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Challengers of Authority

Modern Muscle adds new chapter to long legacy of law enforcement.

A Plymouth served as TV's Car 54, in the 1960s. Big, Bad Dodge Polaras served to transport the men and women in blue during the late 1960's and 1970's. Dodge Diplomats served law enforcement during the 1980s, while Ford Crown Victoria and Chevy Caprice pulled duty for a couple decades. Recently, Dodge reentered the limited market for law enforcement vehicles with Chargers and Magnums.

And what new entry has Dodge offered to law enforcement agencies?

Dodge Challenger.

Did you say Dodge Challenger? The hemi engine, 2-door, nostalgic icon muscle car Dodge Challenger?


Police Challenger

Only a few agencies have added the livery to their stables. Noteworthy, here in Metro Detroit's Wayne County, the sheriff's office has added a 2010 Challenger RT to its fleet of patrol cars. My request to Sheriff Benny Napoleon and the department's media officers, Paula Bridges and Christina Robinson led to my meeting Corporal Keith Rachwal while on patrol in the western suburban, Edward Hines Parkway.

Together, we did comparison of my limited edition 2008 SRT and his assigned 2011 R/T. Corporal Rachwal shared his experiences in the Challenger and then took mine for an unbiased road comparison between the SRT and his R/T.

The Wayne County Sherriff Dodge Challenger is metallic black with red front fender R/T stripes. The interior is outfitted with a wide array of police communication, and computer equipment. Under the hood it has not been modified for cooling system or performance. Its massive trunk remains largely unused. It is outfitted with hidden lights and siren. Small halogen flashers are mounted on the front and rear fender sides. The glow in the dark and light reflective "Sheriff" tag on the front bumper is the only, albeit, understated, visible marker of its pedigree.

Stock wheels and tires, stock cooling and transmission (auto/stick) are testament to Chrysler providence in engineering as police duty so often calls for long periods at idle. The roomy interior and front bucket seats allow plenty of room to mount and stage the array of communications equipment and lights and siren control switches. Rather than the hand held, push button microphone so glamorized in old TV shows, the Challenger is fitted with GPS and hands free radio. It is conveniently mounted low on the dash just to the left of the driver, ironically, right on top of the trunk release button. "This has not presented any problem and we officers simply use the key fob for trunk entry," reports Corporal Rachwal.

Even surrounded by high tech gear, all within arms reach, the Challenger interior still is plenty roomy. The lightly bolstered driver's seat allows enough room for the deputy's gun belt and accessories.

The R/T has proven itself efficient in patrol and chase situations. The Challenger provides quick acceleration for speed trap pursuit and thus allows entry into traffic with a wide margin of safety. It steering is responsive for negotiating crowed highways when responding to calls, "and the braking is surefooted and straight, " added Corporal Rachwal, about the cars performance and handling.

We got up close to compare the SRT and the R/T and noted the long tube manifolds on the 6.1 hemi vs. the intake cover on the 5.7 hemi. The exhaust note rumble between of the 6.1 was notably more "authoritative" than the quieter 5.7 at idle and under acceleration. The entry and exit from the rear seats is awkward compared to the customary 4 door platforms, but once seated, the back seat is quite comfortable reports Texas Detective Shawn Cleary, who was on hand for our visit. "The back seat is not used much," Corporal Rochwal reports. "The Challenger seldom sees transport duty, but is often called for first responder."

Corporal Rachwell and Detective Cleary took both cars out for road test. "Man, that SRT really hauls!" reported Corporal Rachwal. "You can really feel the additional power and acceleration — the big Brembo brakes make a sharper more defined stop from speed."

Corporal Rachwal shared several stories from his patrols in the Challenger. The most common story is about how the very driver he had radar cited for speeding is staring at the Challenger as the driver passes it. Often, passers by will stop and visit him while he waits along side the road. His most interesting stop was an orange 1970 Challenger he tapped at 14 MPH over. The driver had an excellent driving record and was let off with a warning, after some discussion of the accuracy of the 40 year old speedometer.

The Challenger sees a fair amount of media duty, having recently been featured on a local TV news program.

Together with the department's media crew, our visit highlights the efforts of new Challenger owners across the country to advocate for safe driving. "Our two top priorities are no street racing and no drinking and driving." added author Steve Legel.

Dodge Challenger police car

Online enthusiast websites devoted to Dodge Challenger, the Challenger Enthusiast and the Challenger Talk websites along with Allpar and Red Letter Dodge, encourage safe driving. "Our members boast more about declining street racing challenges then boast about street racing wins," added Steve Legel. Street racing is dangerous! There are too many uncontrolled variables such as spectators, car control, pavement conditions, and cross street traffic. If you want to test performance and driving skills, there are plenty of opportunities at sanctioned drag strips. "Recently a group of Challenger owners from the Challenger Talk website gathered in Bowling Green Kentucky for a weekend of fellowship and drag racing at the Beech Bend Dragway," continued Legel.

"There is no excuse for drunk driving, and drunk driving kills," added Corporal Rachwal. High profile cars like Dodge Challenger, and collaboration among enthusiasts and law enforcement are positive ways that safe driving messages can reach the public. Youngsters are drawn to the cool cars at local events, and we can start the safe driving mindset early.

Metro Detroit Challenger owners will be gathering for the famous Woodward Dream Cruise in August. Nearly 60 retro styled Challengers are set to meet at Woodward and 13 1/2 mile Rd. Corporal Rachwal, and the Wayne County Sheriff's Challenger are likely to pay a visit and continue to promote safe driving messages.

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