By: Scott Vandekerckhove
When you hear the term “Mopar Club”, many vehicles come to mind as the most popular nameplates celebrated by enthusiasts. Certainly vehicles like the Challenger, Charger, Viper, Wrangler, and ‘Cuda come to mind as some of the more widely regarded Mopars in history. Heck, even cars like the Prowler and PT Cruiser have a distinct club following. Be it big or small, there’s a group out there for just about every Chrysler vehicle in existence.
So let it be known; there is a club for all you Durango owners out there too!
The Durango Owners Club was established in 1998 and boasts over 2,000 members worldwide; 300 of which are actively driving their Durangos today.
This past weekend’s Woodward Dream Cruise attracted several club members from various parts of the country including New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas, and Massachusetts. But it wasn’t just all about the cruise.
Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP) cordially opened up their doors to the crew on Friday morning for a chance to see where the new Durango is built. The club was joined by not only plant workers, but also members of Chrysler’s PR, Marketing, and Engineering teams eager to meet the dedicated Durango-ites. Jack Dolan (Durango Chief Engineer), Richard Cox (Dodge Marketing), and Kristin Starnes (Dodge PR) were amongst those in attendance.
Rob McBride (owner of a 2000 SLT) said they felt like rockstars. “They gave us VIP treatment from the second we got there,” he stated. “To have Corporate involved was really special. They even let us bring our cameras inside to snap pictures on the tour!”
The permission to take pictures was a very pleasant surprise to the group who were expecting to be banned from capturing any images at all. “Many of us, myself included, used to tour the Newark, Delaware Plant (former home of the Durango) every year and we were never allowed to photograph anything. What a privilege it was here at JNAP,” McBride added. “They told us we were the first consumer-based group to ever tour the plant.”
McBride’s Durango boasts a squeaky clean engine compartment housing the coveted 5.9L Magnum V8 that is powder-coated in blue throughout (shown below). He describes it as a “factory freak” now with over 231,000 miles on the odometer. “The engine’s never been cracked open except for when I put the Mopar valve covers on it. It’s been extremely reliable.”
Modern Mopar Magazine joined the crew for dinner in Auburn Hills, MI after the owners had visited the Walter P. Chrysler Museum (group shots shown below).
Steve Smits (owner of a 2001 SLT Plus) says the Durango Club is like a family to him. “If I need someone to help me out, I’ve got a number of people I can call to lend a hand. We all pay it forward,” he exclaimed. “We have members from not only America, but all across the world,” he told me. According to Smits, owners can be found in Russia, Iceland, Estonia, France, and even Germany. “We even have a member that travels to Chernobyl in his Durango to perform radioactivity measurements,” he added.
Smits’ Durango, approriately called the “Bronze Beast” (shown below), sports a cornucopia of custom parts including front and rear bumpers, hood, light bars, spare tire carrier, and stereo. It’s one of the more decked out Durangos I have seen in my time.
Other members on hand included Dave Danek, Dwayne Messerschmidt, and Jim Showalter (shown in succession below), as well as Tom Kopec who now drives a 2007 HEMI Jeep Grand Cherokee. Kopec is a former owner of two Durangos.
But certainly the most extroverted Durango of the group came courtesy of Dave Schulz in his 2000 SLT clad in orange, yellow, and red flames. The flames are a good indication of the 800 horsepower supercharged Mopar V8 breathing fire underneath the hood. This bad boy (shown below) sports a full roll cage and four custom racing seats with 5-point harnesses to keep passengers strapped in tight. Dave says his Durango is capable of 10-second 1/4 mile passes when it’s running properly. I believe him.
As our meet came to a close, the club presented me with a commemorative coin (shown below) that they had specially made for the weekend festivities. “We make these to give out at every plant tour we go on. Every person we met at the plant today received one,” McBride added. The club also made a $700 donation to the UAW Charity Fund.
But for those of you reading this article who are interested in becoming members of the club, you must beware of those commemorative coins for they are both a blessing and a curse. “We give those coins to everyone who joins the club and they should be carried with pride,” Smits explained. “But once you have the coin, you are required to have it on your person whenever a group of us get together.”
So what’s the curse of the coin you ask? It’s simple. Show up to a meeting without your coin, and you just bought a round of drinks for the entire group. It can be an expensive mistake if you’re not careful.
If you think you can adhere to the coin rules, then we encourage you to join up with the Durango Owners Club at www.durangoclub.com. “It’s free to play,” Smits noted. “The camaraderie within the group is awesome. Everybody gets along. And if your Durango ever breaks down, we will help you fix it. No questions asked.”
We here at Modern Mopar want to thank the Durango Owners for their time and tremendous dedication to the cause. We get the feeling that the club will start to see more and more new members as the Durango continues to gain popularity. Best of luck to you all!
**On a side note, the owners we spoke with said they peppered Dodge with questions about an SRT version of the Durango. McBride said that their official response was, “We will definitely be building a Durango SRT8 soon………………maybe.”
I guess they had to tease us, right?