When the retro-muscle bomb detonated in the mid-2000s, few could have predicted that Dodge would emerge from the smoke as the standard-bearer for nostalgia-tinged sheet metal wrapped around a tire-shredding, cannonading V8. Having been absent from the world of rear-wheel drive performance for decades, and not offering an eight-cylinder engine in a passenger car since the 1980s, the emergence of the Dodge Challenger in 2008 (following close behind the four-door Charger sedan’s appearance a couple of years earlier) was a stunning return to form for a brand that had dominated Detroit’s original golden era on both the street and the track.
The Challenger leaned hard on its heritage, with resurrected Hemi badges joining the existing SRT nomenclature that described its hottest Mopars. At first glance, the car was the spitting image of its 1970s predecessor, albeit one massaged to fit the larger proportions of the LX platform on which it sat. When the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro eventually moved away from their own old-school looks, Dodge doubled-down, tweaking but not evolving the Challenger’s silhouette all while adding preposterous levels of power via its Hellcat and Demon supercharged engines that redefined the limits of what was possible in an affordable production vehicle.
Almost 15 years later, the time has finally come to say goodbye to the Challenger, a vehicle that not only dominated its competition in the power and style department, but eventually out-stripped even the vaunted Mustang in terms of yearly sales. With Dodge looking to redefine itself as a purveyor of electric muscle, and the coupe’s LX underpinnings no longer capable of keeping up with increasingly stringent safety and emissions regulations (not to mention corporate fuel-economy edicts), the most successful modern dinosaur of its time is currently in the midst of a victory lap.
Dubbed “Last Call,” the final parade consists of a string of special-editions that each call out to one aspect of the Challenger’s legacy, whether that be drag-strip dominance (the Demon 170), showroom stock street terror (the Hellcat Redeye Widebody Black Ghost) or, in the case of the R/T Scat Pack Swinger model I managed to snag, straight-up ‘70s nostalgia.
Although there’s no wrong way to revisit the strengths and quirks that transformed this muscle machine into Dodge’s conquering hero, the simplicity of the Swinger package perfectly encapsulates everything I’ve always loved about the Challenger’s big personality.
Bigger Than “Big Power”
For some, the Challenger has been defined by its extremes: think the sub-10-second quarter mile capability of the Demon, or the 800-plis ponies corralled by increasingly potent tunings of the Hellcat’s supercharged V8. Indeed, the coupe flourished when presented with such awesome levels of power, which were more than enough to make its portly curb weight vanish beneath the right foot almost as though drivers had temporarily suspended Newtonian physics.
While I’ve enjoyed every opportunity I’ve been given to flex the might of what are undoubtedly immortal entries into the pantheon of internal combustion, I’ve always been more enamored of the Dodge’s capacity for swagger. The unapologetically large, brash and devotedly old-school character of the Challenger permeates its every aspect, from the double-wide lounge act put on by its plus-size cabin, to the outsize rumble of its trio of eight-cylinder engine options, to its stubborn resistance to shaving down a still-effective body shape, preventing any resemblance to the more anonymous aero-influenced direction taken by its Ford and Chevy rivals.
To my mind, then, the Dodge Challenger is best experienced when it sheds itself of any notion of competition, at least in the motorsports sense. Not to take away from its ultra-quick quarter miles or the over-the-top grip provided by its widebody variants, but to view the Challenger through the lens of its would-be athleticism misses the point of what separates it from other (better-driving) muscle cars.
Focus on its overall attitude, and it’s much easier to discern what has made the Challenger such a popular choice with buyers at nearly every price point. While not everyone can afford to pay for underworld-sourced badges, the Dodge’s middle child — the Scat Pack — is not only a more palatable financial choice, but also the best encapsulation of everything that pushes the coupe’s character ahead of its more advanced, but less alluring alternatives.
If You Remember the ‘70s (Were You Really There?)
The R/T Scat Pack’s party piece is a 6.4-liter V8, a significant step up over the base 5.7-liter engine, and larger than any other eight-cylinder motor in its class. Your reward for shouldering the unit’s not-inconsiderable thirst for premium fuel is access to its full 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque, which in the Swinger model is aided and abetted by the cool outside air being rammed down its throat by way of the “Shaker” scoop protruding from a hole in the middle of its hood. The version of the Swinger I drove also came equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, a shoutout to traditionalists sweating the gradual disappearance of third pedals from the automotive landscape.
That being said, I’m a longtime fan of the eight-speed automatic that’s also on offer with the car, particularly in Scat Pack models where the name of the game isn’t necessarily banging gears from stoplight to stoplight. Instead, this version of the Challenger is all about the attitude. Beefy and loud, comfortable and extroverted, the Scat Pack’s best qualities are part of a total package rather than reliant entirely on external performance metrics. Although certainly quick in a straight line, the act falls apart in the corners where the Dodge’s heft and breadth make themselves known in occasionally cranky fashion.
Rather than be punished for pushing the Challenger outside of its comfort zone, I’ve always appreciated the Scat Pack’s potential as a cruise-night crusader, the kind of car whose approachable menace makes it as much an inspired choice for marauding at the local ice cream spot as it does a more-comfortable-than-Mustang daily driver. The Swinger package is a perfect complement to this persona, drizzling gold accents onto a metallic green palette that teleports you back in time to an era where conversation pits and shag carpet served as the backdrop for neighborhood key parties.
Purely aesthetic in nature, this iteration of Dodge’s Last Call concept further counts on a wood-look interior trim, as well as bold “Swinger” script on the fenders that old-schoolers will remind you once adorned similarly-stylized Dodge Dart models from more than 50 years ago (which also identified as members of the brand’s “Scat Pack”).
Don’t look for aggressive gearing, additional power or trick drive modes. The Swinger is here for a good time, not a particularly fast or furious time, and it asks that you respect that vibe.
Know When to Say When
Personally, I can’t think of a more appropriate farewell to a vehicle whose entire existence has stood in defiance of expectations of what a modern car should be like. Perhaps the ultimate example of “If it ain’t broke” to be found in current showrooms, the Challenger weaponizes its throwback status to outstanding effect, and there’s simply nothing waiting in the wings that could hope to replace its particular parcel of charms. No electrified doppelganger could ever step in for the Scat Pack’s threatening rumble, regardless of how much faster it might be on paper. While I’m excited and intrigued by Dodge’s gambit of electrifying the muscle car, I’m not holding out hope that it will somehow duplicate what the Challenger already brings to the table.
Dodge’s Last Call effort of course keeps the car’s supercharged compadres in the equation, but by making the Swinger package part of its final year offerings, it underscores just how well the brand understood what its customers wanted from a modern interpretation of yesteryear’s motoring.
Think of the Scat Pack Swinger as a greatest hits package of everything there is to like about the Challenger, without any of the awesome responsibility that comes with herding a Hellcat or exorcizing a Demon. Then put all of that in a shimmer velour suit (with matching bell-bottoms), grab your keys from the dish by the front door and have the grace to leave the party before things get a little too weird.
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