Modern Mopar Performance Out In Force At The 2018 Spring Festival

Though the weather was less than fully cooperative, it didn’t stop legions of late-model Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep fanatics from making the pilgrimage to this year’s Spring Festival of LX. Now in its 13th year running, what started back 2005 as a grassroots meet with a handful of cars in a strip mall parking lot has grown to become the premiere annual event for modern Mopar fanatics around the country and beyond.

And as the size and scope of the event has grown over the years, so have the venues. After a multi-year stint at a decommissioned air force base in El Toro, California, the meet more recently relocated to Anaheim stadium. But even the home of the Angels wasn’t going to be enough to contain the nearly two thousand registrations that organizers received for 2018.

Southern California's rainy season - which lasts approximately 12 hours - decided to make landfall right when the event got up to speed. While that prevented the use of the on-site dragstrip, as had been planned, it didn't stop Mopar fanatics from showing up in droves.

As the Spring Festival of LX has expanded over the years, so has FCA’s involvement in the event. This year they went to the extent of renting out the Auto Club Raceway facility in Pomona, California for the day, providing fans not only ample room for the show and the various attractions within, but access to the venue’s quarter-mile dragstrip as well.

“We’re here because these are our owners,” explained FCA’s Scott Brown. “We’ve got the best customers in the world – we feed off them and learn from them. To see their passion for these vehicles is inspiring.”

That’s not just marketing speak according to Mark Trostle, Head of Dodge and SRT Design at FCA North America. Parked behind him was the company’s creation for this year’s Spring Fest: A Challenger T/A 392 in a one-off color that’s loaded with Mopar Performance goodies and outfitted with a custom Shaker hood.“I love the fact that I get to come up with stuff like this for Spring Fest,” he said.

Mark Trostle, Head of Dodge and SRT Design at FCA North America, introduces the car his team brought along to this year's Spring Fest. If you've noticed that this Challenger T/A 392 seems to be sitting a little lower than normal, that's because it's riding on a set of Mopar Performance springs, while touches like the unique paint color, side pipes and Shaker scoop help this T/A stand out from factory spec examples. "I wanted to paint a car a color that might be a little bit controversial," Trostle told us. "The idea is just to see how folks react to it. I think it's kind of neat space for us to build on what the Yellow Jacket is. And some folks have complained about us messing up the T/A hood, but to me, cool things are cool things. If the original T/A had stayed in production, who knows, maybe they would have put a Shaker on it."

“As Scott mentioned, there’s something special about the fact that we’re able to come down here and connect with our customers directly. I’ve got great friends that I’ve met though this event – I’m a car guy so I’d be here anyway, and that’s why I love it. So much so that we’ve brought eight designers from our staff to the event, some of which are new to my design studio. I think it’s important for them to connect with our customers to hear what they have to say about the vehicles and our ideas.”

Like the name suggests, Spring Fest is mainly focused on vehicles riding on, or derived from, FCA’s rear-drive, full-sized LX platform. That comprises the Dodge Charger, Magnum, and Challenger, along with the Chrysler 300, but other SRT-trimmed FCA vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT and Dodge Durango SRT are allowed to join in on the fun too.

FCA invited us down to Pomona the day before Spring Fest to see what all this Hemi-powered fuss is about by putting us behind the wheel of a Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody as well as the new SRT-flavored Dodge Durango. Keep your eyes peeled for a story about that experience coming your way very soon.

After hanging out with the FCA folks and putting both the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody and Durango SRT through their paces out on the winding roads of the Angeles National Forest, we headed back to Ponoma the following morning to discover that although the weather didn’t want to play nice, it couldn’t dampen the spirit of the Mopar faithful.

We’re here because these are our owners. We’ve got the best customers in the world – we feed off them and learn from them. To see their passion for these vehicles is inspiring. – Scott Brown, FCA

Thrill Rides

Though Mother Nature’s waterworks put the kibosh on the planned runs down the dragstrip, that didn’t stop Dodge from providing wild, drift-filled ride-alongs for folks brave enough to sit shotgun with a pro driver.

While other brands are out chasing Nurburgring times, Dodge is busy making folks of all ages giggle like schoolkids with their supercharged musclecars. It might be easy to dismiss these full-sized machines as one trick ponies, but truth be told, they can dance when you ask them to.

With 650 pound-feet of torque to complement the 707 horsepower on tap sent to the ground from 275mm-wide Pirelli Pzero tires, it didn’t take much coaxing on the behalf of the pro drivers to throw these brutes into epic bouts with opposite lock for the fans, both when warming up and when giving passengers a taste of what a Hellcat can do.

A Sea Of Mopar Muscle

“This is not a car show,” said festival organizer John Fortuno back in 2017. “This is a mega-meet.” The implication is that while Spring Fest gives owners of heavily modified vehicles a chance to show off their creations, folks don’t need to have wildly tweaked and tuned Mopars in order to participate.

Near-constant showers kept a rain-soaked sheen on the cars, but that only served to illustrate how these vehicles stand out in a crowd - particularly when dressed in heritage colors like Go Mango, Plum Crazy, and Sublime.

“First I want to thank everybody for coming out here,” Fortuno said when addressing the massive crowd at this year’s show. “We’ve been doing this a lot of years and what started with literally four cars has grown into what you see here today. This year we went out to Detroit and met up with Dodge to get some feedback from them. They said, “It’s good, but we think it can go bigger.” And here we are. You guys have truly made this what it is, and while it’s still a simple formula, we have people coming from all over the country and all over the world to be here. We’ve got race cars, we’ve got regular cars, we’ve got show cars, and it’s all because of what you guys have made happen for us.”

Spring Fest is a true grassroots event, starting in 2005 as an effort to bring together enthusiasts for Chrysler’s then-recently released LX platform. What began as an owner meetup in which the entrants could be counted on one hand now numbers into the thousands. Nearly 1900 cars registered for the 2018 Spring Fest, and all indications point toward that number being even bigger next year.

The show’s current configuration didn’t happen by accident though, Fortuno pointed out. “The process that it took to get to this level was mind blogging,” he said. “But what’s important to remember is that the growth of this show has happened organically – we’re not doing anything particularly special here other than putting a lot of enthusiasts together in one place.”

The process that it took to get to this level was mind blogging, but what’s important to remember is that the growth of this show has happened organically – we’re not doing anything particularly special here other than putting a lot of enthusiasts together in one place. -John Fortuno

Though it's hard to pick favorites from the vast array of different builds we saw at the show, one particular standout has to be "Mad" Matt Leischer's blown Chrysler 300 SRT. You might have heard about this build before, which features no shortage of custom fabricated ingenuity to make it all work. But what you might not have heard is that, over the past year, Matt's been hard at work bringing the 300 back to life after an unplanned meeting with a utility pole - and making it more potent than ever in the process. We'll have a larger story on this badass 300 coming your way in the near future.

FCA Design Studio

As we mentioned earlier, FCA takes feedback from enthusiasts to heart. This year they brought along their own miniature design studio, showcasing not only the aforementioned one-off Challenger T/A 392, but also an assortment of ideas that FCA designers have for new color options.

“Last year I was at Spring Fest and there was a B5 Blue Challenger sitting there and it just looked so good,” Trostle explained.

FCA's Design Studio gave folks a chance to check out some of the new colors that the automaker's team is considering for production. We're told one of the colors on hand at the event has already been green-lit for production, but they wouldn't tell us which shade it was. We're going to go out on a limb and say that it's probably not Garbage Can.

“That got me wondering about something – we have round table discussions and this and that, but you know inevitably they want to talk about future product that I can’t talk about. I thought that one thing we could do is take advantage of the sunshine, so I wanted to do a little experiment. We’ve got these awesome heritage colors, but they’re just that – heritage colors. I want to create the next generation of heritage colors and keep that passion and emotion going. So we’ve brought along [mockups] of 15 new colors, and I want to see what kind of reaction they get – which colors resonate well. I’ve got one thrown in there that’s probably going to happen sooner rather than later, so it’ll be interesting to see how that one shakes out.”

What’s Next

“We take back more than you know from these events as we’re working on our next generation vehicles,” Trostle told the crowd at the show. “And we love the fact that you are ambassadors for our brand as well.”

It's not every day that you come across a modern, gutted, Hemi-powered dragster station wagon. While Dodge keeps reminding us that a business case for muscle wagons just isn't there - 2008 Magnum SRT8s were produced in lower numbers than the Ferrari Enzo, after all - that doesn't stop us from REALLY wanting a Hellcat-powered Magnum to exist.

While rumors persist that FCA will be moving the Challenger and Charger to a new platform in the near future, with the recent introduction of the Demon and Hellcat Widebody models, it looks like LX platform-related production still has a few years left in it. Challenger sales stronger than ever too, besting the Chevrolet Camaro for sales on several occasions in recent months, so we can’t blame FCA for not wanting to mess with a good thing.

While the Demon is the top dog both in the Mopar world as well as the production car record books for straight-line acceleration, here at Spring Fest it shares the stage with an array of custom builds that show off the incredible ingenuity that Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep fanatics bring to the table. Factory-stock or built to the hilt, all are welcome here.

If those sales serve as any indicator, enthusiasts are still very much in love with FCA’s modern interpretation of the musclecar, and it stands to reason that the crowds at Spring Fest events will continue to grow in turn.

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About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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