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Mopar 75th Anniversary Celebration with Mopar Cars, Don Garlits

story by Patrick Rall • photos by Marc Rozman


On Tuesday, January 31st 2012, the Mopar division invited a small group of media and diehard Mopar enthusiasts to visit their World Headquarters in Centerline Michigan to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the replacement part group-turned performance division that has been a best friend to Mopar racers for decades.


The morning began at 8:30am, when we entered the Mopar HQ via the front doors, having been greeted outside by a Dodge Challenger Drag Pak show car and the JK8 Independence, a Jeep Wrangler turned into a pickup with the Mopar JK modification package. After checking in, the invitees were lead into a large meeting room in the Mopar World Headquarters, where we were joined by a wide variety of historic Chrysler Group vehicles that personify the Mopar Division over the past 75 years.


The first area of legendary Chrysler Group vehicles included the 1937 Chrysler Airflow, a 1949 Dodge Pickup Truck, a 1955 Chrysler C300, a 1964 Plymouth Fury Max Wedge and an awesome 1965 Dodge Altered Wheelbase Drag car named the Detroit Shaker.



The second portion of the historic car area included a 1978 Dodge Lil Red Express Pickup, a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, a 1968 Dodge Dart Hemi Super Stock and a 1986 Dodge Omni GLHS. Many of these vehicles were - and still are - recognized for their incredible performance capabilities with a spread of Mopar performance accessories offered in their days.



In addition to these awesome Mopar performance cars and trucks, there were a spread of both past and present Chrysler Group and Mopar executives, as well as the well known Mopar racer Big Daddy Don Garlits. After the media and Mopar fans had a chance to check out the awesome historic Mopar vehicles as well as plenty of picture taking opportunities with Big Daddy - we were all invited to step into another room set up for a press conference lead by Mopar boss Pietro Gorlier.


Many expected that when we went into the press conference room, we would be introduced to the new Mopar '12 and in the first area, there was plenty of speculation as to which vehicle would get the limited edition Mopar trimline for 2012, but when we entered this second area - there were four cars tucked under white satin covers.

Pietro Gorlier got the press conference going by thanking everyone for coming - which included the Center Line Mayor David Hanselman, SRT brand President Ralph Gilles, and, of course, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits. Pietro spoke about the last 75 years of the Mopar brand and how it started as a factory supplier of antifreeze and grew to be one of the world's largest providers of replacement, performance and aftermarket accessories - along with offering the special edition Mopar models beginning with the Mopar '10 Dodge Challenger in 2010 and the Mopar '11 Dodge Charger last year.


Mr. Gorlier than turned over the meeting to Mopar's Jim Sassorossi and Tricia Hecker, who began on the far right of the room with what was obviously a covered-up SUV. When the sheet was pulled away, the crowd was introduced to the new Jeep Compass True North. Like the Patriot, the Compass has been questioned for its true ability to head off of paved roads so with the Compass True North edition, Mopar added a handful of accessories to make it more capable in rough terrain. This began on the outside with custom rock rails on the side, front and rear brush bars, unique matte black aluminum wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich All Terrain tires, and a 2" lift kit for more clearance on road trails.

Inside, the Compass True North got a handful of aesthetic upgrades and a Kicker sound system but, most importantly, Mopar added a special gauge cluster mounted high on the dash that shows the side to side and front to back angles of the Compass…perfect for those who plan on tackling hairy off-road courses. The Compass has gotten a reputation for being more of an on-road SUV but with the True North Edition from Mopar - this Compass certainly looks like it fits the tag of being "trail rated."


Next, our attention was pulled to the other side of the room where Jim Sassorossi and Tricia Hecker pulled the cover away from a bright yellow Fiat 500 sporting the new Stinger name. The Fiat 500 Stinger from Mopar was designed for someone who wants more performance than is offered by the standard Fiat 500 but who does not want to step all of the way up to the Fiat 500 Abarth. This Stinger package is offered in two stages - with stage 1 adding a variety of aesthetic upgrades inside and out while the stage 2 package adds some go-fast goodies including high performance brakes and tires, a cold air intake and a free flowing exhaust system. This package looks like it will be ideal for the younger Fiat 500 owner who wants a more aggressive looking car and a little more kick - while preserving the fuel economy and low price of the standard production 500.


Jim Sassorossi and Tricia Hecker then stepped to the vehicle under the cover right next to the Fiat 500 Stinger and when the sheets came off; the crowd was introduced to the new Dodge Dart GTS 210 Tribute. When the original Dodge Dart was in its glory days of the late 1960s, the GTS was the premium performance trimline with the help of a handful of high performance Mopar V8s. While the modern Dodge Dart is a front wheel drive model fitted with a 4-cylinder engine, the folks at Mopar modified the Dodge Dart R/T into the new GTS 210 Tribute to pay homage to the Dart GTS of the vintage muscle car era.


The Dart GTS 210 Tribute is offered in two stage packages, like the Fiat 500 Stinger, beginning with the exterior and interior dress up items included in stage 1. This adds that lightweight carbon fiber hood with a Viper-esque front air intake, a matte black chin spoiler, matte black side sills, a matte black lower rear diffuser and a low profile matte black rear spoiler. Mopar then adds 18" forged alloy wheels wrapped in performance tires and special GTS 210 Tribute badging completes the stage 1 kit. Inside, stage 1 adds Mopar/Katzkin seats with a red and black theme with that two tone scheme echoed throughout the interior.


The more exciting aspect of the Dodge Dart GTS 210 Tribute is the stage 2 package that begins with the 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engine, adding a free flowing exhaust system, a cold air intake and a specially calibrated engine control unit - all of which work together to increase the output of the 2.4L Tigershark from 184 horsepower to the 210 horsepower mentioned in the special Mopar edition's name.


I like the new Dodge Dart, but the Mopar Design GTS 210 Tribute version of the new compact sedan is a gorgeous example of what could be the future of the sportier versions of the new Dart. Right now, the highest performance Dart is the R/T trimline, but there have been rampant speculation that there will be an SRT4 version. If there is a Dart SRT4 on the way, it will probably have a slightly more aggressive exterior, but this hood and body kit package shows just how much more sporty looking the Dart can be with a handful of fairly subtle modifications. The Dart GTS 210 Tribute also shows that simple items like a cold air intake, high flow exhaust and a performance ECU can increase the power by a significant amount for those who don't want to pony up the big money for a Dart SRT4 but who still want more sportiness out of their Dart.

The Dart GTS 210 Tribute looks awesome and should run even better with the enhanced drivetrain and when this shows up at the Chicago Auto Show later this month - it is likely to draw tons of attention from show-goers.


Last and most certainly not least, Jim Sassorossi and Tricia Hecker turned towards the largest of the covered vehicles in the Mopar press conference. Everyone know that this would be the new Mopar '12, but there was speculation as to which model Mopar would pick for their limited edition 2012 model. When the sheets were pulled away, that speculation came to an end with the introduction of the Chrysler 300C-based Mopar '12.

Like the Mopar '10 Dodge Challenger and the Mopar '11 Dodge Charger, the Mopar '12 begins with a sinister blacked out design inside and out, while blue trim joins the predominantly black finishes. On the outside, the Mopar '12 includes black paint, black chrome trim, and black wheels with thin blue stripes down the side A-line and along the center of the hood. The Mopar '12 also includes 75th anniversary logos on the front fenders, unique to the new Chrysler 300C-based Mopar '12.


Since the Chrysler 300 was introduced, it has offered a sinister yet classy look, and the black-and-blue scheme of the Mopar vehicle lineup perfectly fits the new Chrysler 300. The Mopar '12 also features a 363 horsepower Hemi fitted up with a Mopar cold air intake, free flowing exhaust and a 3:91 rear gear set, and based on my time behind the wheel of the Mopar '11 Dodge Charger, these minor performance modifications should make a big deal in the way of acceleration.


Inside, the Mopar '12 includes black and blue Mopar/Katzkin seats, a unique serial plaque on the shift console, a unique Mopar T-handle shifter and brushed silver Mopar door sill guards. Since Mopar began offering limited edition customized models in 2010, these have been incredibly popular with Mopar aficionados and based on how great the Mopar '12 looks - this enthusiasm isn't likely to end any time soon.


Finally, after the Mopar team introduced these four new great looking Moparized vehicles, the wall opened up and the crowd was introduced to the future of the Mopar boutique that will show up at Mopar Express Lane service shops. This included a look at a spread of new Mopar accessories and apparel as well as a look at more Mopar vehicles like the Ram Runner, the Jeep Wrangler Blue Crush, the new Mopar V10 Challenger Drag Pak and the awesome Mopar Charger 426 Redline. It was also in this area where we were invited to celebrate Big Daddy Don Garlits 80th birthday with cake and a special ceremony where Pietro Gorlier gave Big Daddy a gift of Mopar goodies; while also thanking Garlits for a career of Mopar-fueled greatness.

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