feeling pretty certain that the world has gone completely friggin’ nuts, and there may be no turning back.

So in the spirit of gettin’ while the gettin’s good, I’m buying another car. Because in the face of so much patent insanity, a machine purpose-built for giving you exclusive control over going wherever you damn well please, sounds like precisely the antidote I need.

The last time I bought a new car for myself, Brokeback Mountain had just won Best Film at the Critic’s Choice Movie Awards and Western Union still operated a telegram service. Pontiac, the brand I grew up with, was still alive (though not very well) and the GTO was one of only two choices available in the “muscle car” market, which to be honest wasn’t even a thing yet. Faced with the choice of either the LS2-powered, 400 horsepower rebadged Holden or a fairly pedestrian Mustang GT, well…there ceased to be a choice. I proceeded to keep the GTO longer than any car I’ve ever owned — almost 11 years — and sold it to CarMax in Plano on Labor Day of this year for $16,400.

The car had a little over 35,000 miles on it. You should have seen the CarMax guy’s face when I told him.

This is the last picture I ever took of the GTO.
This is the last picture I ever took of my GTO.

In truth, I was extremely happy with the price I got for the car. After checking out Cars and Coffee down at Classic BMW that weekend, I decided to swing by CarMax for an appraisal. Another car guy I’d recently talked to had recommended them, and I was primarily just interested in getting an idea of what my car might be worth on wholesale to a dealer. While CarMax themselves offered me about $14,000, I wasn’t prepared for the Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer of $16,400. It was more than I thought I’d be able to get for the car in a private sale.

Despite not even having a replacement car lined up, I sold it that weekend, scanned the check with my phone and saw the money pop into my checking account 10 seconds later. We certainly had come a long way from 2006, and in truth, it hadn’t been all bad.

I say I didn’t have a replacement lined up, but that’s not really true. I already knew exactly what I was getting: I was just waiting for the day I could order it. The irony is, Pontiac ceased to exist right on the cusp of the resurrection of the American muscle car. With choices for big-horsepower coupes and sedans (and now trucks!) more numerous than at any time since the 1970s, the exclamatory “What a time to be alive!” has never been truer for this old-school connoisseur of Detroit iron. And no one carries the muscle-bound, I-don’t-give-a-fuck mantle better than Dodge, as I once wrote during the point at which this became patently obvious. Although the newly-evolved Camaro and Mustang are doing a great job at evangelizing their legacy and heritage to America (and the rest of the world, in the Mustang’s case), the only vehicle that can still be reasonably called a muscle car is the Dodge Challenger.

And on September 12th, when the FCA 2017 model year order banks opened, I put down $500 at Huffines Dodge in Plano to secure one for myself.

But not just any Dodge Challenger. I ordered what Dodge verbosely calls the “392 HEMI Scat Pack Shaker”. It’s a Scat Pack, meaning it’s an uplevel R/T into which some incredible maniac has shoved a 392 cubic inch “Apache” V8, brimming with nearly 500 horses of instantly-available linear torque and an iron block [!] that produces the sweetest exhaust note that I’ve heard on a production car since GM’s LT1 (no, not that one, kids…the Gen-II). Because that incredible maniac I mentioned couldn’t get enough of 1971, they resurrected the “Dodge Scat Pack” and its Super Bee mascot just for this model. And then, because I’m paying $4,800 extra dollars that are absolutely worth it, they cut a hole in the hood and bolted a shaker scoop to the motor. A functional shaker scoop.

What year is it again?

And to top it all off, I broke a literal lifetime of tradition and ordered the car in Go Mango orange. Yes: the original High-Impact Paint from 1970 is back, looking much like 2008’s Hemi Orange but with a beautiful sparkle of gold flake that materializes when caressed by the sun.



Maybe the world isn’t the only thing that’s gone mad. I know at least some of my family and friends think I’m a little bit crazy for ordering this color. I don’t care. As the arrival of my 1979 Trans Am forced me to park my daily driver outside, I could no longer stand the sight of black. Because it was never clean anymore. Black is amazing, second to none, when it’s clean. There is nothing else like it. But when it’s even a little dirty, you just want to trade it in on something, anything to make the hurting stop. I couldn’t do it anymore. God only knows that I’ve got enough stress in my life these days, so I decided to let it go. At the age of 36, I think it’s about time I started learning how to choose my battles.

While the Challenger is full of old-school muscle, it’s also just as cushy and well-appointed as my wife’s Charger inside, and this year, it also introduces the fourth-generation Uconnect system that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capable. I optioned mine with blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, navigation, HD radio, rain-sensing wipers and a power sunroof, among (many) other things. If you’re gonna get into it for the long haul, better tick the box for everything that can’t be easily added later.

Of course, as with the GTO, I’ve fallen in with a community of Challenger owners (well, several communities, actually) and have been tracking the status of my order every step of the way. There are codes for every stage, and I’ve followed them the whole way through, from the day I placed the order to the day it was built, then shipped, and beyond.

Date Status
09/12/2016 BA status (order placed at 8:45 PM)
09/13/2016 BX status (passed edit, OK to schedule)
09/15/2016 D status (firm schedule, dealer has allocation, parts available) / VIN assigned
09/22/2016 D1 status (sequenced for production) – estimated ship date: 10/20/2016
10/17/2016 E, F status (frame, paint)
10/18/2016 G status (trim)
10/20/2016 J status (built, OK’d)
10/22/2016 JS status (storage hold) – many Challengers sat here for a while due to a late Apple CarPlay update
11/02/2016 KZ status (released and invoiced)
11/03/2016 Electronic window sticker becomes available
11/06/2016 Staging for shipment at Taylor, MI – ramp ETA to Texas 11/23
11/10/2016 Truck Pick-Up / Yard Exit 11/09/16 05:19:00 PM TAYLOR, MI
Delivered to Storage/Transfer Yard 11/09/16 10:22:00 PM STERLING HEIGHTS, MI
DETROIT STERLING, MI In-Transit Report Station, Rail Arrival 11/10/16 04:30:00 AM
DETA: 11/17/2016 – 11/23/2016
11/12/2016 GIBSON, IN Rail Interconnect Carrier 11/12/16 05:45:00 AM (BNSF Gibson rail yard is in Hammond, IN)
Ramp ETA to Alliance, TX = 11/16/2016
DETA: 11/17/2016 – 11/23/2016

Today’s Monday, and it’s pretty crazy to think that this amazing machine I’ve waited two months for should finally fall into my hands within the next week. And the timing couldn’t be better: with Thanksgiving next week, I’ll have four straight days to enjoy the living hell out of it, during the only four-day stretch of peace and quiet I can ever expect to have in a given year. Because the customer whose project I manage never stops lighting things on fire (mostly their own asses), I usually can’t rest easy unless they’re all off on a federal holiday.

I’ve already got the mods sitting here in boxes. I’ve got a set of Yellow Jacket style matte black side stripes chilling out on the table upstairs. I’ve got a set of Gorilla locking lug nuts. A SpeedLogix black anodized oil catch can with shaker-compatible S-mount. A custom “SRT Powered” badge for the rear spoiler. Flexible orange plastic welting to dress up the interior trim. Splash guards. And probably some other stuff I forgot.

The dealer tells me the car might be rolling off the truck as soon as this Saturday or Monday, depending on when the BNSF freight train gets around to dropping it off at the Alliance rail head in Fort Worth. After suffering through the last two months with only one (trustworthy) car to get everyone to school, work, and everyplace in between, I’m more than ready to take delivery.

The first place Connor wants to go in the Go Mango monster-mobile is IKEA, so he can get some meatballs and chocolate cake. Honestly, the first place I want to go is anywhere and everywhere. I feel a bit like my eighteen-year-old self making lists of places he wanted to take his new Trans Am. I’ll relish every moment behind the wheel, because my car is my sanctuary. It’s my space, where I can have everything exactly the way I want it and nobody has Hope One of telling me that it’s unreasonable. Where I don’t have people from work telling me to clean up their latest emergency, or assigning me more things to do. It’s freedom embodied in a machine, a means of escape that serves no purpose except to provide said escape.

As someone whose mental health is often in desperate need of both the freedom and escape that a car provides — let alone a car this undeniably awesome — I am certain that I am about to experience what will most likely be the most memorable vehicle purchase of the rest of my life. An honest-to-God 500 horsepower V8 with a freaking shaker scoop, bestowed with all the comforts of home and an eight-year warranty. I even bought a shirt that I’m saving until the day I pick the car up. I don’t think it’ll ever get better than this.

Naturally, the moment the car arrives, I’ll post all the details. Just as soon as I get back from the frontier.

Go, Man.
Go, Man.

Disclaimer: none of the Challenger images in this post are of my car, but are similar in configuration.