Chrysler is not bashful about its future plans for a hybrid Challenger. Love it or hate it, FCA CEO, Mike Manley, isn’t far off when he says, “the technology does need to move on…[it] can’t exist as you get into the middle 2020s.”
He’s right, it probably can’t live for very much longer. But if the beginning of the hybrid Challenger marks the death of the muscle car (as we know it), the question is, do we kill them all off with dignity, or try to take the carcass of their memory into a new generation?
Friday, July 16th, 1971, 11:54 pm: The secluded industrial parkway is bustling with activity. Over 100 people line either side of the wide alleyway between two massive manufacturing plants. At the end of the alley, two pairs of headlights are squaring off at the starting line.
A 1969 Plymouth Road Runner rumbles up to the starting line; it’s 440 surging beneath the hood, causing the entire car to tremble. Carefully, with just the right amount of throttle-clutch balance, the car shudders into its box and halts; each grumbling surge of the crankshaft seems to lurch the Roadrunner forward.
In the lane beside him, a 1970 Chevelle slides into position. The big-block 454 sounds just as mean, but idles a little nastier. Underneath the vacuum-actuated, cowl induction hood sits a freshly-rebuilt 800cfm Holley carburetor, generously feeding the rumbling big-block beneath it.
The two cars sit anxiously between the rows of unruly spectators. In mere seconds, the flagman will drop the signal, and the shootout will begin. The exhaust fumes from over 900 cubic-inches of naturally-aspirated Detroit iron are already starting to burn surrounding pupils and nasal passages. The flagger raises his hands above his head, signaling both drivers to wind ’em up. In an instant, both engines roar to life as the drivers prepare to dump the clutch; everyone is screaming, but you can barely hear it over the roaring of the two monster motors!
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It was the heartbeat of an entire culture. The product of an army of technically proficient servicemen that spurred an industry to live. Hot rodding has many definitions; a muscle car can mean something else to everyone, but the idea was the same. Power, power, power. When we couldn’t afford it, we built it. When we couldn’t build it, we figured out how to, and then experimented with it until we got it right.
Hot rodding isn’t just a ’32 Highboy with a Flathead V-8; it’s about making things happen on a shoestring budget, no matter what you’re doing. Its the celebration of the climax of carbureted internal combustion for the poor man. Sure, there were real race cars out there, but you didn’t have one. You had your old Nova that you had to swap a V-8 into to make it fast. (That same V-8 that you didn’t bother to rebuild before you put it in.)
A Glimmer Of Hope On A Dark Horizon
For a while in the 2000s, things finally began to look promising for the endangered muscle car. Fuel shortages in the ’70s created an industry-wide shift in the way we approached automobile building. The ’80s were just about the worst years for performance, and the ’90s were spent trying to recover from the ’80s. The thought of a hybrid Challenger at this point was preposterous.
Finally, hope emerged when the 2005 Mustang hit the scene. Alas, a retro car done right! It was the perfect tribute to the bygone era. Then, as miraculous as it was, we started to get other muscle cars, popping out of the woodworks left and right – and people loved them.
That was a long time ago now; although it seems like only yesterday, the “new” Ford Mustang came out almost 15 years ago. So, my question is, “Is this really it?”
There are now confirmed reports that a hybrid Challenger is in the works for sometime mid-2020. FCA says this hybrid Challenger will make use of new technologies to clear up space and reduce weight (as well as the obvious environmental benefits). With the company bravely moving into the 21st-century full-throttle, where does that leave the legacy? Where does that leave the quintessential V-8 powerplant it was born to rock ’til the day it dropped. Is this even right?
“Big Muscle” Is Dying Fast
It’s illogical to think that we can keep burning fossil fuels forever, and everything has a finite life span; but isn’t it too soon to kill off what muscle cars we have left? Let’s face it, an electric conversion, although it’s the “way of the future,” has no place in a legendary icon like the Challenger.
You can’t really fault FAC (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) for using the platform to promote a new technology. High-performance EVs are the only “acceptable” EVs of the future. The hideous Prius was a test bed for a good, proven technology, not a proven good-LOOKING one. Be honest with me now, you know you’re glad the Prius isn’t the way of the future. We can keep the technology, but that body has got to go! At least Tesla tried to do something right!
It’s only right to assume that FAC would use a recognizable namesake to drive sales (we’d all do the same thing in their shoes, wouldn’t we?).
But as a classic automobile enthusiast, I cannot condone this in silence. In every attempt to give this action the credit it is due, I think its the right move in light of the current responsibilities and expectations surrounding today’s auto manufacturing sector. But on a matter of principle, they would be better off letting the legend live out its piston-pounding life and dying with honor.
Now, instead of punctuating its entry in the history books with a favorable (and fitting) note, there will be a chapter at the end of the Challenger’s reign that sounds like silent burnouts and constant software updates – exactly the type of thing muscle cars are NOT about.