Home » Doing 135 on 335: 1997 Chevrolet Corvette vs 2013 Dodge Challenger

Doing 135 on 335: 1997 Chevrolet Corvette vs 2013 Dodge Challenger

Sbsd 11 3 2023
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

1997 Chevrolet Corvette – $20,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.7 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Emporia, KS

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2013 Dodge Challenger R/T – $17,950

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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JerryLH3
JerryLH3
8 months ago

A manual transmission and no Fisher-Price interior controls tips the scales to the Challenger for me.

Cyko9
Cyko9
8 months ago

I love me some ‘Vettes, and this one’s auto probably isn’t bad, but the C5 isn’t my fave. The Challenger looks pretty decent and can handle the role.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
8 months ago

I want a true sports car, not a 4,000lb+ grand tourer that kind of looks like a sports car. I’m taking my New Balances, jorts, and dad jokes into that Vette. I already have a nice little hatchback for the family stuff. The automatic is a bit of a let down, but the C5 is still a light car with a great engine and cornering agility that the current owner probably never came close to experiencing.

If you want or need the extra space then this Challenger is a pretty good deal. For V8 fun and games you really can’t go wrong with either of them.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
8 months ago

Manual Challenger over any 4 speed auto Corvette, any day.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
8 months ago

The Chally. Has a stick, and is as anti-social as I am. Besides, I’ve already owned a Corvette, so my midlife crisis has come and gone.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
8 months ago

I’d gladly turn this into a music column once in a while if David would let me, but alas. 

Mark,

Before the dawn, just tell David “you got another thing coming” and you are
heading out for the highway if he doesn’t allow you a weekly music post. Sure, he might be screaming for vengeance, but you have been keeping turbo lovers happily living after midnight for over a year and a half now. Just toss him some diamonds and rust, and he’ll get over it.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
8 months ago

It hurts me to vote for it, but the Challenger is far and away the better deal, and has the correct transmission.

Dixie Normous
Dixie Normous
8 months ago
Reply to  Andreas8088

3-pedal Hemi for the win.

Toecutter
Toecutter
8 months ago

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.

Judas Priest rules! Huh-huh huh.

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.

If there was no one else around to face potential harm, I don’t see a problem! 135 in a SHO must have been amazing.

Some guys remember having that first beer with their dad

I remember mine. I was 6. My dad gave me about 1/4 of his Colt 45. It was vile, but it got me a bit tipsy. I learned a healthy respect for alcohol at a young age, have been imbibing ever since, have many fond memories of being trashed in middle school and high school(I was a straight-A student that stayed out of trouble and was quiet, so I don’t think anyone even noticed, and never got caught sneaking some MD20/20 under the bleachers), and have no drinking issues today. I often go for weeks at a time without alcohol because I have other things to do, and it’s rare that I find the right time and place. I’ve noticed a lot of people that had their first drinks at legal age became straight-up alcoholics in short order. Funny how that is.

Manufacturer’s claimed top speed: 155 mph (limited)

I would think it would be relatively trivial to bypass this with a chip tuner. This car has enough power to do at least 160…

Anyhow, I vote Corvette C5. 0.28 drag coefficient and its low-ish frontal area gives it an overall CdA value comparable to a gen II Toyota Prius. Thus, it gets 30 mpg cruising 70 mph on the highway with a 5.7L V8! A shame it isn’t a manual though, but it can always be swapped. With engine tuning, 40 mpg is possible, without any aero work:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNIZ25eBMco

Considering this Vette has the length and width of a 2000s Jeep Grand Cherokee and weighs over 3,000 lbs, that is impressive! With this engine and significant drag reduction, and lean-burn tuning, I think getting 60 mpg highway in a V8-powered small sub-Miata-sized slippery bastard with half the Vette’s CdA value is doable. This version of Vette’ gets halfway there, and is reliable!

Last edited 8 months ago by Toecutter
Jeremy Aber
Jeremy Aber
8 months ago

As someone who used to live just off the Kansas Turnpike, I can confirm it’s a great stretch of highway (when not under construction anyway). Fastest I’ve ever gone was not on that road though, it was on a much shittier, incredibly remote stretch of Colorado State Highway 10. The road surface is nowhere near as nice, but on some of the stretches you can see many miles in the distance, so you know there are no other vehicles to contend with. On a downhill portion, I managed to get my 87 Volvo 245DL up to 115, then slowed it back down because it did *not* feel safe lol

MP81
MP81
8 months ago

Manufacturer’s claimed top speed: 155 mph (limited)

It’s actually something more like 145 mph. I’ve hit it in one of those before (’13 R/T Classic, years back now, on an empty freeway) and it was definitely not over 150 when the limiter kicked in.

Last edited 8 months ago by MP81
InWayOverMyHead
InWayOverMyHead
8 months ago

How do the seats in the ‘vette look so shabby already? Plus, 4-speed automatic is an immediate disqualifier.

InWayOverMyHead
InWayOverMyHead
8 months ago

Nevermind, answered my own question. I forgot how abrasive jorts are.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
8 months ago

hahahahaha

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
8 months ago

More abrasive than regular jeans? I’m not sure about that.
Maybe it’s the fanny packs?

InWayOverMyHead
InWayOverMyHead
8 months ago

Yes, of course. What was I thinking?

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
8 months ago

Farts and jorts.

InWayOverMyHead
InWayOverMyHead
8 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Endless salad and breadsticks will cause a little tummy rumble.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
8 months ago

I’d get the Challenger… but repaint it baby blue with pink stripes.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
8 months ago
Reply to  Soso Tsundere

Or you could wrap it or plasti-dip in it for far cheaper and it’s not permanent if you end up not liking it.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
8 months ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

That wouldn’t outrage the Challenger Bros though.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
8 months ago
Reply to  Soso Tsundere

That’s a fair point to make.

DaChicken
DaChicken
8 months ago

I already have a C6Z (and two C4s) so I’m full-up on Corvettes. I’ll go for something different and take the Challenger. I like the looks and a V8 with a manual is hard to pass up.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
8 months ago

The fastest I’ve ever driven is 118. I will not comment on it further and will add that I do go to the track every now and then…so where did I do it? Not anyone’s business!

Anyway this is an easy win for the Challenger. It’s cheaper, manual, and has exponentially more space. One of the aspects of these that people sleep on is how usable they are. One of my buddies used to have one and we got 4 adults in it no problem. Don’t get me wrong-I wouldn’t want to road trip with 4 full sized humans in it, but for a drive across town it’s just fine.

I’ve always liked the Challenger, but the refreshed one is definitely better looking. I feel like the rear end of these earlier ones is a bit of a mess that’s stuck between retro and modern in a way that winds up looking neither. But anyway this one still wins. I also love the idea of the plain old RT trim. 370 horsepower is more than enough to have fun with and you can ring it out/experience the full song of its people without driving at antisocial speeds.

I feel like if I were to buy a Challenger a kitted out RT would be my move. A Hellcat is genuinely more than I could handle and the Poo Pack trim would probably get me into trouble as well. You can have fun with an RT every day…and the 5.7 takes to modifications way better than the 6.4 anyway, so if I got bored of it I could have way more power with a couple of bolt ons.

Toecutter
Toecutter
8 months ago

I’m waiting for the next fuel crisis and/or economic crisis to hit so I can swoop in and buy a Hellcat at a discount, in full. Hopefully by the time this happens I have a place to keep it! I love almost everything that these cars stand for.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
8 months ago

Was going to go Corvette cause it’s the drivers car of the two, but couldn’t stomach an auto vette. this one is def boomer owned. The chrome wheels are a dead giveaway. Dad had a 98 he literally bought off the floor of the Corvette museum, then drove home halfway across the country. It tried to kill me on 2 occasions, so I have feelings about C5s, but I’ve driven SRT Challengers and never been super duper impressed, but I still like them (don’t tell anyone). So, manual Mopar it is.

MEK
MEK
8 months ago

I’ll go with the C5 (The car that is never bought, never sold and never driven.) based solely on the basis that I refused to be associated with the kind of people that I see regularly driving Challengers at any price. The Boomer Special C5, though ridiculously overpriced, is marginally better…. though only marginally.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
8 months ago

I’m in my mid 50’s, and an empty nester, so that ‘Vette is practically calling to me at this point…but the damned thing is overpriced. I also can’t deny that I’d like to row my own in a car that has power like the Challenger. As others have noted, it’s also a pretty good deal.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
8 months ago

That Corvette is perfect for driving to the golf course.
I don’t golf. I’ll take the Challenger and see if I can tone down the styling. (Did I just say that about a WHITE car??)

Oh, and bring earplugs. The seller of the Challenger seems to like yelling about it.

V10omous
V10omous
8 months ago

I unapologetically love the C5, but $20K gets you an automatic C6 in not much worse condition.

Not a big Challenger guy, but that is the better value today by a lot.

Alexk98
Alexk98
8 months ago

I cant believe I’m voting for the charllenger, but I absolutely am. 20k for an automatic C5 with a scuffed bumper and tacky headlights is just too much, if it were a manual I’d probably go for it, but for 2k less and 16 years newer with a 6-speed, I’m going to say Challenger. Besides, as bad as the challengers interior is, it’s not like the C5s is any better,

ToyotaTaxPayer
ToyotaTaxPayer
8 months ago

I’ll take the vette. Just so I can drive instead of ride on the floor in my dad’s 73 vette.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
8 months ago

I always thought that the modern Challenger and Charger had their names mixed up.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
8 months ago

How so? The Challenger looks like a photocopy of an original Challenger. The Charger sedan at least has the scallops of an old Charger.

10001010
10001010
8 months ago

I would have voted C5 but couldn’t bring myself to pass up on the 3rd pedal option.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
8 months ago

My boomer dad had a C5 for a bit, but at least his was millenium yellow with a 6-speed. It was pretty great. A silver automatic for more money than he bought and sold that car for (same mileage)? No thank you. I’ll take the 6-speed Dodge and go find some dirt/gravel roads to have some real fun.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
8 months ago

Pistol Grip Shifter on a Tremec > 4 speed slushbox

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