Happy Friday, Autopians! We’ve made it to the end of another week, and it’s time to have a little fun. Today’s Showdown is all about breaking the law. (No, not “Breaking The Law,” though you know me – I’d gladly turn this into a music column once in a while if David would let me, but alas. So much for the golden future.) No, today we’re talking about speed limits, and flagrantly ignoring them. It’s about my personal land speed record, set many years ago on one particular short stretch of Interstate. But more on that in just a minute.
Now, here’s where I would normally reveal the previous day’s results, and I will, in a second. But first, I have a big ol’ piece of humble pie to eat. Yesterday, I mis-identified a Saab 9-5 as a 9-3. The seller had it listed as such, and although it seemed a tiny bit hinky, I didn’t question it, and just trusted them. I was wrong, and boy howdy, did you all let me know about it, as you were right to. I mean, this isn’t hard-hitting journalism; I’m more like the “wacky morning DJ” around here, but I do have some professional pride, and I’m mad at myself for screwing up. It isn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last, but I promise you it won’t happen often.
And as it turns out, the Saab lost anyway. It was a close vote, but in the end, the ultra-clean low-mileage Vibe took home the win, as it probably deserved to. That’s a good deal on a really nice little car.
All right. Let’s move on. The fastest I have ever driven a car is an indicated 135 miles per hour, somewhere just north of Emporia, Kansas on Interstate 335. It was in my dad’s 1992 Ford Taurus SHO, and yes, he was in the car with me. We were driving from Chicago to Wichita; Dad let me drive after Kansas City, and encouraged me to “open ‘er up” once we hit the fabled Kansas Turnpike. This road originally had no speed limit, and Dad told me it was something of a family tradition to hit ludicrous speeds on it, even though the limit then was 65 or 75 miles per hour. I kept the needle north of 100 for quite a while, while Dad regaled me with stories of his top speeds in various cars, and my great-grandfather’s habit of burying the needle on his Chrysler 300 letter-series cars.
It probably wasn’t wise or responsible, and it certainly wasn’t legal, but it was a wonderful bonding moment between a father and son. Some guys remember having that first beer with their dad; I remember mine smirking at me from the passenger seat and saying “Let’s see what it’ll do.”
So to cap off this week-long salute to Interstates, I wanted to find two cars near the Kansas Turnpike capable of breaking that speed, if only in theory. To do so, I had to break my normal price limits by quite a bit, but I thought you all might enjoy looking at some nice cars for a change anyway. Here’s what I found.
Engine/drivetrain: 5.7 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Emporia, KS
Odometer reading: 45,000 miles
Manufacturer’s claimed top speed: 172 mph
The Chevy Corvette has always been about speed, or at least the illusion of it. Even the very first Corvette, with a “stovebolt” inline six, was fitted with triple carburetors to make more power than normal Chevy sedans of the time. And from that point forward, it was game on: the top-trim Corvette was always the fastest, most powerful car in GM’s lineup – even in the dark days of the 1970s when it barely broke 200 horsepower. But with the introduction of the C5 generation in 1997, the Corvette turned the corner from “fast” to truly “high-performance.” It introduced the now-famous LS series of small-block V8s, relocated the transmission to the rear, and featured a much stiffer frame to let the suspension do its job properly. I’ve never gotten to drive one, but I have driven C3s and C4s, and the difference between those is night-and-day; I’ve heard the jump from C4 to C5 is even greater.
Unfortunately, the C5 has a bit of a reputation as a “boomer’s car,” largely because it was introduced just as a lot of folks who “always wanted a Corvette” reached retirement age and could finally afford one. All that world-class engineering and performance was lost on them, and a large number of C5s ended up puttering around golf courses or back and forth to the buffet restaurant. However, this preserved them nicely for second or third owners, often younger, who let them breathe a little.
This one has only 45,000 miles to its claim, and I’m willing to bet it has never been over 70 miles an hour. Those three hundred and forty-five horses want to run; I can just sense it. And yes, I know what you all are thinking: it would be so much better with the six-speed manual. And that’s probably true, but Corvettes and automatics have a long tradition, going all the way back to the beginning. Personally, I’d be fine with an automatic Corvette. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but if it’s a manual you want, just hold on a second.
From what I’ve seen, the price on this car is a little steep for a run-of-the-mill automatic C5, but it’s the nicest Corvette available in the area. There aren’t a whole lot of fast cars for sale in eastern Kansas at the moment, actually. But I did find one other nearby.
Engine/drivetrain: 5.7 liter overhead valve V8, six-speed manual, RWD
Location: Kansas City, MO
Odometer reading: 84,000 miles
Manufacturer’s claimed top speed: 155 mph (limited)
Here we have a car with a reputation that precedes it, and it’s a reputation it does not deserve. The Dodge Challenger, and its longer-wheelbase sister model the Charger, are guilty by association of all sorts of antisocial acts of driving. It’s the curse of the cheap fast car, suffered by Camaros and Mustangs and CRXs and GTIs: Sign on the dotted line, drive off the lot, and go piss off other drivers. Easy as pie. The trouble is that the Challenger, like those others, is too good of a car for many of its owners. I drive this car’s more socially-acceptable sister model, the Chrysler 300, and it is a damn fine automobile. I have no doubt that this one is as well.
The early versions of the Challenger and its siblings were cursed with a cheap plastic interior, not too far removed from Dodge’s bargain-basement Caliber model. But if that’s the last time you saw the inside of one, hold your judgment. Chrysler upped their interior game when these models were refreshed in 2011. It’s still no Lexus inside, but it’s quite a lot nicer than the old ones.
The star of the show here, of course, is the 5.7 liter Hemi V8, a 375 horsepower twin-spark monster capable of burning the rear tires to a crisp, in this case via a six-speed Tremec manual. This is the least of the Hemis available in the Challenger; the power levels only go up from here. Automatic-equipped Challengers have some fuel-saving tricks up their sleeves, namely cylinder deactivation and fuel shutoff on deceleration; these don’t work with a manual gearbox, so this car doesn’t have them. It’s just a good old-fashioned V8 muscle car, as sophisticated as an AC/DC riff, and just as effective.
This one can’t be accused of being subtle, either, with its R/T badges and skunk stripes, probably not the best thing for stealthy speed. But if you get caught at those speeds, you’re every bit as busted if you’re driving a beige Mercedes as you are driving this, so you might as well do it in style, I say.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am in no way condoning doubling the speed limit on rural Interstates. Or anywhere else, for that matter. The responsible place to let these monsters off their leashes is at a race track, not on the road. But it’s fun to think about; either of these cars would reach the speeds I hit in that poor old SHO a lot more easily and quickly than it did. If you were to try to best my speed – and again, I am not suggesting that you do – which one would you choose?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)