Friday, August 10, 2007

Pair of classics share Mopar spotlight

HEBRON — Two types of Mopar cars will garner much of the focus at this weekend’s 27th annual Mopar Nationals at National Trail Raceway.

But they will do so in entirely different ways

The tribute car of the Mopar show is the Plymouth Belvedere/Satellite/GTX, and it takes the spotlight as a car known mostly for its diversity and unique combinations.

The other, however, is arguably the biggest eye-catcher of the weekend. The 2008 Dodge Challenger made a huge splash at last year’s show, and the response could be at an even higher level this year.

“It’s closer to production this year,” NTR sales and marketing manager Mike Fornataro said. “Many people saw it last year; now they can taste it. It’s starting to get to a fevered pitch.”

The Challenger, with a striking black stripe on a rich orange body, was met with long lines and thousands of photographs a year ago.

The Dodge employees were expecting a big crowd, but were blown away by the crowds that surrounded the car all weekend. Again, it showed the enthusiasm Mopar fans have for their respective brands, but the Challenger promises to be a hit.

Due for release into the consumer world within the next year, the Challenger R/T boasts a 6.1-liter Hemi engine with 425 horsepower and 420 pounds of torque.

Its body design is striking, as is the power. The car weighs 4,100 pounds, can go 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds and blasts through the quarter-mile in 13 seconds.

“Things are cooking now,” Fornataro said. “People are really starting to anticipate it. I think it will be every bit as big of a crowd. They’ve made tweaks to it, and people want to see it.”

The Challenger also has a top speed of 174 mph, but fans also enjoy the futuristic look that also manages to tie in qualities of its past.

The past is precisely why the Plymouth Belvedere/Satellite/GTX is being honored in the show’s 27th year.

It doesn’t boast the illustrious history of past tribute cars like the Roadrunner, Challenger or Barracuda, but, at 27 years old, the Mopar show also is running out of tribute cars.

“It’s a matter spreading the love,” Fornataro said.

But the Plymouth vehicle also has a unique history, much like several of the Mopar vehicles produced in the 1950s.

The Belvedere was introduced in 1951, and the GTX version of the car was the high-end model that had some impressive features.

The GTX was a high-performance car, but the base model was very much a basic car, catering to the more casual Mopar aficionado. But the car could be customized in just about any way imaginable, leaving a lot to the imagination.

“You could get everything from convertibles to station wagons to hot rod station wagons,” Fornataro said. “You could have different trims levels or whatever. There was a lot of diversity with the car.

“If you wanted something, they would build it for you. They basically built anything you wanted to buy. It wasn’t uncommon to do a one-of-a-kind car with the Belvedere.”

One other big Mopar draw is the Dodge Viper. During this weekend’s show, a new Viper-specific racing class will take place, along with a Viper Show n’ Shine.

“There’s always a big turnout of Vipers,” Fornataro said.

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