By Joe Darby
At least for the next three years. Yes, dear reader, I’ve finally done it. After contemplating getting a sexy Dodge Challenger coupe for about a year, I’ve leased one.
Mary says that such a car may be a bit much for a 75-year-old man. But my 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible was getting a little long in the tooth and if I had to get new wheels, why not get something that suited a guy who has been a car nut all of his life.
I’ve always named my cars and the Challenger has been christened Scarlet. Like Scarlet O’Hara, she’s young and brash and hard not to notice.
The PT Cruiser, for obvious reasons, was Petey. My classic 1939 Chrysler, being an Imperial, is known as the Empress. Even my first car ever, a 1951 Mercury that I started driving in 1957, was called Pig Iron, because it was so tough and rugged. (At least until the engine’s main bearings went out a couple of years later, after I’d put some hard mileage on it.)
So anyway, Scarlet is the latest in a long line of many interesting cars I’ve driven in the last 60 years. I’d actually test driven a Challenger with the famed Hemi engine last week, which makes that model one of the most powerful and fastest American cars running.
But, being worried about my safety, Mary put her foot down (and I’m not talking about on the accelerator) on that one. A car with approximately 500 horsepower and a top speed of maybe upwards of 150 was definitely not for a geezer of my age, she said. She may — or may not — have been right. But in any case, I’ll be satisfied with Scarlet’s mere 305 horsepower. Probably enough horses to get me safely around a log truck on a two-lane road, I would imagine.
As I said, I’ve always loved cars. When I was quite a young lad, I discovered the Revell plastic car models. In those years they featured models of motoring’s early days. I built little plastic versions of a 1910 Model T Ford, a 1909 Stanley Steamer, and Fords and Cadillacs from 1903.
I still have a pretty good collection of miniature car models, these being precision models made of metal, with doors and hoods that open and with detailed engines under the hood.
I started reading car magazines when I was 12 1/2 and I’ve never really stopped. Today I subscribe to Hemmings Classic Cars and to Collectible Automobiles, as well as buying a fair number of classic car books every year.
I’ve always enjoyed driving something that’s relatively rare, something that you don’t see around every corner. Among my more scarce cars were a 1959 Morris Minor woody station wagon, a little British “estate wagon” as they call it, that was lot’s of fun. I also had a 1959 Simca Aronde sedan, a neat little French car, and a 1961 Sunbeam Alpine, a little white British sports car. The Alpine had the first set of racing stripes that I ever had, by the way.
I also enjoyed driving a very cute little 1968 Fiat 850 Spyder sports car, my very first brand new car. Also bright red, I drove that tiny little guy all the way to Washington DC and back, almost getting blown off the road by 18 wheelers, but it was great fun.
They only time I drove prosaic four-door sedans was when my girls were growing up and we needed a nice roomy car for family vacations. But as soon as they got older, I was the proud new owner of a 1994 Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Red, of course.
One thing about my new Challenger, unlike many of my earlier wheels. It won’t be rare. They are very popular in the Natchitoches area and you can’t hardly drive anywhere without seeing at least one. But that’s all right. Scarlet is ready to take her place in the community.