Great Americans: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/TThu, 04 Jul 2013 00:00:00 -0700
The classic Dodge Challenger's most famous movie role was the 1971 box-office success "Vanishing Point." A pastiche of man vs. society, a legendary staple in classic narrative -- as exemplified by such works as "1984," "Fahrenheit 451," "Charlotte's Web,"
Idiocracy -- "Vanishing Point" was a movie made by those who commonly styled themselves as "auteurs," making a "film" for the corporate overlords at Warner Brothers, who just happened to land themselves some brand-new Chrysler products and ultimately went on to create, as the DVD reissue box art that I found in the $5 movie bin at Wal-Mart claims, "the ultimate car chase movie!" The movie is rife for philosophical introspection, performed as it is by Philosophy 132 majors needing to pass their Humanities requirement and who couldn't find any more copies of "American Beauty" at their local Best Buy.
So, ignore the movie. The Challenger was as much a character in it was Barry Newman's Kowalski, which is unsurprising given a movie where most people were credited as "Cop #5." No, drift away from 1970s kitsch for a second. There's a better medium for the Challenger to make an appearance. It's the music video for Audioslave's "Show Me How To Live," a direct pastiche of "Vanishing Point" -- "spoof" would be too mean -- going so far as to incorporate clips and scenes from the movie itself. "This radio station was named, Audioslave," says Super Soul, this time around. Nice editing there. If you didn't see the music video air on MTV back when the channel still played music videos, you can watch it here. Go on. I'll wait.
Better? Now you get it; now you understand the essence of "Vanishing Point" without the basket of snakes, without the naked girl on the Honda CL350 Scrambler, without the Delaney, Bonnie & Friends mumbo-jumbo that must have been so revolutionary back in 1971, when Barry Newman wanted to make an introspective movie but it got splashed as a great "car chase" instead. (Hint: Bullitt wasn't about McQueen sending Chargers to their fiery deaths, either.) Just a dude with a car, driving to his inevitable doom (and we're not going to apologize for spoilers on a 40-year-old movie. By the way, Darth Vader dies at the end of -- oh, you know). It's a little farfetched to think of this, but somehow, Audioslave distilled the entire essence of "Vanishing Point" into four minutes and 58 seconds.
And by doing so, Audioslave introduced the 1970 Dodge Challenger to an entirely new audience of rock fans and car enthusiasts. Seven million YouTube hits can't be wrong. Remember, this was more than 10 years after the song came out, on the band's self-titled EP -- a CD that, if I may be so bold as to suggest myself, I purchased with my own pre-employment allowance money and cranked in my cheapo GPX CD player, because who was I to spend massive dosh on a Sony Discman? I must have listened to that until the grooves got burned in by the CD laser. When I saw the video for the first time, I had no idea what "Vanishing Point" was. Nonetheless, it blew my middle-school adolescent brain into a wonderful world of HEMI-charged smithereens.
My ideal Challenger would be a 1970, because I prefer the wide grille on the front. Preferably, it would be in black, or Jamaica blue metallic. Dog-dish hubcaps would be a must. (Rallye wheels would also be a consideration. No Cragars.) The engine would be a 440 Six-Pak, mated to a Dana 60 axle and a Hurst Pistol-Grip four-speed. I might have Hotchkiss do a Total Vehicle System on it, for the mere purposes of trolling hotshots in Miatas. (Oh, wait. Damn.)
Four lidded headlights in front. A long hood. A short deck. All purposeful and business, the automotive equivalent of a Smith & Wesson 38 Police Special: ready to fire without pretense or luxury. That's exactly what a Challenger is. Even the name: Challenger, more manly and ready for a fight than its fish-named sibling. The Hurst Pistol-Grip Shifter. The view over that long, scooped hood. The Challenger was a gasping breath in the face of its own doom, the end of the era of muscle cars, with OPEC and EGR equipment and Jimmy Carter staring down the face of the 1970s. What an end! What a finale!
If you see this behind you, then a car chase is about to ensue.
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By Blake Z. Rong