CARS TRUMP BOATS AT FEBRUARY LUNCHEON
By Paul Borden

Boat show?

What boat show?

We don’t need no steenking boat show.

Yes, there was a boat show in Miami Beach on President’s Day weekend, but it wasn’t watercraft that had more than 40 SAMA members and guests fighting through causeway traffic to get to SAMA’s February luncheon.

The lure for us was the prospect of hearing a presentation from Dodge CEO and President Ralph Gilles and getting a close-up look at not one, not two, not three, not four but all six -- count ’em -- vehicles in the Dodge portfolio at one time.

The venue for the affair was the 1111 Lincoln Road Car Park, probably the most exotically designed parking garage in South Florida, or maybe the state and country. If you were there, you know what I mean.

We shook up the order of things this time, beginning with the presentation by Gilles and following with a brief business session that included an appearance by race car driver John Pew, courtesy of SAMA member Jay Rand from Homestead-Miami Speedway. Then the catered, buffet-style lunch featuring salmon, chicken, and prime beef loin was served.

That seemed to work out very well and is a schedule that, barring objections from an overwhelming number of members, we may very well follow in the future.

Gilles, who spent some of his time before the luncheon answering questions from a special SAMA panel (click here to read story), made his presentation with a lineup of the six Dodge brand vehicles behind him.

The three passenger vehicles on the audience’s left were flanked by three crossover and SUV models to the right. All have been heavily revised and all but one (the top-of-the-line performance coupe Challenger, which has its own look) feature the new-look Dodge grille. (The classic ram’s head is now reserved for the Ram truck line.)

Press kits were distributed, and more information is available on the manufacturer’s website (www.media.chrysler.com) so I won’t go into great detail here, but here are the vehicles and a couple of comments from Gilles on each:

Avenger: A new power train, a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 mated with a six-speed automatic transmission, boosts horsepower to 283 while still delivering 29 mpg highway for under $24,000.

“At Dodge we believe you can have your cake and eat it, too,” Gilles said. “We’re always going to increase horsepower and performance and fuel economy at the same time. We’re not going to sacrifice anything.”

Challenger: Engineers could have tweaked the Challenger’s 5.7-liter, HEMI V8 for 500 horsepower but instead settled for 470 hp while boosting torque, which, Gilles noted, “is what moves 4,000-pound cars,” to 470 as well.

“It looks badass,” Gilles said. “Now it drives the way it looks.”

Charger: This Dodge classic has been completely rethought and reengineered.

“We were inspired by some of the most premium cars in the world,” Gilles said. “We didn’t look laterally. We didn’t look down. We looked up. We matrixed the best cars in the world for noise insulation, for handling, for feature, passive safety features.”

Grand Caravan: This classic minivan, too, has been completely redesigned, and the Pentastar engineer is standard.

“It got the same type of attention to detail as the Avenger,” Gilles said, “so the suspension has been completely redone.”

Journey: The Journey is a vehicle that Gilles thought should have been doing better in sales, but the timing of its launch in 2007 coincided with the onset of a national economic downturn. But it has been making gains recently.

Said Giles: “The vehicle was always flexible. I call it the Swiss army knife of the segment. No one really offers a credible three-row in the segment. Most people, it’s a two-row.”

Durango: An all-new vehicle comes on the market with Dodge reviving the nameplate that has been out of production for a couple of years. It is based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but 10 inches longer overall with a wheelbase also six inches longer. It comes with many safety features.

“This vehicle I would say is a fortress for your family,” Gilles said. “It’s really designed with all of the same thinking as the Charger -- a lot of passive safety, a lot of active safety features that are simply not available in the class. So again, inspired for the future, not the past.”

The business session featured a statement from treasurer Marcello Serrato, who noted that our obligations with the state regarding taxes have all been taken care of (thank you, Marcello), and oh, yes. DUES ARE STILL DUE if you haven’t paid them.

SAMA member Daniel Romagnoli also distributed information regarding a vintage car rally he has coming up, the Everglades 300 Miles, on March 25-26. You can learn more information at his website www.floridavintagecarrally.com.

He is looking for SAMA members to help. You can check with Daniel at our next meeting. It looks like fun!

Speaking of events, with NASCAR settling its championships in the fall, spring is the time for sports cars at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That brought driver John Pew from West Palm Beach to talk about the Grand Am race on March 5.

Pew calls the Homestead track, which uses turns 3 and 4 and the straightaways of the oval along with the infield road course, one of his favorites.

“There’s lot of passing, a lot of very, very exciting racing,” he said. “The series is very fan friendly. Everybody can walk into the pit, walk the pits area, the garage if you want to look in the car. And it’s very inexpensive.”

We want to thank Dodge and Ralph Gilles, Kristin Starnes (Head of Dodge Brand Communications) and Lisa Barrow (East Region PR) for sponsoring our February event.

Lisa will be back next month when Chrysler sponsors our March meeting.

Please note that meeting will be on Tuesday (yes, Tuesday), March 22.

It’s on a Tuesday because the hotel people warned us about a potential conflict with our event and a music festival slated for that time.

Why, exactly, the conflict with a boat show escaped them will remain one of the mysteries of life.