Earlier this year, Ford released their newest Boss 302 Mustang, which may be the best muscle car ever built. And next year, GM will drop the new Camaro ZL-1, the most powerful Camaro to ever leave the factory. Both of these machines introduce a new sophistication for the muscle car, yet both are titled to evoke their namesakes.
So where is Chrysler on this new battlefront? Apparently they’re in the paint shop. Last week they released news that they would be releasing two new special edition muscle cars, the Super Bee Charger and the Yellow Jacket Challenger, both of which will show up at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, and both of which are named after classic special editions. How do they measure up? Well, they don’t.
A disclaimer for the Dodge fans: Both the Challenger and Charger (along with the latter’s dearly departed longroof Magnum cousin) are amazing machines. They’re loud, heavy, and more powerful than their competitors. Heck, the Charger doesn’t even have an American competitor.
But they’re not without their shortcomings, and perhaps chief among them is the lack of a stick in the Charger. Yes, it’s the second most muscular sedan out of Detroit, but without the option of a manual, can one really call it a muscle car? And as for the Challenger, it might be the best looking of the three, but would struggle to beat even a V6 Camaro or Mustang around, say, Road Atlanta. Dodge hasn’t built a world-beating version of either of their muscle cars.
The story is no different with the new special editions. The Super Bee will get a 392 Hemi with 465 horsepower, and the Yellow Jacket will get the same. If this sounds familiar, it’s because these are the numbers of any old SRT Charger or Challenger. And that’s about it. You do get some very nice looking yellow paint, a leather interior designed to turn your back into a lake, and some fancy new wheels.
There’s no performance tune, no redesigned headers, no weight delete. They’ll look cooler–with exactly the same track times.
Yet a perusal through Chrysler history will reveal something rather surprising. The original Bees had the same philosophy. The first Super Bee, based from 1968-1970 on the Coronet, was available with a slight carb upgrade, but it, too, was mostly about the cool paint job and custom hood. And the original Yellow Jacket Charger was just a show car, a convertible version of the muscle coupe.
So, unlike the original ZL-1 or Boss 302, even back then, Dodge’s special edition muscle cars were mostly for the joy of the look, for the pantomime.
The question, then, has become one of what muscle cars really are. They’ve always been about spectacle and noise, both visual and aural. They’re about sliding tails and whole storm systems of tire smoke. No, they’ve never been race cars, but everyone knows this–everyone but Ford and Chevy. The new Boss 302 targeted the BMW M3, and the ZL-1 was fitted with a magnetic suspension, for crying out loud. Chevy hired a former F-16 pilot to design its aerodynamic upgrades. Is this really the realm of the muscle car?
Perhaps Dodge has it right after all. Perhaps it really can be all about the paint and leather. A Yellow Jacket could never beat a Boss 302 around Laguna Seca, but it might still be miles ahead.
What do you think? Is Dodge lagging behind without a track-ready muscle car, or are they just staying true to what a muscle car really is?
Image courtesy Chrysler Group LLC.