“Quick! Roll down the windows!” my father said as the interior filled up with smoke.
My little hands reached over and cranked the passenger window down as fast as my six-year-old self could. The 1967 Chrysler Newport Custom’s wiring harness had caught on fire. We pulled into the parking lot at the commercial slot car track, and my dad assessed the damage. That night, after the slot car race was over, he drove it home.
When I was a little girl, I tended to like all of the same things that my father did. Music, food, movies, and, of course, cars.
It wasn’t until my father bought that four-door Newport that I started to become fond of Mopars. The car that he paid a mere $300 for resulted in many trips to the dragstrip and Mopar car shows. Even though he only purchased it for the 383 big-block V-8 under its hood, the Chrysler became the daily driver for a while.
I remember the many weekends he spent tinkering under the large hood. He worked in as many Smokey Yunick tricks as he could into that 383. But in the late 1990s, he parked it up on ramps in front of the garage so he could replace the gas tank. And sadly it’s been sitting there ever since. One of these days I might rescue it. Maybe. If I ever have the room.
Those memories, however, are what sparked my love for Mopars. I adored (and still do) Plymouth Barracudas, my Holy Grail being a Plum Crazy 1971 with a 426 Hemi. I studied oddballs like the Chrysler Turbine. I learned about Hemis, Warlocks, Air Grabbers, Superbirds, and Super Bees. It was “Mopar or no car” for me for years.
Oh, Other Automakers Exist?
It wasn’t until I began my stint at Car and Driver when my eyes opened up and I began to actually notice vehicles made by other automakers. With the ability to drive home a different car every night (after my first two years there, I had driven home 229 different vehicles), I started to learn what made the other carmakers great, and some not so great.
I enjoyed every time I got behind the long-term Subaru BRZ and Jaguar F-type, even though they could barely hold two weeks’ worth of groceries in their trunks. I learned to love the luxury in top-of-the-line Audis and Mercedes. I drove every Black Series AMG that came to the office during my four years there, including an SLS that Lewis Hamilton once drove. One day for lunch, I took a Dodge Charger police car to an Asian restaurant with a coworker, giggling at how other drivers on the road would treat me as the pace car even though the markings were wrong. I also parked a Ram cop truck in my driveway one night and probably made the old couple across the street freak out when I turned on the lights for a quick video.
But it was during this time that I learned how much the Chrysler brand was actually kind of falling behind. Every time I would get behind the wheel of one of the automaker’s vehicles, it felt like I was driving a brick. Sure, some of them could go fast and looked good, and the Ram pickups had some nice interiors, but overall they lacked the fine-tuned characteristics of the others.
Not only that, but throughout the years, the automotive events and museum exhibits I’ve been to have helped me appreciate the different technologies and designs of cars. At the local car shows, you will see dozens of Ford Mustangs, Chevrolet Corvettes, and Porsche 911s. But am I drawn to them like a moth to an illuminated light bulb? Not really. They’re all just too common. Instead, I’ll head over to the 1930s Bugatti or Bentley, a vintage Alfa Romeo, or the Audi Quattro.
Before heading to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, we checked out the Ralph Lauren exhibit at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, by the Louvre Museum in Paris. The “opening car” in the exhibit was a stunning 1938 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic, the last of the four originally produced examples of the car, followed by a gorgeous 1930 “Count Trossi” Mercedes Benz SSK and a 1958 Ferrari 250 Testarossa. I find these cars interesting. They have stories behind them, and each of them is, in their own sense, a work of art.
No doubt will I always be a Mopar girl at heart, but having been exposed to other manufacturers has expanded my appreciation for the automobile and has allowed me to acknowledge the triumphs of other carmakers.