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Like a Viper With Rear Seats and a Proper Trunk

Hurst Hemi Challenger - Click above for high-res image gallery

We've seen how Hurst Hemi Challengers are put together, but the last time we tried to drive one we couldn't get above 25 mph because of the prototype wheels. To correct that hideous oversight, Hurst slapped a couple of production wheels on a black and a white version of their Challenger, and we took both out for their yearly physicals. Just like the song went, it was ebony and ivory living in perfect harmony. Like King Kong and the Abominable Snowman. Follow the jump for the story.

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

When we last drove the car – at parking lot speeds – we admitted we had no idea how the thing would handle serious driving, but the suspension changes should coax some additional measure of ability. The Challenger SRT8 we reviewed was straight-line fun, but exhibited a tiny bit of fail when turning the wheel any number of degrees off center.

Frankly, as far as we're concerned, that's all right. The Challenger isn't a sports car, it's a a muscle car, and muscle cars have never been about exceptional handling. Muscle cars are meant to be imposing, definitely brash and undeniably loud. Muscle cars are supposed to make an impression, and beyond that, leave an impression. A decked-out Challenger certainly does all of that.

The Hurst treatment isn't about turning a Challenger into a full-bore sports car. It's about heightening the elements that make the car a fantastic template for an all out hot rod. The Challenger's girth alone is going to register with you when you see it. Make it lower, louder, meaner, firmer and gold-stripy-er, and the resulting car makes you feel guilty if you drive it without wearing a tank top, leather jacket and torn Levi's. Smoking a Camel. Listening to Jan & Dean.

That's because the Hurst Challenger's primary aim is to be true to the founder's philosophy, which was to create gentleman hotrods – cars that could compete with the best for sheer power, but if you weren't some lowlife punk simply trying to get under the next poodle skirt, you found the car refined enough to please your loftier driving requirements.

If that's the hot rod you want, both the black and white Series 5 Challengers are all the hot rod you'll need.

In getting everything ready for the Bob's Big Boy lights, there have been a few changes made to the production car versus the show car we drove last year. The rear spoiler on the pre-production car stuck up like a duck tail; the retail version simply extends back flat from the decklid and also loses the Hurst badge. The curvature from the hub to the spokes on the production wheels is less dramatic. And with the help of BFG, Hurst was able to get the staggered wheel setup they wanted for the 20-inchers shod in BFG KDW rubber. Speaking of those wheels, they are massive – you don't realize how big they are until you see them lying upside down on the shop floor looking like industrial vats.

And it is always makes us smile to see big wheels, because that is usually indicative of big power. And we like big power.

First up was the white car. Like the black one, it has 572 horsepower and 528 lb-ft torque, but in this case it's channeled through an automatic. The word "automatic" in this case has a precise technical meaning, being the kind of transmission. Yet "automatic," we quickly learned, also describes how easy it is to access the thrills. To go crazy in an auto Hurst, this is what you do: get in, start the car, put it in gear and hit the throttle. It is Viper-esque in the nearly uncontrollable immediacy of its burnouts, in the there's-nothing-to-do-ness of the action. If you live in a cul-de-sac, you wouldn't even need to drive the car anywhere. Just pull it out of the driveway, crank the wheel, mash the pedal and spend a minute doing 28 donuts. You could even do them with your morning coffee. It's that simple. Then put the car away and wash the smell of smoke off. Done.

The automatic Hurst Challenger is like a pit bull: you've got to watch out for it because it's kind of crazy and even though you're the master, you're always wondering "Are you going to go bonkers today?" If you want a car for the daily commute that can kick concrete and asphalt in the grilles of all those Camrys and 5-Series' you'll be stuck in traffic with, this is it.

The manual car is what we came to spend time in, though. Almost the first thing we noticed was that the Hurst shifter makes a lot more sense in the manual. When it's something to be used, as opposed to a decorative piece, it makes perfect sense. And it doesn't even feel like you're holding a manual transmission – it feels like you've got brass knuckles. And that ass-kicking feeling helps keep you in the hot rod mood.

If that won't do it, there's the Magnaflow cat-back exhaust, which emits lusty, Hemi-powered detonations from its four pipes.

Once we were able to dig into the car, however, what we really dug was the Vortech supercharger. Because it's centrifugal, it kicks in almost like a turbo and progressively adds more boost. The faster you go, the faster you go. And if there's anything better than huge acceleration, it's accelerating acceleration.

You'll get to know the traction control light very well in first gear if you leave the driving aids on. Turn them off and use at least a little bit of your brain, and you can get some Holy Moly! jackrabbit starts out of the car. You've got to shift to second almost as soon as you push the pedal in first gear, but once the car has some rev range to play with you can get a ridiculous amount of power down. If the city ever catches you, they might send you a bill for destroying the streets.

We actually preferred running starts because they gave us the chance to downshift and hear the noise, and we could be a little less cautious with the throttle without fear of the rear traction disappearing. The tires will break loose in third gear if you want them to. Not that we tried. Much.

As for that suspension, the car rides beautifully on its Eibach kit. The new arrangement keeps the car's mass and weight in check, keeping it even through turns and staying steady during side-to-side inputs, and at no time did those ginormous wheels and tires intrude into the driving experience; they didn't crash over bumps or noisily fall into potholes.

But it's not a sports car – it's a Challenger, and even though it's highly tuned, that one word, "Challenger," should tell you everything you need to know about what it does and how it does it.

The car really is a toned down Viper with rear seats and a proper trunk, and is no less wonderful for it. As colleague Mike Harley said, "It does exactly what it looks like it does." It imposes, it frightens, it impresses, it rumbles, it growls. It's a gentleman's hot rod, and whenever you want to go rodding, you'll have plenty of hot to put plenty of other rods in your rearview mirror.

Whether you decide to be a gentleman about it is entirely up to you.

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

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