2023 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost Road Test: Homage to a ghostly legend

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ALONG WOODWARD AVENUE, Mich. — The Dodge Challenger Black Ghost is a rare blend of history and mystery served up in a modern Hellcat muscle car.

The sixth of seven “Last Call” models Dodge built to send out the Charger and Challenger LX cars, the Black Ghost is a Hellcat Redeye widebody with 807 hp. That’s the modern part.

The history is just as compelling. The original Black Ghost is a 1970 Challenger RT SE (Special Edition) owned by a Detroit police officer and Purple Heart recipient named Godfrey Qualls, who raced it on Woodward Avenue through the 1970s. He special-ordered the car with an upgraded 426 Hemi V8, the Super Track Pack that included a floor-mounted pistol-grip four-speed manual, and some pretty distinctive options tailored to his tastes, like a snakeskin-style vinyl roof. It is believed to be the only Challenger so-optioned for 1970.

That we know. The car was a murky presence on Woodward, with Qualls winning illegal street races and then disappearing for weeks or months at a time. The all-black Challenger became known as the Black Ghost, and Qualls prudently kept a low-profile given his day job as a motorcycle traffic cop.

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As the ‘70s wore on, he started a family, re-joined the Army and became a Green Beret, and the Black Ghost became a daily driver until ultimately landing in the garage for years. After Qualls died in 2015, his son brought the car back to running condition. As its story was fully told, the Historical Vehicle Association took note, and the Black Ghost is one of just 32 vehicles on the National Register. Last year, it sold for more than $1 million at auction to a collector who plans to keep displaying it for a new generation of enthusiasts to enjoy.

“There are so many legendary muscle cars in Dodge brand history, it was hard to choose the seven vehicles we wanted to pay homage to with our Last Call lineup, but the Black Ghost was an easy pick,” said Tim Kuniskis, Dodge brand chief executive officer, in the car’s announcement.

I would agree. The 2023 Black Ghost I tested brought much of its predecessor’s gravitas to bear. Stickering for a base price of $99,315, it’s certainly not the cheapest way to get into a Challenger, but with just 300 made, it’s already a collector’s item.

The ‘23 edition is a Hellcat Redeye Widebody powered by the 6.2-liter Hemi V8 pumping out 807 hp and 707 lb-ft of torque paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. I drove a pistol-grip Hellcat back in ‘14 on Woodward, and this is way more civilized. The Black Ghost rolls on 20-inch satin carbon wheels stopped by six-piston Brembo brakes. Old school touches like “Dodge”  spelled out across the front and Challenger scripted on the fenders add to the aura. Quails’ gator-skin-styled roof is replicated on this special edition in vinyl. 

The motor snarls under the long hood, which airs out through nostril-like intakes, making the Mopar hood pins quake. Sinking into the Laguna leather seats, I’m comfortable as a sense of anticipation washes over.

To coalesce my thoughts, I head to Woodward Avenue, where the original Black Ghost made its mark. Summoning its spirit, I launch hard from stop lights, goose the throttle whenever possible and in general, enjoy myself. That’s clearly the point of a throwback muscle car like the Black Ghost, as well as the broader mission of the outgoing Challenger. As these Daytona SRT spy shots suggest, two-door mojo will continue to live at Dodge in some form, and piloting the Black Ghost makes me believe this isn’t truly Last Call for these kinds of muscle cars. A Hurricane straight-six in a reborn two-door Charger? Yes, please.

The Black Ghost unleashes the Hellcat’s signature sound: furious, rumblin’ and growling with a resonance of bass. It’s a feast for the senses. Like the Chrysler 300C Final Edition I drove earlier this summer, I could feel a sense of history in the Challenger Black Ghost. In this case, it’s a more specific chapter rather than the 300C, which tried to capture a two-decade run in a single car.

Both are snapshots in a time when Chrysler Corp. tried to connect with enthusiasts on a visceral level through powerful cars with dramatic styling. As I pulled the Black Ghost into my driveway to prepare for its departure, revving the engine gratuitously for the final time, I felt nostalgic yet somewhat hopeful. Chrysler's current corporate entity, Stellantis, knows how to make emotional cars. The Black Ghost is an ending, but I highly doubt it’s Last Call for Mopar Muscle. 

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