It was a phone call that I guarantee every Mopar guy from sea to shining sea wishes he would have gotten. I was asked if I would like to drive the new Challenger concept car. You heard me, not just take some pictures of it sitting in a parking lot, but actually get behind the wheel of this thing and drive it. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This was almost as good as getting a call saying that I had just won the lottery. Scott Brown, Chrysler's West Coast PR rep, was calling to let me know the Challenger concept car was coming to California, and that I was not only going to have a chance to photograph it, but also to actually sit in the driver seat and drive it. I've been thoroughly captivated by the look of the new Challenger concept car, and I recently had a chance to meet and interview the two principal designers, Michael Castiglione and Alan Barrington, but I never thought I would ever get a chance to get behind the wheel.

The location for the Challenger photo shoot and drive was the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (EVOC). This is where cops learn how to drive patrol cars and do the bad-guy-spinning-out-of-control PIT maneuver. EVOC is located 20 miles north of San Bernardino and includes an excellent high-speed track.

When I arrived at EVOC, I saw a group of people huddled around the brilliant orange car. There was no mistaking it; that had to be the Challenger concept that I was going to drive. I had to remember that I was driving the car in order to give you guys an insight into how the car handled, but all I could think was, let me mash the pedal, let me mash the pedal. I was soon to find out the guys at DCX weren't quite ready to let me do that. I made a beeline for the car, running over women and children in the process (not really). the closer I got, the better it looked. I hadn't been able to go to Detroit for its introduction, but I had seen all the photos. it is noticeably bigger than an original Challenger, but it's by no means oversized--let's say it's comfortably robust. The combination of the spectacular orange paint and raw carbon-fiber accents is breathtaking. in fact, the entire body is made of carbon fiber and executed perfectly, but don't expect the production vehicle to be built out of the same material. When you first see any car sitting in a parking lot, stance is everything, and the Challenger concept has it in spades. It's a very impressive vehicle when you finally get to see it in person.

I said a few quick hellos to the DaimlerChrysler staff, and then stood by the driver's door like a hound dog waiting for his dish to be filled. I was determined that no one would get between me and the car. When Scott Brown asked if I wanted to drive it, emotional containment was at the breaking point, and my head nodded like a bobblehead doll riding in an off-road vehicle.

As I was getting into the car, somebody asked if I could drive a stick. Of course I could, but even if I couldn't, I don't know if I would have said anything! The disappointment came when they warned me to keep the speed down because the car is fitted with a set of one-off show wheels that are a multipiece design and not what you would call Mopar Muscle stress test rated, therefore, no burnouts or high speed passes. As much as I wanted to see how far through the floorboard I could push the throttle pedal on the 425hp SRT8 Hemi and go through the gears, I knew this was a rare opportunity to drive one hell of a special car, and if I wanted to stay in the driver seat, I'd better follow the rules.

The Challenger concept's big doors gave me easy access to the supportive bucket seats, and the steering wheel is an excellent representation of the famous Mopar musclecar-era Tuff wheel and has an exceptional feel and location. I took advantage of the Challenger concept's power windows to lower all the windows, since this is a true hardtop. Then I sat there for a second drinking it all in: the legroom, the shifter location, the pedal position, and the instrument panel layout. Damn nice!