First Drive: 2023 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost


First Drive: 2023 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost


The Black Ghost is one of seven Last Call special edition models that Dodge is offering for the LX-based Challenger and Charger’s final year of production. 300 Black Ghosts will be built in total.

By the late 1960s, the streets of Detroit were teeming with fast machines. Gearheads who went cruising down stretches of Woodward Boulevard could expect to encounter like-minded hot rodders in Pontiac GTOs, Chevrolet Chevelles, Ford Mustangs, Plymouth Road Runners, and an array of other factory-produced muscle cars, many of whom were anxious to prove that they had the quickest car around.

So, when Godfrey Qualls filled out the order sheet for his 1970 Challenger R/T SE at Raynal Brothers Dodge in the fall of 1969, he knew it would need serious firepower if it was going to stand out in the crowd. His younger brother Cleolous had gotten his own 440ci-powered Charger R/T from the same dealership the previous year, and it appears that he took some aesthetic inspiration from that car: Like Cleolous, Godfrey specified black paint with a white bumblebee stripe. But when it came to the powertrain, he wanted to up the ante.

He opted for a four-speed manual gearbox rather than the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic that his brother had chosen for his B-Body, and Godfrey paired it up with the A34 Super Track Pak with 4.10 gears for additional straight-line urgency. And while the big-block 440 was a stout powerplant, it was going to take something special if he wanted to keep the competition looking at his tail lights, so the elder Qualls brother ticked the box for the 426 cubic-inch Hemi V8 as well.

All of this boded well for Godfrey’s prospects in the clandestine world of Motown street racing. There was one fairly significant concern, however: He was enrolled in the police academy at the time, and on his way to becoming an officer for Detroit PD’s 11th Precinct. But Qualls had no intention of infiltrating the scene as an undercover cop. He was there to win races.

Muscle car lore tells a tale of a distinctly sinister Challenger that would appear at hot spots around Detroit throughout the 70s. The owner never mingled with other gearheads, and after sending the competition packing, the menacing Mopar would vanish into the night, not to be seen again for months at a time. The car came to be known as the Black Ghost.

With the current-generation Challenger and Charger set to go out of production at the end of this year, Dodge has created a group of Last Call models to see the iconic modern muscle cars off in style, and several of these special editions were designed to celebrate significant Mopars of the past. The sixth of the seven cars in the series is the limited-production 2023 Challenger Black Ghost that you see here, and like Quall’s legendary E-Body, the modern interpretation comes packing a number of distinctive features to go along with its hair-raising performance.

The Black Ghost comes equipped with 20-by-11-inch Satin Carbon Warp Speed wheels wrapped in Pirelli P Zero performance tires.

Inside and Out

The Pitch Black paint and white rear fender graphic set the tone, but it’s the details that create a clear connection with the original car. The Dodge front fascia badge, hood pins, polished fuel door, and Challenger script badging on the rear spoiler, front fenders, and grille add to the general throwback aesthetic, while the unique roof treatment pays homage to the rare Gator Skin vinyl top that was installed on the original car.

Qualls kept the luxury accoutrements fairly minimal in his R/T SE, opting for cloth and vinyl seats rather than leather because he felt they’d be easier to tolerate in during the summer. Fortunately, climate control has come a long way over the past fifty years, and the modern Challenger’s seat ventilation system helps to make that concern a non-issue in today’s world. And as such, Dodge has seen fit to lavishly appoint the cabin of the Black Ghost.

Here Laguna leather upholstery is matched up with Alcantara on the steering wheel, doors, and seat inserts. The bezels on the center console and instrument panel are made from real carbon fiber as well, while the Dinamica suede headliner adds to the overall poshness of the interior. There’s also a low-key Black Ghost badge under the passenger side air conditioning vent to remind you that you’re in something special, but otherwise, the surroundings aren’t a significant departure from a standard, well-appointed modern Challenger, which philosophically aligns with the understated approach that Godfrey took with the original car’s interior.

The subtleties largely end there, though. Under the hood is a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 which, in Black Ghost specification, matches the Challenger SRT Super Stock’s pavement-melting 807 horsepower and 707 pound-feet of torque. The boosted Hemi sends the grunt to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission and a rear end that’s equipped with the optional 3.09:1 axle ratio which, much like the A34 Super Track Pak option on Qualls’ car, yields stronger off-the-line acceleration than the standard ratio.

Details like the hood pins and unique badging give the car additional retro flair.

Behind the Wheel

While the powertrain of the Black Ghost essentially mirrors the SRT Super Stock’s, this one is made for prowling the streets rather than ruling the drag strip. The adaptive suspension gets a traditional SRT Redeye true, which keeps things comfortable in Street mode and ratchets up the stiffness in the Sport and Track modes for sharper handling and enhanced high-speed stability.

While the Black Ghost can hold its own on a technical road thanks to its six-piston Brembo brakes and the standard Widebody package, the latter of which adds 3.5 inches to the car’s overall width by way of fender flares that are on hand to accommodate massive 305mm-wide performance tires, it’s most entertaining when faced with a long, open stretch of road. With the suspension dialed to its most relaxed setting, a blip of the throttle will send the nose bucking skyward as the V8 lets out an all-consuming roar. Even though nearly a decade has passed since the Hellcat’s introduction, it still elicits a wide grin every time.

Despite with the substantial footprint, the Black Ghost will readily fry the tires at freeway speeds if you drop the hammer with traction control loosened up, and with the more aggressive gearing, it will lay down rubber when leaving stop lights if you even think about goosing the loud pedal. Measured throttle inputs relieve this to be a seriously quick car, though: Even with the exhaust cutouts and 11-inch slicks that the original Black Ghost was said to have run back in its heyday, this modern interpretation offers factory-produced performance that Qualls could only have dreamed of back in the early 70s.

Qualls’ car is said to have been mistakenly built with a rarely-optioned Gator Skin top rather than traditional black vinyl. The snafu went on to become one of the most recognizable traits of the car though, and the vinyl appliqué on the roof of the 2023 Black Ghost offers a tasteful nod to the original.

Going, Going, Gone

After decades stored in the family garage, Godfrey’s car was reintroduced to the world by his son Gregory back in 2017. By 2020, it had been awarded a spot in National Historic Vehicle Register in 2020, and subsequently added to the Library of Congress.

Gregory, who had been given the car by his father shortly before his passing in 2015, was taken aback by the incredible amount of interest in the car. Although he likely would have preferred to keep the car in the Qualls family, he was aware that parting with it could provide opportunities to his own children that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and that it would put the car in the custody of a collector who was better-suited to care for it. Earlier this year, the car was put up for bid at a Mecum auction in Indianapolis, where it hammered for more than one million dollars after fees.

Like the original car, the 2023 Black Ghost will be a rare sight out in the wild. Just 300 examples will be built this year, and when production of the 2023 Challenger concludes in December, it’ll be the end of the road for the muscle car as we know it today. While we’re definitely going to miss seeing these Hemi-powered brutes roll out of Dodge’s Brampton, Ontario factory, we take solace in the fact that it is not going quietly into that good night.

In addition to the “Last Call” underhood plaque found on all 2023 Challengers and Chargers, the Black Ghost gets this unique badge under the passenger-side air conditioning vent.

The Black Ghost’s 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 dishes out 807 horsepower and 707 pound-feet of torque. Like all other SRT Hellcat Redeye-based models in the Dodge lineup, it’s exclusively paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.


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