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Denizens of the dark doing the late-night car dealership creep

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Photography by author.

The moment I got my license, the after-sundown car lot crawl became a tradition. When the dealership closed, the outside lights remained on, but the salespeople and other customers were gone. What better time to go new-car shopping for muscle models I knew I couldn’t afford in the harsh light of day?

From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, this semi-weekly ritual would be performed by me and my then girlfriend, now wife, Linda. We’d pick up some snacks and then head out to dealerships far and wide to check out the latest performance car sticker prices. Back then my models of choice were 5.0 liter Mustang LXs and GTs, Firebird Formulas, Trans Ams and GTAs, Z28s and IROC Zs, 4-4-2s, Grand Nationals and Monte Carlo SSs.

I’d do the slow roll through the lighted dealership lot, and once I found a car I liked, I’d hop out to peruse the window sticker and dream about owning it…Linda would wait in the car. Little did she know at the time she was practicing for hundreds of hours of waiting for me in the car while I photographed cars for a living.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker

Check the window sticker to see what the Shaker option adds besides this cool hood scoop.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to take pictures of the performers I was pining for at the time. Back then, the only models I could even hope to own were the LX Mustang or the Formula, as the other sticker prices were way beyond my means. And if you recall the era, you’ll know that interest rates for financing weren’t as low then as they are now.

Back then you could buy a 5.0 LX for about $13,500, which was considerably better than the typical loaded-with-options 4-4-2 window stickers I saw for $18,300. The most expensive, if memory serves, were the GTAs, some with sticker prices around $27,000 by the late 1980s! I actually found a blue 4-4-2 for a comparatively low $14,600 on a lot once, but it was already sold.

Eventually, I even went back to a few dealerships during daylight hours and test drove some cars, but my available funds, financing and nerve never added up to a purchase. I was a ‘60s and ‘70s car fan first, and at the time, there were still solid drivers available that wouldn’t require a four-year loan and astronomical insurance rates to own and operate. Consequently, I ended up driving older cars through most of this era.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker

I know, my camera phone plus low light equals iffy photo quality, but you still get the idea of what I was looking at.

Once the early 1990s arrived, so did marriage and a baby, so the probability of buying any new car, let alone a performance car, evaporated into the responsibilities that come with family.  Needless to say, I didn’t do the late-night dealer lot crawl for many years to come.

A few weeks ago my wife and I went out on a “date night.” It’s what people who have been married for decades periodically do to recall their younger days…for a few hours. After dinner, while headed home we passed a dealership. On the front line was a new Challenger R/T Shaker. I really like late-model Challengers, and the Camaros and Mustangs too. No, it wasn’t the 707-hp Hellcat, but I don’t care, it was still a great looking Challenger R/T in my favorite color B5 Blue.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker

Here are the details and cost.

I turned around and went back to get a closer look. It was dusk, and the light was soft and purple. The lot lights were just coming up. As I hopped out of our mid-sized family SUV, Linda decided to wait in the passenger seat. At that moment, 25-year-old memories of trolling dealership lots in search of modern day muscle cars came rushing back. I gave the Challenger R/T a thorough once over, as I would have back in the day. It even had a six-speed. It was built for me!

Examining the window sticker revealed a $39,280 total, which may be quite fair for all that you get. Yet it still sparked another memory regarding my 30+-year relationship with modern muscle cars. As much as I appreciate their looks and performance and would love to own one, I still can’t afford it. The only difference between then and now…I had a camera in my cell phone to take a few pictures.