2009 Dodge Challenger S/E: A Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I was wandering around the floor of the New York auto show yesterday afternoon, trying to find a free scone. No, I was looking for automotive inspiration to break the second-day malaise. I never did find the scone, but I did stumble on the 2009 Dodge Challenger S/E up on its dais. I've been thinking of nothing else for 24 hours.

The S/E isn't exactly carnival-midway material. First, it lacks the Challenger R/T's six-speed Tremec TR6060, or any other manual transmission. Second, with 250-horsepowers' worth of sad ham under its hood, the weighty S/E's zero-to-60 time is probably closer to that of a '78 Tradesman van than a 268-hp Toyota Camry SE. Can you imagine a greater humiliation than being dispatched by a middle-aged suburban bank branch manager late for her 11:15? I can, but it would involve farm animals, Irish whiskey and glossy photos.

Despite all of that - and it's quite a lot to spite — the Challenger S/E has remained foremost in my thoughts.

My obsession is mainly with intangables. The S/E on display looked simply stunning in a color approximating the classic Mopar B5 blue. It's also decked, such that it is, with 18-inch wheels and a pert lip spoiler. On paper, the car should be a no more alluring than any other rental upgrade. Nonetheless, the base Challenger projects a kind of butchness the base V6 Mustang only imagines while wearing its dad's Hathaway shirts. Despite the availability of V6 turbocharging kits, Ford's base-level pony car cannot seem to cast off the hairy sweater it's been wearing for 40+ years. The most obvious slight at the base Mustang is that it's the ultimate "secretary's car." The Challenger S/E is a secretary's car too; think Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter.

Plus, think of the practicalities. Speed isn't everything for a daily driver, a role for which the Challenger is well suited. It's roomy enough to fit two work-weary, inflation-slapped adults in the front, and accept a baby seat and a full-sized adult in the back seat. For the most part, it's sure to treat gasoline as the swiftly appreciating commodity it is. Face it kids, we all grow up, some more grudgingly than others.

And if having a car that's as slow as warm potash becomes grating, there's always a turbo kit. Maybe someday.