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]