Deep within the dark and wild forests of New England, an ancient beast awakens. Its fierce growl unmistakable, it emerges from the mist-heavy woods hungry, searching for fuel for its infernal heart below cold, indifferent stars.
This Lovecraftian monster wasn’t something out of myth and lore, but a 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye. Dodge set me up with the muscle car for a Halloween road trip that would take me from spending a night in Lizzy Borden’s house to Salem, MA, for Halloween and history to Boston for a haunted weekend spent hanging around old burying grounds and true crime spots. For my extra-spooky Halloween adventure, I wanted an extra spooky car. What I got was a fucking terrifying one: the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye.
(Full Disclosure: Dodge loaned me the Challenger Hellcat Redeye for a long weekend of driving around New England. It was delivered with a full tank of gas. Is it too late for a Halloweeny car blog? Nah.)
It wasn’t my first choice, especially as a road trip vehicle. Of course, there weren’t many options when it comes to creepy cars. The hearse people were interested in a story but didn’t really want to hand over the keys to one of their custom, made-to-order vehicles. Rolls-Royce probably wouldn’t want a Wraith or Ghost to stack up that many miles in Boston, of all places. I thought about pitching the idea of getting maybe getting a classic VW Beetle, a favorite vehicle of cult leader Charles Manson and serial killer Ted Bundy, but I was sure I’d be shouted down and pelted with rotten bits of garbage by half of the staff, for obvious reasons.
The Hellcat seemed to make sense at the time. It has “Hell” in the name and a black cat with red eyes on the side! What’s more Halloween than that?
At a claimed 797 horsepower, this car itself proved up to the task of terrifying myself and my friend on our Halloween week road trip. As my colleague, Alanis King, mentioned in her review of the Challenger Hellcat Redeye this car is a dinosaur and the only perk of such a primordial beast is its bonkers power.
That power is a pure joy under the right conditions. But power isn’t exactly what you’re looking for while navigating the rainy streets leading out of New York City or trying to keep a car steady on a deeply rutted New England freeway. We were traveling only a few hours, but driving in such different conditions that we got to experience the many faces of the Hellcat Redeye, almost all of them mean.
I first picked up the Challenger from a garage near Newark airport. From there I was heading to Washington Heights to stay the night with a friend before we headed to Fall River, MA, the hometown of the 19th-century’s notorious Lizzy Borden. It was misting, (and autumn) and the Challenger was on summer tires, but I was assured it would be fine. It was an unseasonably balmy 70 degrees in the tri-state area after all. It was All Good.
This is when the lone violin would start playing a minor chord to let the audience know everything was not All Good. I quickly learned that trying to go over 60 mph in the Challenger Hellcat Redeye on even a whisper of moisture would send the car skittering. It was like I was driving on olive oil. Here was a car with all this energy, and I found myself hanging out behind big trucks on the freeway so as not to interrupt the flow of traffic with my sheepish application of the gas pedal. This kitty was staying on a short leash from here on out.
This unfortunate introduction became the theme of our few days together. Me, struggling to keep the car moving in a straight line on anything but the smoothest and driest roads. The Hellcat, always tugging at its leash, ready to break free and cause mayhem in any lane that might please it. Dodge says the Hellcat Redeye is possessed by the Demon (that Demon being the even more bonkers limited-run version with 840 HP) and it certainly felt like a thing possessed.
Almost every mile was a white knuckle struggle for sanity and control and soon, the car wasn’t the only one that felt possessed. I wanted to take more pictures of the Hellcat in various creepy places, but just piloting the Hellcat to North Boston, where the final Boston Strangler murder occurred or to one of the older burying grounds, seemed like an impossible task.
So we mostly left it parked when in the busier cities of Salem and Boston, even when traveling via public transit or Lyft, the Hellcat became a presence within the trip. It was a dark shadow just over my shoulder, always in the corner of my mind. Touring the Witch House in Salem? The car is there. Taking the Freedom Trail around Boston? But what about the car. I realized while trying to wander the very haunted Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston that I was counting down the moments before I had to face the beast again for our drive back to New York.
The simple four-hour trek from Boston back to New York was fortunately bright and dry. For a moment, I thought we were in the clear. We had survived the worst weather could throw at us that weekend (again, a light drizzle in unseasonably warm temperature) and the Hellcat and I had found, if not peace, an understanding of one other. Unfortunately, an hour or so outside of the city, we passed over some fairly rough road that was under construction on I-95. The lanes were slightly shifted, and the well-worn ruts in the pavement were almost too much to handle. While traveling 45 miles an hour and taking a perfectly easy curve the tires whisper against one of these ruts sending the tires squealing. The steering slipped and shuddered, trying to drag the car to the left. I immediately, but slowly, applied the brakes while muttering a prayer I haven’t bothered with since catechism. Things straightened out and we were able to get back to New York.
I tried to find moments of joy in this beast. On one or two particularly sunny straightaways on our journey back, I felt confident enough to really put the hammer down. And it was fun as hell. Letting this car’s freak flag fly produced a solid giggle or two from me at least.
Of course, we gave this 797-HP car a pretty challenging task: behave reasonably in tight, urbanized, old New England. While large, roomy and comfortable enough for two passengers, that’s where its list of road tripping bona fides comes to an end. There is technically a back seat, but it’s more of a vestigial organ than usable space for humans. The car is loud with crappy visibility, so sightseeing should only be done exclusively outside of the car. And the thing drinks expensive gas like I drink second-least expensive whiskeys. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to daily drive. All I know is, after a long weekend full of graveyards, haunted buildings and murder scenes didn’t drive home the reality of my mortality quite the way driving the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye did.