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2007 Dodge Charger SRT 8 Review

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2007 Dodge Charger SRT8

A Classically American Muscle Car to a Classically American City

From a Shunpiker’s Journal
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Nashville is one of those places rated near the top of most quality of life surveys. With low unemployment, modest cost of living, over a dozen colleges and universities, a major concentration of heath care resources, corporate headquarters of Bridgstone/Firestone, Nissan, Cracker Barrel and other major companies, and of course, the richly deserved designation of Music City. That doesn’t mean just country music, by the way. And best of all Nashville, population a bit over 600,000, is within a day’s drive of half of the US population.

We understand that Nashville, also nicknamed The Athens of the South, has way more to offer than the famous Grand Ole Opry so we’ll go have a look. My pretty blonde and I were invited down to this great American city for a tour. That trip will fit nicely into our test of a great American muscle car, the new Dodge Charger SRT8. Charger is a storied name in Dodge history going back to the late 60s. You may remember one called The General Lee. The Charger name came back to life last year to give credibility (or brand equity, perhaps) to the Dodge version of the popular and respected Chrysler 300C. The Charger, even in its most basic iteration, looks muscular and sporty sharing the LX platform and some dimensions with its Chrysler siblings.

The Brampton, Ontario-built rear-wheel-drive, full-size, 4-door Charger comes in five iterations beginning with the 190-hp V6-powered SE at $22,000. Our eye-catching red (they call it Torred) SRT8 stickers out at close to $42,000 including a $2,100 gas guzzler tax and with a few options added onto the $35,920 base price. Options include: air filtering, automatic headlamps, dual-zone AC, heated front seats, power windows with express up/down, sunroof, AM/FM with cassette, in-dash 6-CD changer, MP3, 11 Kicker SRT high performance speakers, 276-watt amp, 200-watt subwoffer and security alarm.

Nashville is just a hop, skip and jump from our Detroit Bureau headquarters here in south central Michigan. Just about nine hours of driving in this hot red brute of a muscle car down I-69 to Indianapolis, then I-65 through Louisville, then past the Corvette Museum at Bowling Green, Kentucky (which you may recall we wrote about last year) brought us to a striking view of the modern Nashville skyline. Below that skyline are more cultural, artistic, architectural and other attractions than we could write about in ten times this space so we’ll do our best to bring you the highlights and hope you’ll have an opportunity to explore Music City yourself sometime soon.

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We had a grand time charging down the highway in our raucous red Charger looking out over that big bulge in the hood. The simple, stylish interior with red stitching in the leather seats made for a pleasant environment with decent controls, layout and materials. The chrome around the instruments seemed a little tawdry, the fuel gauge is partially obstructed by the cruise control stalk and the metal under the dead-pedal was weak. Otherwise we found it a great place to spend lots of time.

The fully independent suspension is stiff, unpleasantly so on really rough roads, but not bad on smoother ones. Of course, that stiffness makes it handle like a sports car on the twisties. In fact, our friends at managed better slalom times with this SRT8 than with the Miata or Solstice. Impressive! The modern Charger is so much better than the original muscle cars that there ought to be another category.

The huge 20-inch high-performance, Z-rated low-profile tires make a lot of noise on some surfaces echoing and howling as if amplified through the wide tires. And the exhaust note . . . let’s just say it’s thrilling. Cruising down the road we don’t hear the exhaust at all but at idle (while getting our morning coffee at the drive-through) it grumbles deeply. At full throttle on the entrance ramp it roars like a movie monster. We’ll call it acoustically gratifying. It is a true muscle car, after all.

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The SRT8 is distinguished by a functional hood scoop, a squinty-eyed wicked-looking front fascia, lowered suspension (5.1-inch ground clearance), a rear wing and power from a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 making 425-hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque. SRT, as many of you know, stands for Street and Racing Technology. That moniker adorns and defines lots of hot-shot Dodge products. At just about 4,200-pounds of curb weight this cars scoots, zero-to-60mph in about 5.5 seconds and back to zero in about 120 feet. And it will stop that quickly over and over again with the huge vented disc brakes with twin-piston Brembo calipers showing red through the 5-spoke alloy wheels. Most impressive. Though rated at 14 to 20 miles/gallon we managed as much as 24 on one easy highway stretch (musta had a tail wind) but otherwise we made 20 on the highway. In town we saw about 14.5.

Just as we began to enjoy the Nashville skyline in the late afternoon sun we turned east on Highway 155, Briley Parkway, a fresh, new 5-lane-wide (each way) freeway leading us to our base for this exploration, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Nine acres of lush, tropical gardens under a series of glass roofs connect and enhance four complexes of about 2,800 guest rooms (many with balconies overlooking the gardens), 600,000 square-feet of conference space (soon to be 1-million) and dozens of restaurants, shops and recreation areas. Not as plastic as a Disney property or as garish as one in Las Vegas, the Opryland Hotel has the same drama and scale with a more relaxed, friendly, down-home feel. It’s hard to imagine, but a major expansion featuring a new wing of guest suites is underway.

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Our 4th-floor room overlooked the Garden Conservatory where brick paths wind though colorful annual gardens, waterfalls surrounded by vines, moss, shrubs and orchids. Huge palms reached nearly to our balcony. Rooms begin at about $200/night ($280 for a garden view) and come with plenty of ambiance. Packages or special rates may mitigate those prices a bit. There is always something going on in terms of free entertainment as well, like jazz musicians playing from within a water feature or DiVine, an actress on stilts impersonating a gracefully flowing vine easing around the grounds. Festivals, activities, programs and special events go on year around. By the way, if you have deep pockets and appreciate royal treatment the top-floor celebrity suites can be had for around $3,500/night.

We dined first at one of the premium restaurants in the Opryland gardens, the Old Hickory Steakhouse, with Grand Ole Opry marketing guy, Dan Rogers who came by to give us the background on the Opry. In addition to Kobe beef, wild salmon and scallops as big as a small filet mignon our host recommended we indulge in a presentation by Old Hickory’s Maitre Fromager (expert cheese guy), Richard Peterson, who narrated in great detail a tray of exotic cheeses from around the world then offered samples of the ones we found most intriguing. Our distinguished waiter, Wayne, bantered animatedly about where each creature we were about to eat came from, how it was raised and how it is prepared. This is the kind of restaurant fit for a special occasion.

So, what about the Grand Ole Opry? Dan tells us that this oldest continuous radio show first aired in 1925. The Opry has not missed a Saturday night show in all those years. The mission continues to present “new stars, super stars and legends” to enthusiastic audiences. Right around the corner from the Gaylord Opry Land Hotel is the Grand Ole Opry House, home to the show since its move from the classic old theater called the Ryman Auditorium in 1974.

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Dan hooked us up with seats at the Tuesday night show. We came through the artists’ entrance with the Bellamy Brothers and one of the house musicians. The house was packed. Two hours of lively country music featuring old timers like Little Jimmy Dickens and Porter Wagner and the cute little newcomer Kellie Pickler as well as the big buff blonde super-star with booming deep voice Trace Adkins. The second hour of the show was being taped for broadcast over the Great American Country network and CMT Canada.

The iconically American Grand Ole Opry presents a broad variety of music styles with one thing in common. The music comes from the people – literally folk music. From its beginning in 1925 as the WSM Radio Barn Dance, through the development of countless new styles of music the Opry has welcomed them all. Near the end of the show the announcer asked Adkins what he found so great about country music he replied “What other musical genre could pack a house like this on a Tuesday night?”

Perhaps the most popular attraction in Nashville is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, downtown on the Music Mile, a one-mile stretch form Demonbruen Street to Music Row. Plan to spend a few hours browsing through well-annotated displays describing in detail the rich history of country music. Well organized kiosks on two floors include sound booths to hear the great music being illustrated by the displays. A special exhibit, running through December 2007, honors Ray Charles with examples of his unique musical style and artifacts of his life on stage.

Just a couple blocks from the Country Music Hall of Fame, on 6th Avenue and Clark Place, a smaller but at least as fascinating collection of music artifacts are being gathered, annotated and displayed in an old warehouse with a big sign out front that says “Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum.” This is one of those finds in the shadows of the major attractions that deserve some time exploring the back story of many forms of music – not just country. If you’re fortunate, as we were, to find the owner/collector/archivist, Joe Chambers, in the house he’ll regale you with stories of just about every one of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of notable instruments, documents, costumes, equipment, and other great stuff – stories that legends are made of. Chambers, who is there most days, has been in the middle of the music scene for his entire professional life as a musician, song writer, and purveyor of instruments. He insists that the point of the collection is to honor the musicians across musical styles who mostly perform behind the stars and get little recognition of their own.

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A couple blocks the other way from the Halls of Fame is the historic Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 until 1974, a National Historic Monument built in 1892. Renovated in 1993 and reopened in 1994 the ornate red brick Ryman hosts concerts again. Tours are an historical treat and guests can even get up on that notable stage and sing a song. As we passed through marveling at the displays, three young women hopped up on stage in front of the microphone and punched out a song in perfect three-part harmony. We thought a concert had started.

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Recommended by two of our hosts as a place of great local culture not usually seen by outa-towners we searched out the Bluebird Cafe. A faded blue awning does nothing to shade the shabby storefront in a small strip mall on Hillsboro Pike just a mile and a half south of I-440. We could barely read the name on the awning. Inside they cram about 60 people in the little restaurant and bar famous for being the place where songwriters come to try out new songs and play informally to an appreciative small audience. The six o’clock show usually features up-and-coming new talent and at nine o’clock you’re likely to find well-known writers and performers as well.

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With the help of our hosts at the Nashville CVB we copped a seat up front facing the stage where four wooden chairs were packed in with guitars propped beside them. Four young singer/songwriters took turns for two hours performing their new songs. Hollie Poole in the first chair seemed to be in charge. Her energetic presentations got the audience whipped up. Next to her a lithe young guy with a charismatic smile named Tom Worth played a good variety of styles of music he had written. Matt Lopez, the handsome young guy in chair number three, beamed as he announced that he just had his first song “cut.” Then he sang “I Can’t Wait to Wake Up Next to You,” a song he had just finished writing about an hour before the show. In the number four chair sat Billy Austin who played both guitar and mandolin. Austin appeared to be a few years the senior of the other three and has had more pieces published than the rest. Each of these young flickering stars brought up friends and cowriters to perform with them. That was a great two hours of entertainment and a perfect taste of the Nashville music scene.

But music is not all that Nashville is about. Throughout its history Nashville has been considered a cultural center as well, with many colleges and universities dotting the area along with galleries and gardens, architectural treasures, and plenty of cultural events.

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In fact, Nashville’s other nickname is Athens of the South because of the city’s dedication to education and culture. In the 1800s it was just about the only place in the region one could get a classical education including training in Latin. In honor of the state’s centennial in 1897 and to promote that classical image the city of Nashville built a temporary structure at Centennial Park along West End Avenue to replicate the Greek Parthenon. It was so popular that it stayed in use until it became dilapidated and no longer be useable. So the community got together and rebuilt it to be a permanent, accurate, full-size recreation of the Parthenon with a 42-foot statue of Athena inside. You have to see this to believe it. We were stunned.

Finally, we visited the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens & Museum of Art at the end of Belle Meade Boulevard where the lovely Georgian-style stone mansion, built with the Maxwell House coffee fortune, houses some magnificent classic art including an impressive Faberge collection. The 55-acres of gardens, including a mile-long sculpture garden walk would be more fun, perhaps, on a day of less than 90-degree temps. We’ll do that next time.

Many of you loyal readers know how I love to discover and write about great car museums and collections. I couldn’t wait to browse the Lane Motor Museum on Murfreesboro Pike just off I-440 where, I’m told, the collection includes mostly cars seldom seen in the US like amphibious cars, Isettas, Trabants, Borgwards, some racing cars and motorcycles as well as a collection of Czechoslovakian vehicles. Imagine my disappointment at finding the museum closed Tuesday and Wednesday (we were there Wednesday). That will be top on our agenda next trip to Nashville as well.

Also on our next visit we’ll spend and evening or two floating around the bars and clubs of Broadway where a dozen or more ‘honky-tonks” host music and revelry every night. And, we’ll take a cruise on the General Jackson Showboat, visit the Jack Daniel distillery and the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere. So much to do, so little time.

It’s clear, I suppose, that we liked Nashville. Here’s one more reason. We were headed back to the hotel from the Bluebird on the 5-lane-wide, brand-new Briley Parkway. Who would have thought the speed limit would be a tepid 55 on such a big road. Well, as you might guess there was a radar cop on the side of the road shooting me as I cruised along at 70 virtually all alone on the road – a reasonable speed, don’t you think? As I grumbled and cussed expecting a ticket the officer came back to the car with just a request to slow down a bit. I was beginning to think, from my recent experience, that there was no such thing as a warning anymore. Certainly, that speed limit is unjustifiably low, but at least the enforcement was reasonable in this instance.

The Dodge folks came to pick up the Charger SRT8 much too soon. We could easily have spent mort time with this hot number.

We could also have easily spent much more time in Nashville. In fact, my pretty blonde is at her desk as I write this trying to figure out how we can get back to continue our exploration.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

The Gaylord Opryland Hotel:


Grand Ole Opry:

Phone: 800-SEE-OPRY Country Music Hall of Fame:

The Bluebird Cafe: You’ll need reservations:

The Ryman Auditorium: