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Review: Hotchkis E-Max Challenger [with video]

Jeff Glucker November 22, 2011 Featured, Reviews 77 Comments

The coolest person ever born is Zaphod Beeblebrox. The fact that he’s fictional doesn’t matter to me, and it most certainly doesn’t matter to him. The man invented the strongest drink in the universe, became president of the galaxy on a whim, and stole the Heart of Gold spaceship which was powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive. If Beeblebrox were to settle down on Earth, he would most likely trade the Heart of Gold for something that burns fuel and toys with emotions.

Zaphod would drive the Hotchkis E-Max Challenger.

I’m not, nor will I ever be, as cool as Mr. Beeblebrox. During four all-too-brief days in November of 2011, however, I came pretty damn close.

With the 2011 LA Auto Show approaching, I was looking for the appropriate vehicle to announce that Hooniverse was in the building. As luck would have it, I was able to secure time with the Hotchkis E-Max Challenger. This means that we didn’t just announce our arrival with the cough of muffled exhaust. Instead, we climbed to the top of the convention center and bellowed a King Kong call that we were there.

A T/A clone, the Hotchkis E-Max receives its forward motivation by way of a 340 cubic-inch (5.6-liter) V8 engine. The 340 Six-Pack has been upgraded with a custom Moroso oil pan and a Be Cool aluminum radiator. This mill barks to life much the same way that a Kraken rouses from its slumber. There is an initial moment of fury, followed by the calm, yet loud, pulsing of noise that seems to match my own rushed breathing pattern. Each stab of the throttle adds energy to my very soul. The car is alive, and I am now more alive.

I need to channel the energy produced under hood out to the rear wheels. Allowing me to do just that is a Tremec 5-speed manual gearbox. My first few miles with the Challenger see my finding fifth instead of third, but I soon discover how to navigate the tight gates. The exercise of shifting soon becomes a joy, because each gear brings new noises and higher speeds.

This is when the Hotchkis E-Max Challenger reaches into my chest and devours my heart.

Roads like to twist. Ask any stretch of straight-laid asphalt what it would rather be doing, and the answer will always revolve around curves, bends, and turns. Normally, when introducing a muscular classic to a road that’s pretending it’s a snake, you’ll have stumbled upon the recipe for seat-sliding, tire-squealing terror. Hotchkis has insured that their E-Max Challenger doesn’t do any of that. In fact, it does the opposite.

The driver’s seat is a Sparco unit that sits just ahead of the rear roll cage and four-point racing harness. My ass isn’t going anywhere no matter how hard I turn the small Grant steering wheel from one side to the other. Despite my lack of movement, the car moves quite a lot, and it does so in a manner that’s most unbecoming of a muscle car… with pinpoint precision. When running straight, my hands can move the wheel to the left and right about an inch with no feeling. There is a sizable dead spot in the steering. However, on either side of that lifeless zone lies handling excellence. As many degrees of steering as I feed in, the car responds immediately in kind. It may look like a 41-year-old former straight-line track star on the outside, but underneath is running gear that would make a parkour athlete jealous.

This coupe is as agile as a shopping cart is not.

Hotchkis has fitted the Challenger with its complete E-Body suspension kit. This is a bolt-on system that includes geometry-corrected A arms, front and rear sway bars, subframe connectors, sport springs, and adjustable steering and strut rods. The car also utilizes prototype Hotchkis-AFCO adjustable shocks. Couple all that gear with the 18-inch Forgeline wheels and super sticky Falken tires, and you have a machine that’s designed to seduce the road… and it works, because the car and motorway wind up becoming one. The tires are sticky enough that I could hear random bits of dirt being thrown up into the wheel wells if I strayed from the cleaner sections of asphalt.

The team who put the car together also realized that you need to be able to stop a car as well. As such, a set of large Stoptech brakes sit behind the dark wheels. The units easily haul in the speed, but the system loves to dip pressure just a bit during driving. A cautious and quick stab of the brake always brings it right back. It’s one of the handful of reminders that you’re driving an old car, but the initial lousy pedal feel instantly gives way to hard biting brakes, and brings the ride back into the 21st century.

Hotchkis has managed to work a wonderful bit of engineering magic, and turned this 1970 Challenger into a twisty-road terror. The E-Max experience isn’t just about enjoying the way the car drives though. I mean, look at the damn thing! This is the type of sinewy shape that dreams are made of, and the yellow and black paint scheme work wonderfully together. Normally, I’m not one who votes for pairing modern wheels with classic cars, but the Forgeline rollers only serve to enhance the menacing effect achieved thanks to the culmination of all the various details. My eyes move wistfully from the small chin, backwards from the yellow lamps, up past the blacked-out wheels and out to the rear decklid spoiler.

On the inside, the classic look is only contrasted by the modern (and very necessary) Sparco seat, and the temperature and oil pressure gauges. Otherwise, the dark cabin space is classically minimalist, with only the roll cage and Hurst shifter letting you know that this car is far more interesting that then understated interior would lead you to believe.

That interior is the only thing understated on the car becase everything else is dripping with awesome.

I’ve driven some amazing, fun, good-looking machines in my life. Products from Audi and Aston, to BMW and Bentley have occupied my driveway. I’ve been behind the wheel of loud members from the Lamborghini family, wild childs of the Mercedes-Benz AMG crew, and geeked out over the technological sorcery handed down from Godzilla himself.

No vehicle, however, has ever lit a fire under my automotive passion quite like the Hotchkis E-Max Challenger.

This car is a Molotov cocktail of everything I want in a car. I turn the simple key (no fobs or funny-shaped gimmicks), and I am treated to amazing noises and a world-class driving experience, which happens to be wrapped up under wonderfully shaped metal. As I rumble down the road, be it a local Main Street, the Pacific Coast Highway, or the 405 freeway, everyone around me is paying attention to my machine. It isn’t asking for the attention, it demands it, and that request is always answered.

Why don’t you come for a quick ride (caution for NSFW workplaces, I drop one swear at the beginning of the video – the car forced it out of me):

I feel like a more complete person after driving this car, and more days like this need to occur in my life. What would it cost to put a car like this in my driveway? Inside Line had the car awhile back and estimated that it would take about $50,000 to duplicate the E-Max. That’s figuring that you don’t have an old Challenger already occupying your garage, and need to hunt one down on eBay or Craigslist. For that price, the list of cool cars I could own is vast. Yet none of them are quite as exciting as a muscle car that’s hiding an evil secret underneath its skin.

Someone order me a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, because I know what I want.

Move over Beeblebrox…

[Disclosure: Hotchkis let me borrow this car for four days, and threw in a tank of gas. I had to throw in three more tanks of gas]

  • Great, now I'm going to be fashionably late to a meeting.

  • Devin

    I'm going to be that annoying amateur photography guy and say that too much HDR makes baby jesus cry, though I do understand why people get hooked on it (as someone who was once hooked on it, and then saw many bad examples and couldn't bring myself to do it anymore.)

    • I was bored when editing and tried to approach it with a light touch. I didn't plan on using it for the article, but instead posted the lede shot to facebook. Everyone seemed to like it, so I decided to throw it in here. The rest (minus the side shot) are non HDR. Plus, this isn't real HDR… single exposure, HDR toning.

  • texan_idiot25

    I HNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG'd at that video, want to go drive my '69 now…

    I agree with Devin, use HDR wisely. I rage at the abuse of faux-HDR like above.

  • The Professor

    Very, very nice car, and the engine sounds wonderful. Good job for snagging that ride Jeff, you lucky bastard.
    The six-packs do suck the gas, don't they? I used to own a '69 Dodge Super Bee with 440/6 pack very similar to this one:

    <img src="
    http://assets.speedtv.com/images/easy_gallery/1031955/1969_dodge_super_bee_m.jpg&quot; width="340" border="2" style="border:2px solid black;" alt=" " />

    Not nearly as trick as your Challenger, but it was fun in a straight line. Usually to the next gas station.
    Great article!

  • salguod

    +1,000 internets for the use of Hitchhiker's Guide references.

    -200 for converting 340 c.i. to liters. Old school V8s are cubic inches, period.

    • haha, fair enough – I just thought it was interesting that a 340 is a smaller engine in the realm of muscle. Yet, by today's standards it is still quite large.

    • navelboxaren

      So the Ford Galaxie 500 7-Litre is the exception that confirms the rule…? 😉

      • Smells_Homeless

        Or the 6.5 litre GTO?

        • texan_idiot25

          And… 8 liter Cadillac?

  • Mr_Biggles

    Impressively written ya lucky bastard.

  • salguod

    I think this car would be better if it weren't trying to look the part of modern tuner with the low depth thin spoke wheels and yellow lights. Do it up, aesthetically, old school – steelies or Torque-Thrusts / Boyds / Cragars and no silly yellow lights – but leave all the trick stop and turn bits underneath.

    • You would have trouble fitting the brakes behind older wheels.

      I typically agree that classic cars need classic wheels, but the Forgelines used here just … work. Also, I disagree with regards to the yellow lights – LOVE inner yellow lamps.

      You know what though? That is part of what makes being an enthusiast awesome… different opinions. Our preferred version of the same car would most likely both be appreciated and enjoyed.

      • Scandinavian Flick

        I agree in this case, the wheels fit well. Personally, I'd probably go with one of the classic oversize reproduction wheels, like these:
        <img src="http://www.shopvintagewheels.com/images/l/WV105023.jpg"&gt; http://www.shopvintagewheels.com/18×9+5-polished-

        <img src="http://www.shopvintagewheels.com/images/l/WV94032.jpg"&gt; http://www.shopvintagewheels.com/18×9+5-polished-

        Both of which are 18"x9.5". They look classic, but they will fit the monstrous brakes necessary in an application like this.

        • pj134

          I personally like when someone does something outside of the standard "It's a muscle car, put vintage wheels on it"

          Sure, there are some abominations created when people decide to find any wheel and throw it on, but I don't know, at least they tried something new.

          Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a set of the gunmetal Wedssport SA-70's on it. The blue trim might contrast a bit, but you could always fix that.

        • Custom big steelies with hubcaps look incredible, too.

          Either P71 Vics or the new Chagers come with at least 17"s.

          • MusclesMarinara

            The Chargers have 18"s, and they would look awesome here. It's easy/cheap enough to get steelies widened, anyways.

            <img src="https://www.fleet.chrysler.com/fleetcda/files/site1/type2/434_en_p_charger_4.jpg"&gt;

            • pj134

              They're heavy though and this is built for auto crossing. Doesn't one pound of unsprung weight about about the same effect as 7-10 lbs of sprung weight?

              • MusclesMarinara

                Mmmm… good point.

                • pj134

                  That first about was supposed to be "have" and the second about was truly an about.

            • TDI_FTW

              I'll take one with the steelies and also I would like to switch out that Sparco seat for one like the passenger seat. I'll slide around in my seat a bit, but it'll make the interior look a whole lot better.

              I would love to just sit in the driver seat and just blip the throttle a few times. Driving something like this will probably just stay a dream….

        • Dan

          The problem with those wheels is they are still not wide enough for our tire applications. 295-315 tires require a 10-11" rim, minimum.

          • Scandinavian Flick

            Wheels can be widened. Again, I don't disagree with your choice; I'm just putting out another option for the purists. Heck, I don't disagree with anything on this amazing car, styling or performance wise. Very, very awesome build!

            • Scandinavian Flick

              Additionally, I am sure they are also lighter, and for this application, weight is money…

      • MusclesMarinara

        The fact that the wheels are blacked out is the redeeming factor, I think. I'm not crazy about the design, but I think they look alright. They definitely don't subtract from the bad-ass look of the car, although personally I'd rather see some blacked-out 17 or 18" rally wheels on there. You can find the Chevy repros in all kinds of crazy sizes; someone has to make the Mopar rallys in big enough sizes to fit over the brakes.

    • On cars with dual lights up front, I loves me some silly yellow lights:
      <img src="http://www.e12m535i.com/BMW_E12/my528i/images/yellow_headlights_with_washers.jpg&quot; width=300>

      There's a fine line with new stuff on old cars…I'd say this one's on the right side of it, despite the offenses of many of its Mopar contemporaries.

  • RichardKopf

    "Reverse primary thrust, Marvin." That's what they say to me. "Open airlock number 3, Marvin." "Marvin, can you pick up that piece of paper?" Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to pick up a piece of paper.

    What car would Marvin drive?

    • A Gremlin perhaps…

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        Ha! I thought that was a misspelling the first time I encountered it as a kid in the book 😉

        • pj134

          Same here.

        • My dad was kind enough to explain that bit of quirky British humor (humour?) to me right before I read the book for the first time.

          I also owned a shirt as a child that said 'Why do the British drink warm beer?'

          'Because they all have Lucas refrigerators!'

          I have a pretty good family.

    • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      He wouldn't care, honestly.

    • Smells_Homeless

      I'm pretty sure it would be produced by Sirius Cybernetics and would be unrepentantly cheerful.

    • RahRahRecords

      Whatever it is it will probably commit sucide.

  • So…. It's electric?

  • Awesome is an understatement.

  • Damn sweet. I'd love to give it a run for its money in the LTD in the twisties.

  • Philip White

    Hello again!

  • Scandinavian Flick

    I agree with that last assessment. For $50K, there are a lot of things you can buy that will bring some serious driving enjoyment. From the Corvette to the Exige, many cars will give you a helluva ride at that price. That said, I would also come back to something like this. That's not a bad price to build something that would be unique and completely unexpected. Especially as I would do it, with a very minimalist approach to styling. Just a clean, classic muscle car that can hand you your ass on a silver platter lined with the shattered hopes and dreams of your pathetic modern sports car…

    • I would add fuel injection. (runs and hides)

      Your hat and gloves are in the mail. 😉

      • Scandinavian Flick

        Save me a spot in your hiding place, since I agree with you on that one. On a high performance build, I'll take the tunability and reliability of FI.

        Yay! Hat and gloves! 😀

      • jeepjeff

        First thing I'd do to any vehicle with a carb. Well, I'd actually swap the brakes to discs first, but it's a close thing.

        Of course, you can use/build a velocity stack style EFI system. Those always look awesome.

        • Was going to say this. EFI with stacks = proper.

          Junkyard GM TBI + wiring harness from some guy online = inappropriate, but probably what I'll do on my Wagoneer.

          • jeepjeff

            It may be inappropriate, but I'd forgive you, as I'd still take the TBI over a carb. We can't all be master machinists and/or have more money than sense.

            • I've got no problem with a car (or two or three) on performance street classics, but the Waggy's gotta start and run at any angle, altitude or temperature…hard to do that with a Rochester 2G (even harder with something like an Edelbrock AVS).

              • jeepjeff

                You just listed all the reasons why I prefer EFI, less one. I'm a programmer with a modest specialization in embedded devices. EFI actually makes more sense to me than a carburetor.

                (I'm also just shy of 30, which means to me, new cars have never had carburetors. By the time I was aware of the difference, carburetors had disappeared completely from dealer lots.)

                • Ha! 29 here, and basically in the same place.

                  Early multiport EFI systems (circa Bosch Motronic 1.something…80s-90s German cars) totally make sense to me.

                  I had to buy a book on Carter/Edelbrock carbs to figure out WTF anything I was looking at was. Being the geek I am, it all makes sense, post-book…but no one's ever going to convince me that a series of vacuum actuated spring loaded needle valves is simpler than a couple of resistance-based sensors and a few on/off switches for the injectors.

  • JayP2112

    Man, you had some grip on that shifterball.
    Hope you got it set right before you turned it in.

  • I applaud the Beeblebrox. And dig the photo editing.

    I also approve of the yellow lights, and personally didn't think that was an especially modern thing.

    And I didn't notice the conversion to liters.

    All in all a fine fine job, and well worth the three tank investment I'd say. If they let you borrow it again we can pass the collection plate.

  • B72

    A truly awesome vehicle, but it scares me It looks like it would monpolize my automotive fun. As in "go directly to jail, do not collect $200". One would need a "get out of jail free" card sooner than later.

    • Thing is.. it's not super fast. It's very loud, quick and handles wonderfully… but not once did I push the car into triple digits.

      • Dan

        That's why we have it's bigger brother with a bigger motor!

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    And to think, I had the chance to buy one of these, same color and everything, back in like 1987 for about $3,500.

    Damn. It.

    I couldn't justify this vehicle for a 60 mile daily RT college commute.

    • As soon as you would've arrived on campus… women would sense you.

      • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

        One did, early on, put her hooks into me and made my life a constant struggle between great sex and being happy the rest of the time.

        Sex lost, eventually…at least with her.

    • OA5599

      I know someone that bought one that had the outboard carbs disabled, making the car effectively a two barrel. I think it hit about 20 MPG as a commuter, which wasn't that much worse than some malaise economy cars.

      • pj134

        … That's about what my Sonata gets…


      • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

        Actually, I'd say that's more then early-malaise vehicles of that size.

        I just couldn't neuter it in that way, though.

  • If I had lots of money, this is the kind of car that I'd spend it on.

    In the meantime, I've got a writeup coming on what roughly $1000 into a $6000 Falcon will get you.

  • OA5599

    "It may look like a 41-year-old former straight-line track star on the outside, but underneath is running gear that would make a parkour athlete jealous."

    Actually, on the outside, it looks like a T/A Challenger, a package that was assembled for the street to homologate the car for the twisties in Trans Am racing.

    <img src="http://image.moparmusclemagazine.com/f/miscellaneous/fun-with-fotos/24765254/on-the-track-at-laguna-secathe-ex-sam-posey-77-challenger-and-an-e.jpg"&gt;

    The racing version didn't have a great season, but the street T/A's could out-handle their contemporaries.

    • Excellet point… but most people would look at the car and think straight-line fun. Same thing that happens with Z28 Camaros.

  • topdeadcentre

    The paint job and trim are a bit… restrained… for the typical Beeblebrox taste.

    In the 1980's, Zaphod Beeblebrox was listed in the Northampton, MA, USA white-pages phone book. The home address was a non-existent number on a real street, and if you called the number, it would ring without anyone picking up.

    • It could use a bit more sparkle perhaps… but Zaphod, he's just this guy, you know?

  • sport_wagon

    Jeff, you're such a zarkin' frood.

  • mudmonster

    I envy you so much right now Jeff..

  • <img src="http://i.imgur.com/VEqOB.jpg&quot; alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" width="500">

  • Lotte

    Had a chance to sit down and read it…I got nothin'. Just fantastic. Yeah, if I was rich I'd go down this path too.

    …or better yet, get something like a low-spec Chevelle/other plebeian grandmother's car and dream of the potential! The possibilities! That's probably the path I'd actually go down.

    • Totally agree… a Chevelle would be an awesome candidate for something like this, too.