Are you familiar with “restomod” aesthetic? It’s when an old car is restored with modern goodies like power windows and LED lights. In some ways it feels like the 2017 Dodge Challenger, one of the last decidedly retro new cars left, is the ultimate restomod. It’s really just missing a few key pieces.
The appeal of a real restomod is obvious. You get the authenticity of an ancient machine with a few “technological perversions we love so dearly,” as professional resto-modder Jonathan Ward once said.
But true classics, cars that are at least old enough to drink in America, will always be more inherently dangerous and more of a pain in the ass to own and enjoy every day as their parts supplies dwindle and intricate systems of hoses and wiring degrades.
The current Challenger lets you bypass that, offering a quintessentially classic look wrapped around a modern car. Of course the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro adopted similarly retro styling in 2006 and 2010 respectively, but both cars have since evolved again to look contemporary, leaving the Challenger as the only pre-made newish old-looking muscle car you can buy today. (Plus, the platform it’s on is by far the oldest of any of them.)
I finally have some time with a new Challenger this week, and as a fan of old cars I think the car’s current body style still looks great.
But when I climb into this land yacht (almost 200 inches bow to stern!) I have all the same complaints about it you’ve heard from other test pilots: the interior materials are made to the exacting standards of a preschool play structure assembled by a particularly vindictive Groundskeeper Willie. And the chunks of this cheap plastic are big enough to land a helicopter on.
I mean, it’s bad, guys. With three fingers I can peel the rubberized polymer away from the infotainment screen it’s surrounding and hear my grandfather cough out “they don’t make ’em like they used to” in my head.
Indeed, they don’t, and in some ways that’s good. I’m a lot more likely to walk away from a wreck in a 2017 Challenger than a 1970 one, after all. And this one’s a lot more efficient. And comfortable. And still under warranty.
So instead of futilely trying to modernize a 40-year-old muscle car, why aren’t more people having bespoke interiors made for the new Challenger?
It would not be an economically efficient exercise, but few car upgrades are. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to have these high-horsepower V8s (and V6s, since the Challenger’s base 3.6-liter makes more juice than plenty of big-displacement monster engines from the 70s) upgraded to unusable levels, why don’t more Challenger owners have the crappy interior panels on these cars replaced with finer leather, aluminum, carbon fiber, wood or even just wrapped with something?
It’ll be a long time before the current-generation Challenger is considered an earnest “classic”, but I feel like a few big pieces of well-placed fine material would go an extremely long way to maturing these cars without letting them lose the attitude that makes them awesome.