The ’21 Ram TRX I am test-driving this week has more than three times as much horsepower (702) as the 455 V8 in my ’76 Trans-Am made when it was new (200).
It also weighs nearly twice as much – 6,396 pounds vs. about 3,800 pounds – and still runs the quarter mile three full seconds faster than my TA did when it was new, in the low 12s vs. the mid-15s (which today is in the same ballpark as a four cylinder family sedan’s performance).
It also out-handles and out-brakes it, while getting about the same gas mileage carrying five people and being able to pull a trailer, carrying my TA.
Plus go fast in the rain – and off-road, seriously – things my TA dare not attempt, lightly.
The TRX has a heated, Alcantara suede-covered steering wheel. A 19-speaker audio rig – as compared with the two speaker, AM/FM radio my TA came with (plus the 8-track). The rear seats are heated – and there’s more room back there than inside my TA, period.
Plus the trunk.
The TRX – even has a functional hood scoop, which my TA didn’t until I made it so.
I love my TA but I have fallen in love with this thing. It combines in a single vehicle the fury of two ’70 Hemi-powered Chargers, the comfort of a new 300 sedan, the room of an old Fury III station wagon and the field-implement strength and unstoppability of a tracked CAT earth mover. It is also guaranteed to send Greta Thundberg running in tears to her psychiatrists’s couch.
Everyone should have one.
But aye, there’s the rub.
The one downside of the new vs. the old.
My TA – which was top-of-the-line back in ’76 and loaded with practically every option – cost less than $6,000 – which is about $27,000 in today’s Venezuelan dollars.
The new TRX costs $70,000 – to start – in today’s dollars. Plus tax, as Elvis used to say – which is probably a sum sufficient to have bought my ’76 TA back in ’76.
My loaded test truck stickered out just over $87,000 – which means only a lucky few will ever be able to own one. Back in ’76, a performance car like my TA was affordable. It cost the equivalent of what a new base trim Challenger with the V6 sells for today.
It’s why it was made in numbers that would boggle today – for a specialty car:
Ram will build just a fraction of that number of TRXs – because only a fraction of the population can afford a TRX. But also because Ram can’t afford to build too many of them – because of the effect of the TRX’s gas mileage (10 city, 14 highway) on its “corporate average” fuel economy (CAFE) score.
This is the regulatory legerdemain requiring all the vehicles made by every car company to “comply” with ever-upticking MPG minimums, currently in the mid-30s on the way to the 50s.
Which makes it harder – because more expensive, via “gas guzzler” fines applied generally – to sell not just the TRX but also standard Ram trucks.
Such considerations were non-issues in 1976, when there were no CAFE “standards” and thus, a performance car with a huge V8 could be built relatively inexpensively and bought in mass quantity. Those too young to remember will have no memory of the time when V8 powered Trans-Ams, Camaros and Mustangs were as common as tattoos on people under 30 are today.
It’s a poor substitute.
That could be repeated today – and then some – were it not for the existence of CAFE. Ram could probably offer a less-loaded version of the TRX, even. One without the heated suede Alcantara steering wheel and the 19 speaker audio system – and the monster truck off-road equipment – but with the essential element, the supercharged 6.2 liter V8.
Bring it down to around $50,000 – or even less, which could also be done. It was done – in the pre-CAFE era. Car companies would offer just the engine and the related go-fast peripherals in a “de-contented” version of the top-of-the-line. A good example of this being the Pontiac Formula Firebird, which had the Trans-Am’s engine but not the gaudy cosmetics and sans the additional features the more expensive Trans-Am came with that didn’t make it any faster.
Plymouth (also RIP) did the same with models like the GTX. The point of it at ll being to build – and sell – as many of these things as the market wanted.
Ram built the TRX to the hilt because it had to – because it can only sell a few. Because of the government, which applies the stick to make sure only a few are built and that the few that make it through the gantlet are for-the-flush only.
But what if there was no regulatory punishment to serve as a deterrent to building as many such vehicles as could be sold?
It’s Greta’s worst nightmare – and the best dream I ever had, almost.
. . .
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