Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, an automotive event that was a tradition in Southern California sadly came to an end in April of 2020.
SpringFest, one of the largest gatherings in the country for the Mopar faithful and their LX, LA, and LC-bodied modern muscle cars, was called off mere days before its 15th installment was due to be held.
For the uninitiated, SpringFest began in 2004 as a celebration of the new Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum cars. The show’s early incarnations were humble, but when the Dodge Charger and Challenger were introduced in 2006 and 2008 respectively, and were eligible to be shown at SpringFest, that’s when the powder keg went kaboom.
The show expanded exponentially every year. Chrysler executives began attending, culminating in 2010 when Ralph Gilles, then President and CEO of Dodge, made his first pilgrimage to sunny SoCal to mingle and take in all the cars that he himself had helped to design. By 2019, over 2000 cars were in attendance, and Chrysler brought a large display of current vehicles and sneak peeks at future colors, options, and even concept cars.
Alas, all that Mopar goodness came to an end that terrible spring of 2020, never to return.
But now I’m here to tell all of you past SpringFest attendees who lament the show’s demise that there’s finally a new sheriff in town, and its name is FallFest!
FallFest is the brainchild of Eric Landeros, owner of Staga Motorsports, an engineering and manufacturing firm of high-performance components for Mopar vehicles.
“SpringFest was a great event,” Landeros reflects. “It brought many enthusiasts together to spread the passion and knowledge behind the Mopar brands. After the 2020 event was cancelled, we waited to see if the initial organizers would bring the show back, and every year nothing happened. I finally decided to take a risk and put on a show with my team.”
Remarkably, that decision was only taken in April 2023, a very late date to start planning a major automotive event.
“We started calling all possible locations. Some were booked, some didn’t even answer us back, and some heard ‘car show’ and immediately closed the doors on us,” Landeros recalls. “Finally, we got in touch with Brett Halstead, special events manager at Angel Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Angels MLB team.”
“We didn’t tell him we were all serious Dodgers fans, so negotiations went smoothly,” Landeros says with a laugh. “Once we booked the venue, we had about four months to plan for the big day.”
What Landeros and his team ultimately wanted was an event meant to continue the legacy of SpringFest, a weekend where all makes of Mopar vehicles, including Dodge, Plymouth, Jeep, and Chrysler, from the vintage to the modern, would be celebrated.
As a member of the media who had attended many past SpringFests, I was invited down by one of the organizers to take in the spectacle and cover the event for my readers if I felt it was worthy. To my delight, and that of many others, it was, and a walk around the parking lot revealed some very cool cars.
One of the first cars I encountered after walking into the show was Carlos Rodriguez’s 2008 Dodge Magnum SRT8. The car model that ignited SpringFest all those years ago along with the Chrysler 300, Carlos’ ride was shockingly perfect inside and out for a 15-year-old driver.
Aside from a bit of shine on the steering wheel from years of hands gripping it, there was no sign of the 150,000 miles it had on the odometer. Carlos told me that his car was one of only 29 Magnums that year that was painted in Bright Silver.
Under the hood lurked that 6.1-liter, 425 horsepower, Hemi V8 that was clean as a whistle, and it made me nostalgic for the era when Dodge started getting serious about performance again.
Sitting not too far away was a special car for those in the know. Marcus Ryan’s 2023 Chrysler 300c was the first example I have seen of the “Last Call” model that Chrysler produced of their venerable luxury sedan before it is retired.
Limited to a production run of only 2,000 examples, the 2023 300c is essentially an SRT version of the car, something that hasn’t been available here since 2015.
Mechanically, it packs the legendary 392 cubic-inch Hemi V8, good for 485 ponies and 475 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic. Niceties include four-piston Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential, and adaptive dampers. Inside, the car is plushed out with laguna leather, a 19-speaker Harmon-Kardon audio system, and all the bells and whistles you could imagine.
There was another “Last Call” car nearby – a 2023 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack Swinger Special Edition. One of the seven unique models that Dodge issued to commemorate the end of the LC-body Challenger, the Swinger represents a nod to the unique style of the Dodge Dart Swinger of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
Only 1,000 Challenger Swingers were produced, all in widebody configuration, and could only be had in F8 Green, Sublime Green, or, as in this case, White Knuckle paint. Under the hood once again lies the 392 Hemi backed by the eight-speed slushbox.
Special features of the Swinger include a Gold School colored Shaker intake, a retro rear Swinger fender graphic, 20 x 11-inch Gold School multi-spoke wheels, six-piston Brembo brakes, faux woodgrain interior bezels, and Nappa/Alcantara seats adorned with green stitching, which is also present on the center console and doors.
This Swinger had some very subtle modifications which included green halo lighting around the headlights, and a green LED light strip under the hood.
An astonishing Plymouth restomod was on display in the form of a 1970 Road Runner, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it blew my mind.
Transplanted into the very stock-looking Plum Crazy-colored body was a full Hellcat drivetrain, including the supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi, a TREMEC 6-speed transmission, and a Hellcat diff with 3.09 gears. A set of modern alloy wheels with wide, low-profile tires gave the car the ability to handle the 707 ponies that it now packs.
The parchment interior was almost stock, save for a custom console that was wide enough to swallow that tranny. A truly stunning build that must have taken quite a bit of time and effort to finish.
If you dig Vipers, then you would have had a ball at FallFest. There were a handful of Vipers on hand and one really caught my eye: Nick Cappellano’s exceedingly rare 2017 GTS-R Final Edition ACR.
The Viper GTS-R was designed to commemorate the 1997 FIA GT2 championship-winning factory Viper race cars. The GTS-R, of which only 100 were made, came complete with an Extreme Aero Package (which included a monstrous rear airfoil, a front splitter, a rear diffuser, and dive planes), carbon ceramic brakes, an Exterior Carbon Package, various decals, and an ACR interior with red accent stitching.
Mechanically, the GTS-R was powered by the massive, 645 horsepower Chrysler 8.4-liter V10 coupled to a 6-speed manual tranny with a limited-slip diff. Ten-way, manually adjustable dampers, Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, and 19″ ACR wheels rounded out the goodies.
A serious car that you only see once in a blue moon at shows like FallFest.
Jeeps were in full flourish at the show too. For me, the best were the Grand Cherokee SRT 392s and SRT Trackhawks, of which there were quite a few in attendance.
As far as 392s were concerned, the nicest I saw was a stock one in Velvet Red Pearlcoat, a deep, rich color that really suits the WK2 Grand Cherokee design.
Serious performance machines by virtue of their Hellcat drivetrains mated to a four-wheel drive system, Trackhawks are able to completely embarrass a Challenger or Charger Hellcat on a regular basis at the drag strip, but are still perfect for fetching groceries.
A Bright White example caught my attention as the owner had made some cool modifications that included a supercharger anodized to match the stock yellow Brembo calipers, a pair of black rear spoilers, and some Hellcat logos on the front fenders to warn off any unworthy competitors.
Dodge Durangos, as you might know, have many commonalities with the Grand Cherokee, and ride on the same platform.
The best of the best on display was a mean looking R/T, painted in Destroyer Gray with carbon racing stripes. The owner of this bad boy had his ‘Rango slammed to the ground and added a set of 22-inch gloss black wheels and an aggressive front splitter.
Challengers and Chargers were obviously the main attraction at FallFest, and believe me when I say they were legion.
On the Challenger side, a pair were of special note.
A murdered-out 2018 SRT Demon, which, until the recent release of the 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170, was the quickest muscle car on the planet, looked positively sinister. As you know, only 3,300 of these 840-horsepower beasts roam the planet, so seeing one is always a treat.
Another nearby Challenger definitely embraced the go-for-broke modification ethic. Lorenzo Holguin’s 2015 Billet Silver SRT 392 seemed to have something done to every panel and component.
On the outside, it featured a custom, louvered aluminum grille that hid the headlights, a custom hood, a deep front splitter, black over-the-top stripes with red accents, and a set of Ferrada rims. Inside was a custom interior.
Under the hood is where the fireworks lived though. Virtually every surface was red, and that included the massive Whipple supercharger mounted on top, the oil catch can, the front strut tower brace, and various fluid reservoirs.
Two Chargers stood out for me as well. The first was a 392 Scat Pack Widebody, draped in eye-searing Go Mango orange, my favorite of Dodge’s current high impact colors.
This Scat was as slammed as the Destroyer Gray Durango was and featured granite Devil’s Rim wheels, a large carbon fiber splitter, carbon side skirts, a pronounced wicker bill, and a super-dark window tint.
I really loved the Orange versus black contrast. A very sharp-looking car.
The other Charger that caught my eye was a narrowbody 392 Scat Pack. Although this car didn’t have any special mods, it simply dazzled in Sublime green against a black interior, stripes, and wheels.
Naturally, Staga Motorsports brought some cars – five of them to be exact – and one of them, a 2020 Triple Nickel silver Challenger T/A 392 definitely spoke to me.
Clean as can be, the T/A bore a Staga splitter, 17-pound flat carbon hood with pins, trunk spoiler, and flat side skirts. Staga also modified the suspension, which featured lowering springs, front and rear sway bars, and end links. Custom 22-inch Ferrada three-piece wheels mounted with 335/25 Toyo tires rounded off the additions.
Staga also provided a car that was raffled off at the end of the day. A 2006 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Staga rebuilt the engine and fitted their custom suspension, springs, sway bars, end links, upper and lower control arms.
A new interior was installed, and the car was wrapped in silver. Staga forged carbon mirror covers, trunk spoiler, and splitter were added, and a set of 20” American Racing wheels mounted with Toyo Proxes rubber completed the build.
The crowd bought $6,600 worth of raffle tickets, with the proceeds going to the Foster Love charity in Brea, California. David Mendoza from Arizona took the car home with one lucky $25 ticket.
In addition to all the rides on display, FallFest also attracted a good number of vendors, including Borla Exhausts, Carven Exhausts, Triumph Performance Wheels, 3D Car Care, Summit Racing Equipment, Family Customs, Downforce Solutions, and more.
No show could go on without good eats, and FallFest was covered there too. Food trucks selling tacos, Hawaiian-style shaved ice, and even In-and-Out Burger were on hand.
I found FallFest 2023 to be a very promising start to what I hope grows into an even bigger and better event than SpringFest ever was. With over 300 cars on display and plenty of old friends showing up to catch up with, I had quite a good time.
“So what’s the future going to bring,” I asked my new friend, Eric Landeros, before leaving.
Without missing a beat, Eric gave me a wink and a sly smile, and simply said “See you Fall 2024.”
You can be sure I’ll be there.