KELLOGG – Tom Darg wasn’t touching the paint on the Dodge Challenger SRT8 parked outside Dave Smith Motors on Friday.
The brilliant black crystal pearl finish already gleamed, and who knows what it would take to get a scratch out of the imitation carbon-fiber stripe on the hood?
So Darg, the dealership’s detailing manager, contented himself with keeping the windshield and other glass surfaces clean as heads turned in cars and trucks passing by on Cameron Avenue. They were looking at the second Challenger to roll off a Chrysler assembly line in 37 years.
They were looking at a $175,000 automobile.
That was Ken Smith’s winning bid in a charity auction held in November to benefit United Way. He bid on eBay against other Dodge dealers, some of whom were gathered in Detroit for a company party.
“All they knew was the bid was coming in from Idaho,” he said. “But they had a pretty good idea who it was.”
When you are the president of a dealership that has sold more Chrysler vehicles than anyone else year after year, 785 new and used by all automakers in May alone, it’s hard to keep a low profile – even in Kellogg.
The first of the new Challengers was purchased by the owner of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. for $400,000.
Smith said the SRT8 auction was a first for him, and he purchased the car as a keepsake that will be towed to car shows and other occasions.
In May he took two laps around the Darlington (S.C.) Raceway at 150 mph – “It still had lots of power” – but he does not plan to add much to the 13 miles on the odometer. For driving purposes, Smith ordered a second SRT8 that was moving down a Detroit assembly line Friday.
He called the factory to check.
Under the hood is a 6.1 liter, 425 horsepower hemi engine. Inside, one of the gauges reads out acceleration, breaking distance and – hang on for this – G-forces.
The only extras Smith added at the factory were a sunroof and a navigation system.
He does not know the Challenger’s fuel economy, but Smith estimated highway efficiency near 20. If fuel economy is an issue with regular gasoline nearing $4 per gallon in Kellogg, this is not the car for you, he said, adding that the Challenger prefers premium.
“It was not made for high mileage, and the people who would want the car wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.
Smith said he sold the 14 other SRT8s he will receive over the next year for a going price of $45,000, but one or two buyers decided to wait until 2009. Next year Dodge will unleash an even more powerful, more tricked-out Challenger with a six-speed manual transmission.
“People love the old muscle cars,” Smith said.
Some dealers, most of whom will get only one of the 6,400 that will be manufactured this year, have them listed for upwards of $75,000, he said.
And that $2.99-per-gallon, three-year gas incentive Chrysler is offering on new vehicles?
“Not on this car,” Smith said.