On my last visit to the Queen City in a V8 automobile, Richard Nixon was U.S. president, O.J. Simpson played running back for the Bills and yours truly was a 12-year-old in the family’s Ford Galaxie.
Sporty, yes, a two-door that took us from sleepy London to the Buffalo Zoo in the stately neighbourhood of Delaware Park.
But this time it’s me driving the 12-year-old — my daughter Kate — and the rumbling V8 under the huge racing-striped hood makes me think it’s 1972 all over again.
It’s a brand-new Dodge Challenger SRT limited edition, boasting a 392 cubic-inch hemi engine (that’s a whopping 6.4 litres in metric) with more than double the horsepower of Dad’s blue Ford: 470 to be exact.
Price tag: $53,865 plus tax.
Cool factor: Off the dial. Almost enough to make me forget the graying hair.
It’s the stuff of dreams to re-create that old trip as a father-daughter adventure in an iconic muscle car in Deep Water Blue Pearl, loaned by Chrysler Canada.
“I like this better than the new Camaro or Mustang, because it really looks most true to the cars of that period,” says my neighbour Bob Clarke, a firefighter and antique wheels buff.
It’s quite an upgrade from the tiny 1984 Dodge Charger five-speed hatchback that got me through my mid-20s with as much style as I could muster on a young reporter’s budget.
Never have I piloted a set of wheels that made heads turn at traffic lights or anywhere like this new Challenger, made in Brampton.
“I was thinking, ‘Hey, who’s the a–hole? We should go out!” my wisecracking neighbour Elaine jokes after I roar up the driveway. I take her for a spin.
“This is the only car I’ve actually been interested in,” adds Kate, who has grown up riding in a Subaru Legacy, Acura TSX and Saturn Astra. “It glides, even over the streetcar tracks.”
Better yet, Kate now weighs enough to sit in the front seat to navigate and keep me company on the trip, instead of sitting in the back as she did on forays to Boston and Detroit the last two summers.
She instantly masters the touchpad nav screen, punching in “Buffalo Zoo,” and waits a few seconds.
“It gives you directions right there and an ETA. That’s so neat!”
Nothing beats the feeling of taking this car into the heart of the Rust Belt, a timely reminder of industrial might and simpler and more prosperous days. I’m feeling very nostalgic.
And surprise — the car uses just $50 in gas for the return trip to Buffalo, which I figure is not bad and is thanks to the engine’s fuel saver technology that shuts off four of the engine’s eight cylinders when they’re not needed. In two days of running around town, it slurps another $50.
We start the highway journey when I pick Kate up from a birthday sleepover, where there was not much sleep. The deep throaty rumble of the 470 hp engine knocks her out and she reclines in the white leather bucket seat with a blue “392” sewn into it as we leave Toronto.
We cross at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, where the U.S. Customs agent casts an appreciative glance over my wheels. I’m disappointed he doesn’t ask about the car.
Then we’re heading north on I-190 along the Niagara River and east to the zoo. It’s just after lunch on a beautiful sunny Sunday.
We are in luck. The zoo animals are lively. Polar bears pace on paws the size of dinner plates, their fur tinged green from algae.
The elephants and rhinoceros are so close we can almost touch them. The zoo, which I barely remember from my youth, is well kept and small enough to tour in an afternoon with cheap admission at $17 for the two of us.
We cool down with ice cream at the cleverly named “Beastro” after a tour through the fabulous rainforest pavilion, which is chock-full of monkeys, birds, capybaras and tiny alligators, called caimans.
I am impressed, as is Kate, who is an animal lover and has mixed feelings about zoos.
Afterwards, the nav screen quickly gets us east to Main St. and dinner at the legendary Anchor Bar, which Kate doesn’t remember from her last visit — three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001 as we were returning from a family vacation in the Adirondacks.
“Dad, did you have fun today?” she asks, chomping on a chicken wing. “I sure did.”
“Me too, baby girl, the best ever!”
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