By: Phil Williams
Alabama is car country. Legends have been born here. Names like Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett, and Red Farmer were all born, bred, and raced in their home state. The Talladega Motor Speedway is a motorsports crown jewel, but dirt tracks, drag strips, and custom car garages abound in every corner of sweet home Alabama.
I love hot rods and classic muscle cars. On the shelf in my office is a picture of my first car, a hopped up ’68 Mustang. I drove it all through high school and asked my wife to marry me in that car. As a young married couple expecting a child, I sold my four-wheeled baby to have our first baby. No regrets, but the day is coming when I will get back to a classic muscle car, just wait. For now, I just admire them from afar, and dream.
In the late 60s and early 70s, muscle cars came of age. Factories made cars you could pick up from the dealership and race that night at the track. Hemi ‘Cudas, Boss Mustangs, Camaros, Chevelles, GTOs – it was testosterone in motion.
In Detroit, the street scene was a 24-mile strip called Woodward Avenue with an underground street racing culture that was almost semi-sanctioned. Drivers ran mostly for pride, sometimes for money, but always for the love of cars.
In the spring of 1970, a black Dodge Challenger showed up. No one knew the driver of the thunderously loud Hemi-powered monster with the darkened windows. It always won, and then always disappeared. The locals began calling it the Wraith of Woodward, and eventually just called it the Black Ghost. Sometimes it would come back the next night, or the next week, and sometimes it was gone for months. In 1975, the Black Ghost raced down Woodward for the last time, slipping away into street racing legend.
But recently, the Black Ghost was found. In December 1969, one of only twenty-two 1970 R/T SE Dodge Challengers was sold, complete with a 426 Hemi engine and 4-speed “Super Track Pack” transmission. It was a rare car, built for racing from the factory, black on black with a black vinyl gator-skin roof.
The buyer was Godfrey Qualls, a Vietnam veteran who earned a Purple Heart with the 82nd Airborne Division. Oddly enough, Qualls was also…wait for it…a Detroit police officer! He knew where the cops would be, and only raced when the coast was clear. Qualls passed away in 2015 leaving the Black Ghost to his son. It had sat untouched since the mid-70s with only 45,000 original miles. The younger Qualls tells how, as a child, his dad would put a $100 bill on the dash, telling him if he could reach up and grab it before fourth gear that he could have it. He never did. The original Black Ghost recently sold at a Mecum Auto Auction for just over $1 million and was added to the National Historic Vehicle Registry.
In 2023, Dodge decided to honor the memory of the Black Ghost by creating a factory made 2023 Black Ghost Challenger with a 6.2 liter Hemi engine that could do 0-60 in 3.7 seconds with a top speed of 200 mph.
Unfortunately, the 2023 Black Ghost Challenger tribute car was one of what Dodge referred to as its “last call” models.
Dodge Motor Company recently ended all further production of gas-powered performance cars, and that my friends, is a crying shame. Succumbing to the forces of a government shakedown, the powers that be at Stellantis, the parent company of Dodge, have decided to move the vast majority of their manufacturing to all electric vehicles (EVs).
But fear not gearheads! They are going into it with an all-electric line of muscle cars. Oh boy. Call me old fashioned, but this is a changing of the guard that feels very hollow.
There is something magical about the smell of exhaust and getting grease on your hands while turning a wrench on a fire-breather that actually looks, smells, and feels like a dragon waiting to be unleashed. Something special exists when you shift gears on a controlled explosion combusting under the hood, hear air sucking into an oversize carb, the whine of a supercharger, and the rumble of the exhaust fumes passing through the pipes.
Dodge is trying to reclaim the high ground with what it calls its Charger Daytona SRT EV. It is said to be epically fast with its “Banshee powertrain.” The super-EV has an electronic transmission but will allow the driver to shift gears manually if they choose. Most importantly the new electric hot rod from Dodge will also have a tailpipe containing a speaker that will generate fake V-8 style engine sounds with up to 126 decibels of computer-generated rumble…hmmm…Does this mean that EV hot rods “identify” as gas burners? Trans-cars anyone?
I understand that the pressure to move to EVs is significant. But the false government-subsidized market is already self-correcting. The recent auto workers strikes, that included Stellantis, represented a war between labor and management over the future of EV manufacturing with one union representative saying, “Corporate America is not going to force us to choose between good jobs and green jobs. That’s a false choice.”
Meanwhile car lovers get false exhaust.
The mere fact that Dodge chose to make a final run of tribute cars stuffed with high-revving, gas-burning engines is a clear signal that they know the mistake being made. They are trying to win people over as they step off the ledge.
If folks want an EV, by all means go get one. Most of us just want a choice in the matter. We don’t want fake muscle. We want the real Black Ghost back!
By: Phil Williams