My 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is actually the third Dodge Challenger I’ve owned. As featured a few weeks ago, I had a 1973 Dodge Challenger Rallye when I was in college in Colorado. That car was pretty cool, but as fun as it was to drive I always wanted a big-block Dodge Challenger, preferably a 440 or 426 Hemi version from 1970 or 1971.
About 13 years after selling my 1973 Dodge Challenger Rally I found another Challenger while browsing eBay. This was was an all-original, one-owner car with every single feature I wanted. First, it was a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T SE, which immediately makes it a relatively rare and well-equipped car. There were plenty of Dodge Challenger R/Ts produced, and a fair amount of Dodge Challenger SEs were made, too. But there are very few original Challengers that featured both packages in one car.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, this car was also a Chrysler executive ordered car, which is why it was so loaded with features. When I saw the eBay listing I was thrilled to see this Challenger’s list of factory features: 440 engine, air conditioning, AM/FM radio, rear defrost, rim-blow steering wheel, chrome trim (mirrors and windows) and hood pins. And, best of all, it was painted my favorite vintage challenger color: Plum Crazy Purple.
My two older brothers influenced my car enthusiasm. They both owned multiple vehicles before they had their driver’s licenses, and by the time I got my license they were well into their lifelong odyssey of owning old, odd, eclectic models. One of those cars was a 1973 Saab Sonett III. This front-wheel drive, two-seat sports car was made from 1966 to 1974, and considered a Porsche 911 competitor at the time. Saab actually made the first Sonett in 1955, but only 6 units of the fiberglass convertible were built, utilizing a three-cylinder, two-stroke engine.
The Sonett returned in 1966 as the Sonett II. This time it was a fiberglass 2-door coupe, but it still used a two-stroke engine until 1967, when it switched to a 1.5-liter Ford-of-Europe sourced V4 engine. The Sonett was revised again in 1970, with a more effective rear hatch and flip-up headlights, plus a name change to Sonett III. This version went unchanged until 1974, though it gained the same unsightly oversized bumpers many small European cars suffered in the U.S. starting in 1973. The Saab Sonett III ended production in 1974
I drove my brother’s Saab Sonett several times when I was still a teenager. At the time I was a dedicated V8 muscle car fan, but the Sonett surprised me with how much fun a four-cylinder, front-wheel drive sports car could be. Twenty years later, in June of 2000, I was at a Barrett-Jackson auction at the Petersen Publishing Museum where this particular red 1973 Saab Sonett was going up for auction. I didn’t plan on buying it, but I looked the Saab over closely and confirmed it was clean and original…
From 1992 to 1996 I drove two turbocharged Dodge’s as my primary transportation. They were both front-wheel-drive models with four-cylinder engines, and in the fall of 1996 I graduated to a new turbo Dodge with a tad more performance — a 1991 Dodge Stealth R/T Twin Turbo. I had loved the Dodge Stealth since it first debuted. The performance specs were impressive in the early 1990s: twin turbos, 300 horsepower, all-wheel drive and an adjustable suspension. Of course the Stealth was really just a re-bodied Mitsubishi 3000GT, and I liked both cars’ performance specs and loved their proportions. Even 27 years later I still think they look great.
I bought my 1991 Dodge Stealth R/T Twin Turbo from a used car dealer in Santa Monica. It had 58,000 miles and I paid $12,000. For a 5-year-old performance car with the Stealth’s technical specs I thought it was a pretty good deal. What I didn’t know at the time was that Stealth R/T Twin Turbo maintenance calls for a timing belt change around 55,000 miles. Mine hadn’t been done, and less than a week after buying it the belt let go and the pistons crashed into the valves, destroying the top of the engine.
I grew up a car guy for several reasons, not the least of which were two older car-guy brothers. Their influence had me reading about muscle cars, with a particular focus on Mopars, before I was 15. I was well schooled in all the various Mopar muscle cars before I got my driver’s permit, and while I gravitated toward the Plymouth Superbird and GTX I also had the same fondness for E-bodies that every Mopar fan has. The Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda are two of the most iconic muscle cars ever created.
I’ve never owned a Plymouth Barracuda, but I’ve had two original Dodge Challengers. The first one, a 1973 Dodge Challenger Rallye, was purchased in 1991, during my last year in college. It was equipped about as well as that year’s Challenger could be, with a 340 V8, pistol-grip 4-speed transmission and factory air conditioning. It was also an original B5 Blue car with a black vinyl top, though when I got it the top was stripped off and the roof was painted black.
Last week’s Flash Back Friday featured my 1987 Dodge Shadow Shelby CSX, which might have you thinking I’ve made a typo above and I’m just double-posting about the same car. But no, my 1989 Shelby CSX was an entirely different car. Sure, they shared the same starting point (a Dodge Shadow) and they used the same basic drivetrain (an intercooled, turbocharged 2.2-liter inline-4 mated to a 5-speed manual transmission) but that’s where the similarities ended.
It’s worth noting that Shelby also offered a 1988 version of this car, but where the first year (1987) CSX was a black-and-gray model offered with an intercooled 2.2-liter to consumers, the 1988 CSX-T was missing the intercooler and was only offered to Thrifty (thus the “T” in the name) rental car agencies as a throwback to the 1966 Shelby GT350H rental car Mustang. The 1988 engine was still rated at the same 175 horsepower as the 1987 model, and 1000 were produced each year.
The 1989 Shelby CSX featured several upgrades from the ’87-’88 versions. First, the intercooler returned to the turbocharged 2.2-liter engine, ensuring more power under a wider range of ambient temperature. Second, the engine featured an entirely new “variable-nozzle turbo” technology. The 1989 Shelby CSX is officially called the “CSX-VNT” though I never hear anyone refer to it that way the entire 4 years I owned mine.
In the spring of 1989, about a year after I graduated high school, I remained a die hard big block, V8 muscle car advocate. At that point my experiences in 440-powered Mopars had defined my automotive enthusiasm, which meant I was a big believer in the “no replacement for displacement” mantra. Then my dad commented he was going to the Dodge dealership in Boulder to look at a used Dodge Shadow. I distinctly remember telling him, “If you have to buy one of those, at least get a turbo version.” In my head imagined an underpowered compact car, struggling to maintain 55 mph on westbound Interstate 70 as it plodded from my hometown of Golden to the scenic overlooks on Lookout Mountain.
A few hours later my dad returned and asked if I’d help him retrieve his new (slightly used) Dodge Shadow. I asked if it was a turbo version and he said, “yes” so I figured it would be interesting to see what he got. When we arrived at the dealership he pointed to a 2-door, black-and-gray Dodge Shadow with alloy wheels, a power-bulge hood and a blue pinstripe. It looked…cool! With notable exasperation I asked, “That’s what you bought?!”
Last week’s Flash Back Friday featured my 1969 Plymouth GTX, the third car I owned (before I turned 16 and got my driver’s license…) and my first car that actually ran when I bought it. That GTX provided me with a wealth of memories, enough to justify another blog of its own, but as much fun as it was my second car, a 1970 Plymouth GTX, brought me even more joy.
I actually owned both GTXs at the same time for over a year. I bought the 1969 Plymouth GTX in April of 1985 for $2,200. The car was far from mint, but it was complete and ran fine, which makes that price seem all the more amazing 33 years later. I bought the 1970 Plymouth GTX in September of 1986 for $4,000. The ’70 was in near mint condition and all original with just one repaint. I sold the 1969 GTX in December of 1987 for $2,500, which was a monetary loss because I’d put an easy $1,000 in that car before it left. I couldn’t justify keeping both of them on my high school car budget, and I loved my 1970 Plymouth GTX far more. I kept that one for 24 years.
I’ve owned a lot of cars over the past 34 years and I’ve decided I’m going to start featuring them on Flash Back Fridays. Let’s start with my first real car, a 1969 Plymouth GTX
I actually had three cars before I got my driver’s license. Blame my two orders brothers, both certified grease monkeys who averaged owning about 4 cars each during my teen years (when they were in their early 20s). Technically my first car was a primer gray 1966 Dodge Coronet 500 with no drivetrain. The dream was to drop in a 440 and make it a killer street car. Then I found an all-original B5 blue 1968 Dodge Charger R/T and forgot all out the Coronet 500. But the Charger had a seized engine, massive quarter panel rust and no title (bought it for $200 from a salvage yard). I had visions of making it a killer street car before I spotted a 1969 Plymouth GTX on a used car lot while (no joke) coming back from passing my driver’s permit test. Unlike the previous two cars, this one was complete and ran. So while it technically wasn’t my first car, the 1969 Plymouth GTX was my first running car.