By Patrick Rall
The Chrysler Group was looking for a fitting way to help the Dodge brand celebrate its 100th birthday last week and in addition to putting together a very impressive book that chronicles pretty much every Dodge vehicle since 2014, the company rolled out some of the most important concept and production vehicles in their history from the company’s private collection to show off to a select group of invited journalists. In addition to seeing the 2015 Dodge Charger R/T, the entire 2015 Dodge Challenger lineup including the new SRT Hellcat and some amazing concepts from the past year, we were told that we would get to drive some classic Dodge vehicles.
The setting for this exciting event was the Dodge Mansion on the campus of Oakland University near Detroit. When I got there, we were lead into the main courtyard where we were greeted by a great many of representatives from the Dodge brand including President and CEO Tim Kuniskis along with an amazing collection of current production models, future production models and some of the most significant concepts in recent history. The cars in that first courtyard included the following models:
Original Dodge Viper Roadster Concept
Original Dodge Viper GTS Concept
Dodge Venom Concept
Dodge Copperhead Concept
Dodge Slingshot Concept
Dodge Charger Concept
Original 2003 Dodge Magnum Wagon Concept
Original 2005 Dodge Challenger Concept
Dodge Hornet Concept
Dodge Demon Roadster Concept
SRT Viper GT
2014 Dodge Charger R/T 100 Years Edition
2014 Dodge Challenger R/T 100 Years Edition
2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker
2015 Dodge Challenger SXT
2015 Dodge Challenger R/T
2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack
2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
2015 Dodge Charger
Many of those concept lead to some of the most amazing Dodge cars in the brand’s recent history including the modern Charger, the Challenger, the Viper and the Magnum while some of them never went any further than being some super cool concept cars. In any case, getting to check out all of those old school concept models in one place was an amazing experience and after Tim Kuniskis welcomed us with a short presentation about the significance of the Dodge brand’s 100th birthday, Chrysler Group heritage specialist Brandt Rosenbusch walked us through all of the vehicles in the courtyard and their importance in the history of the Dodge brand.
Then it came time for the Chrysler folks to show the small group just what they would be driving for the day. Behind a set of huge wooden doors was the garage area of the Dodge Brothers Mansion. This was an area that I have been in before for other shows in the past, but never before have I been so excited to see what was beyond those doors. As we walked up to those doors and they slowly opened, what I saw was unlike anything that I have ever seen and what I was about to do was unlike anything that I – or most other people – have ever experienced. It was like the gates of automotive heaven had opened and, inexplicably, I had been admitted. I knew instantly what Charlie felt like when he first entered the Chocolate Factory. I was about to partake in the single most exciting experience of my automotive life.
In this garage courtyard area was a group of the most important and incredible Dodge vehicles ever. Mr. Rosenbusch walked us from car to car, telling us about the cars starting with the newest models and heading back in history. He explained the significance of each vehicle and the group moved from car to car as he talked but he didn’t have anything to say that I didn’t know about these vehicles. These are the cars that I have idolized since I was old enough to care about cars. These were the first cars that my dad introduced me to when he started taking me to car shows as a little kid. These were the most legendary Dodge cars ever – and I was about to DRIVE THEM.
At first, my brain couldn’t handle what I was experiencing. I was literally like a kid in a candy store – the best candy store with the best candy ever – and I was free to sample anything that I wanted. The keys hung in the ignition switches of every vehicle and as Mr. Rosenbusch began talking, my mind was desperately trying to figure out what to do.
I thought…”Oh my goodness…I’m going to drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi Shaker Convertible! Holy crap…Im going to drive a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona…and an original 1966 Dodge Charger Hemi drag car…and a 1970 Challenger T/A…and a Dodge Viper SRT10 Roadster!” That same basic train of thought went on and on as I surveyed the spread of the most gorgeous Dodge muscle cars ever. Everyone was milling around when Mr. Rosenbusch stopped talking, at which I point I quickly stepped over to the driver’s door of the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi Shaker Convertible. I had my choice as to what to drive first as everyone else wasted time, but in my mind there was nothing more stunning than the rare, topless Hemi Challenger Shaker Convertible.
I climbed in, buckled myself in, placed my right hand on the ignition key of the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi Shaker Convertible, pumped the gas pedal twice and turned the key…and the 426 cubic inch Hemi roared to life. I was the first car to pull out of the small parking lot and onto the drive route. The drive loop was shorter and the speed limits on that route was 25 or something…I don’t really know…but it gave us ample opportunity to experience the launching capabilities of the Hemi Challenger.
As I drove along, it wasn’t about raising hell in one of the most sought after Dodge vehicles of all time – this was about taking in the experience. As I drove along in this million dollar beauty, the wicked grumble of the 426 Hemi out of the quad exhaust tips was like music to my ears. The feel of the steering wheel, the view across the Shaker hood, the feeling of the sun on my beautifully bald head and the quick response of the gas pedal were every bit as awesome as I imagined when I was growing up, dreaming of driving a car like this. I was driving a million dollar collectable Dodge Challenger and I felt like a million bucks for being a part of this experience. The most exciting portion of the experience was rolling past the group of public spectators with camera, slipping the Challenger’s automatic transmission into neutral and revving THE HEMI V8 for all to hear.
As my drive in the ’70 Challenger Hemi Shaker Convertible came to an end, the time came to pick another car and this time I went for the 1968 Dodge Charger Hemi 4-speed. This car didn’t have quite the grumble of the Challenger, but the addition of the manual transmission added an extra element of rarity and fun to drive factor. As was the case with the Hemi Challenger and every other vehicle that I drove over the course of the 5 hour long drive event, I went through the drive route with plenty of revving, copious amounts of low end acceleration exercises and lots of showing off for spectators like I owned this Charger.
As the day went on, I found my way into more remarkable classic Dodge vehicles including a 1969 Charger Daytona (wing car!), a 1956 Dodge Coronet NASCAR race car, an original 1966 Al Eckstrand “Lawman” Dodge Charger Hemi Drag Car, a 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A and many more. Oh, there was also a collection of newer Dodge models including the 1985 Shelby Charger, the 2005 Charger Daytona, the 2008 Challenger SRT8 and the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT10 Roadster. As the hours went by, the crowd thinned and I continued to move from car to car – getting as much seat time in the cars which to me are the most special. I was like a junkie who had unlimited access to my drug of choice and I was high on Dodge high performance. I was finding out what it was like to drive the cars that most people spend their days idolizing in pictures and at car shows…and the experience was, without a doubt, the most remarkable experience of my automotive life.
After spending all of my driving days working to buy Dodge (and other Chrysler Group) brand vehicles, after lusting over these high priced muscle cars that I had always admired beyond the velvet rope at big car shows and museum, I spent one of the most exhilarating days of my life driving the ultimate Dodge dream cars.
Unfortunately, my talking about my day driving the loop in these historic Dodge cars can only bring so much excitement, so I leave you with a list of the vehicles that I drove that day along with a ton of pictures of the cars that we could drive and couldn’t drive – all of which worked together to create a Mopar lover’s dream come true.
Dodge Greats Driven:
2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8
2005 Dodge Charger Daytona
2003 Dodge Viper SRT10 Roadster
1995 Dodge Neon Sedan (First Neon)
1993 Dodge Intrepid
1985 Dodge Shelby Charger
1984 Dodge Daytona
1973 Dodge Challenger 340
1972 Dodge Charger 383
1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi Shaker Convertible
1970 Dodge Super Bee 4-speed
1970 Dodge Challenger T/A
1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
1968 Dodge Charger Hemi 4-speed
1966 Al Eckstrand “Lawman” Dodge Charger Hemi Super Stock Drag Car
1956 Dodge Coronet NASCAR