Old school vs. new school. It’s an age-old debate, like turbocharger vs. supercharger, or manual vs. automatic. As modern performance surpasses the height of our heritage and Dodge’s nostalgia styling dominates the musclecar market, the argument as to which one is superior intensifies. Modern Mopar® muscle car owners rave that the power levels of the new HEMI® engines are unmatched, while old-school enthusiasts will testify that there is nothing quite like the originals. Being born and bred into a classic Chrysler family, I’ve always been obsessed with the legendary models that built our brand, but as a 22-year-old who has grown up during the second coming of the horsepower wars, I also see the appeal to new-school Mopar muscle.
Despite my love for Dodge’s newer designs, I’ve pretty much stuck to my roots with gas-guzzling carburetors, finicky distributors and good old-fashioned MoPower muscle! For my first car, I built this 1971 GTX clone that I’ve used as a daily driver. Commuting in such a stand-out car has definitely been an experience. Most people really enjoy seeing it out on the road and often stop to tell me they regret selling their old Mopar vehicle decades ago, wishing they were still driving theirs around town everyday like I do. Since my GTX was built with my own blood, sweat and tears, I wouldn’t trade it for absolutely anything in the world, but some don’t realize that all the fun of an old car doesn’t come without a price. Reliability, comfort and functionality certainly come into question when you’re just trying to get back and forth to work or run a few errands.
On Saturday evenings, I like to take the ol’ girl out for little hell-raising; the good times usually end at my local Chrysler dealership where I go to drool over Dodge’s newest models before calling it a night. Sitting in my time capsule of a car, I often wonder what it would be like to drive a brand-new Mopar muscle car and how it would compare to my 50-year-old retro relic. After years of dreaming and drooling (and thousands of prayers), a miracle finally happened; Dodge was actually crazy enough to put me behind the wheel of a brand-new Widebody Scat Pack! For one weekend, I got to experience the obvious contrast between 1971 and 2019, but I also observed a plethora of subtle similarities between the two Mopar muscle cars.
Despite their common ground, the stark difference between my usual ride and the brand-new Challenger made me feel as though I had stepped into a time machine. I’ll admit I’m impressed with even the basic comforts of the 21st century, like cupholders or working A/C, but the futuristic features in the Dodge made me feel like I just went from a Model-T to a Ferrari. From cassette tapes and CB radios to navigation systems and something called “Sirius Radio,” the new Challenger was chock full of extra gadgets and goodies. I didn’t think the touchscreen Uconnect® system would really be my sorta thing until I found an app labeled SRT® mode. Sport, street and track? What is this witchcraft? How could one possibly adjust handling and performance with just the touch of a button? I know what you’re thinking, but I tested out each mode and believe you me, there is a massive difference. I may not understand the newfangled technology, but I sure did enjoy it! Aside from SRT mode, the Uconnect feature also included performance pages that record stats like your top speed (I hope they don’t check mine!), 0-60 and even ¼-mile runs. That’s gotta be more accurate than my usual method for testing my ¼-mile time, which involves a stopwatch, a piece of chalk and a country road (don’t try this at home, kids!).
After spending a solid five minutes fine tuning the six-way adjustable bucket seat till it was “just right”, I realized the interior of the Challenger wasn’t really that different from my GTX. Now adjusting the front buckets in my car consists of sliding various pieces of cardboard under the seat springs until it grips you good enough, so I’m not saying an old car will come even close to the comfort levels of 2019. What I mean to say is that when you simply look at the interior design, you can tell Dodge took their roots into consideration when they constructed the Challenger’s cabin. From its slapstick-like T-handle shifter to its circular pod gauges, the Challenger still feels like a muscle car once you get inside, and even more so once you put it in gear.
The 485 horses and 475 lb.-ft. of torque in the Scat Pack Challenger far surpassed the pickup of my LA small block, but with its nimble suspension, reactive steering and graceful handling, you don’t even realize how fast you’re going until you look down and see the triple digits glaring at you from the speedometer, or so I hear . . . The car is so agile, even a granny could conquer tight corners and high speeds with the Scat Pack. My GTX on the other hand, well, that’s more of an acquired taste. With its original outdated torsion bar suspension system and fierce handling, it takes constant attention, high skill and a possible death wish to send this baby over 100 mph. As much fun as it sounds to speed away in a classic muscle car, there is a lot of noise, vibrations and other sketchy indicators begging me to keep it under 90. In a toe-to-toe race, the newschool 392 Challenger takes the cake and does it without the high risk of something going horribly, horribly wrong.
Speaking of horribly wrong, there is the elephant in the room to be addressed called reliability. While I don’t expect my homemade street machine to be the most dependable thing on the road, it was nice to be able to just jump behind the wheel and go! It’s not uncommon for old-school carbureted cars to have a unique start up procedure. Here’s what an early morning in my GTX typically consists of: First of all, the driver’s door handle is a little sticky, so you might have to climb in through the passenger side. Once you’re in the car, she requires exactly three quick pumps of fuel before you gently turn the key over. Once, she barks to life, you have to lay on the throttle for a solid 15 seconds and then she’ll happily settle into an idle. Sit back and enjoy that choppy cam and menacing rumble for about 2-3 minutes and you’re off! The Challenger, on the other hand, only requires the fob to be nearby and the car will start with just the push of a button! I’m so stuck in the past I kept forgetting how fuel injection works and found myself pumping the throttle while pushing start or ramming the fob into the steering column as I search for the ignition.
Despite her imperfections, I absolutely adore my GTX, so I’m not afraid to admit that like most old cars (ones that are actually driven regularly, that is), it’s had its fair share of technical difficulties. From a bad coil to a broken shifter linkage, I’ve found myself on the side of road with the hood up like this more than once. One of the thousands of lessons my GTX has taught me is that you better know the ins and outs of your old car well because roadside repairs are not uncommon, and if you don’t know how to MacGyver it back together, you’ll spend a small fortune in tow truck bills. Slamming through the gears in the brand-new Scat Pack, the last thing on my mind was fear of a breakdown, a nice change of pace for me. The only issue with the new 392 HEMI is that like any machine, it is bound to have a hiccup eventually and on a new Mopar vehicle, I wouldn’t even know where to start. I could probably rebuild my GTX’s entire drivetrain on the side of a highway (I’ve come pretty close!), but popping the hood on Dodge’s new-school muscle machine, the engine doesn’t appear very DIY friendly. There is a comfort in knowing your car can handle a 5,000-mile-long road trip without malfunction, but there is also comfort in knowing no matter what your car throws at you, it can be rebuilt at home with just the basic tools (no code readers, scanners or tuners required).
It’s not every day you see a bright yellow Plymouth blazing down the street (unless you’re my neighbor) and as result, my GTX draws a lot of attention. Thumbs up, big smiles and requests to “do a burnout!” are usually what I’m greeted with whenever I hit the road in my hot rod; heck, even cops (well, most cops) take it easier on you when you’re rocking a retro muscle car! Everyone seems to give extra room and extra respect when you’re out in your classic, so I’ve gotten used to feeling like queen of the road. Going from my side-piped street freak to a brand-new car, I figured I would blend in a bit more, but I was impressed with how much the Scat Pack turned heads. Maybe it was the widebody kit, or the striking B5 blue paint, but everyone seemed to stare at the new-school Challenger, although I couldn’t tell if the attention the Scat Pack was receiving was always pleasant. Old people scowled in contempt, peers glared in envy and cops gave you that look like they could see right into you soul. While the Scat Pack Challenger didn’t have any trouble breaking necks or standing in the limelight, it was clear people viewed you as the name implied; you were a Challenger.
When I roll up to a red light in my GTX and notice a modern performance car beside me, I may give it a little rev and glance over at the driver, the problem is people always seem more concerned with catching my take-off on camera than they are with racing, but in the Widebody Scat Pack, everyone was a contender. Trying to get a piece of the action or face Dodge’s latest challenge, the new-school Mopar vehicle seemed to arouse competition wherever it went. Ironically, most have a better shot of defeating my little 318 (yeah, yeah, I know a GTX should have a 440) than outrunning this 12-second beast. My weekend with the Scat Pack made me realize that even in a new Mopar muscle car, driving Dodge just means standing out.
Like any old car that is driven daily, my GTX faces her fair share of quirks, but overall, she is one of the most dependable, loveable cars I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning. Before I got behind the wheel of the 2019 Widebody Scat Pack, I never thought a new car could ever provide that addicting satisfaction you get when you’re tearing up the town in a legendary classic, but after just one weekend of high-speed thrills, cozy comfort and dependability, it’s obvious that in 2019, Dodge makes it (and HEMI still shakes it)!