Behind the Wheel: Peter Sagan’s 1970 Dodge Charger
Look around the professional peloton and you’ll find more than a few riders that simply love their cars. And for the world’s best cyclists, many of whom earn seven-figure salaries, just about anything is possible when it comes to buying the car of their dreams.
In this first instalment of Behind the Wheel, Shane Stokes talks to the man behind Peter Sagan’s 1970 Dodge Charger to find out about the build and what the car says about the reigning world champion as a cyclist and as a person.
Stylish, distinctive, and with a lot of power under the hood: Peter Sagan’s car choice has a lot in common with the athlete.
The world champion hails from Slovakia but has drawn inspiration from across the Atlantic and from his childhood TV viewing of the Dukes of Hazard show. The rider, who earns millions each year, commissioned two Californians to build him a 1970 Dodge Charger, which is a version of the vehicle used in the famous TV series.
In that show, the Duke cousins Bo and Luke drove a 1969 Dodge Charger nicknamed the General Lee. The car featured a powerful V8 engine and was often filmed sliding, skidding and doing aerial acrobatics; in ways, this mirrors Sagan’s punch on the bike plus the catlike skills he learned on the BMX and mountain bike.
Sagan commissioned Scott Tedro (from RideBiker Alliance) and Ken Maisano, co-owners of MASCAR Modern & Classic Autobody & Paint Repair in Costa Mesa, California, to build him such a car. The Dukes of Hazard was the original inspiration but he was also attracted to the car used in the Fast and the Furious film.
As detailed by Hot Rod magazine, this model featured a blower, hood scoop, and large rear tires and these plus many other elements were worked into the end result.
Tedro and Maisano worked with artist and MASCAR head fabricator Adam Stankus to create the machine. A 1970 Charger was acquired and worked on over an estimated 10,000 man hours, with rust and rot eliminated and both internal and external modifications being carried out.
The end result is a car with Procar bucket seats, a hand-built console, a modified dashboard, a blown 572 wedge engine, airbag suspension (which can be raised to lift the car body when required, such as driving across speed bumps), low profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, boosted brakes, a custom-built aluminium fuel cell and 900 hours of bodyworking and painting.
The machine was completed recently and on Wednesday, travelled across to Europe by plane to its new home.
— Ridebiker Alliance (@RideBikerAlli) June 16, 2016
But what’s the human story behind the build?
Creating the dream motor
Tedro owns the company Sho-Air International, which transports equipment to and from trade shows around the world. The business came under considerable financial pressure after the September 11 attacks and, as Tedro explained to CyclingTips this week, he began smoking and drinking heavily.
Concerned about his health and looking to get back into shape, he was introduced to cycling in 2004 and embraced it. He lost 100 pounds (45kg) within a year and became increasingly obsessed with the sport. This in turn led to him taking over the national mountainbike series in the US, and developing it to the point where it now runs four .HC level events.
Tedro also ran the Cannondale Racing pro MTB team in the US and, in 2012, his Sho-Air company was a co-sponsor of Sagan’s Cannondale road team.
This brought he and Sagan together and the two became close over time. “I was friends with Cameron Wurf and Ted King and I met Peter at a dinner and we just kind of hit off. We became friends pretty quickly,” Tedro states.
“I love to cycle, but I really didn’t know a lot about the history of cycling and road cycling especially. But Peter and I kind of just got along and we started talking about cars and other things. Our whole relationship has primarily been cars and the bikes. I have a friendship with Peter and with Kate [Katarina, Sagan’s wife].
“He liked the cars, he loved my muscle cars. He came down to my shop and visited some of the cars that I build for myself and customers. He said he would really like a car. It started out to be kind of a small project and grew very rapidly into him wanting the very best in the world. He wanted a world-class muscle car. He wanted a world class statement. He wanted more of a piece of art that he could actually use.”
Sagan initially wanted a replica of the Dukes of Hazard car, having spent hours watching the show as a child. As Tedro explains, Sagan had a big interest in America from a young age and was fascinated by the culture. Watching the TV show showed him one side of it and when it came to building his dream car, a General Lee replica was his first wish.
But then, after watching one of the Fast and the Furious movies, he decided he wanted to head in a different direction with the Dodge Charger project.
“He said, ‘Scott, can you build me something like this?’,” Tedro recollects. “I said, ‘Peter, we can build you anything you want, you just have to decide on what you want to do because they are vastly different.’
“We explained to him, ‘Peter, this [the car shown in the Fast and the Furious – ed.] is not a very functional car. It is a gimmick car. It is a car done for the movie. It is probably not very nice inside, it is not going to be what you think.’ So he has a Porche Turbo S 911, and he basically wanted a combination of a Porsche 911 with the violence and the raw power of an American muscle car.”
Sagan is a rider who likes going fast and it was certain that he will do the same in his car once completed. But as the video above shows, there is a huge amount of raw power in the machine and, unsurprisingly, his wife was worried.
“Kate was extremely concerned with safety, so we really worked hard to integrate a good roll bar,” says Tedro. “It has got a roll cage in it, sub frame connectors. The car is as safe as we can make it with old technology. It doesn’t have airbags and things like that, but we did everything we could do to make the car rigid.”
Once the main build was done, it was a question of adding the finesse; the little extra points that would define the vehicle.
“One of the funny things about this is he wanted two horns on the car,” says Tedro. “He wanted the Dukes of Hazard horn [does an impression of the noise –ed.], but he also wanted a big loud boat horn. So it has got the beep beep horn and then this horn that just goes ‘wooooooohhh.’
“He didn’t want anything of his name on it, he didn’t want his logo on it. He wanted it to be very subtle about him, other than the interior. On the headrest it has Peter Sagan and his logo, and on the dash. But that’s it.”
“He also wanted this subtle looking paint, but he wanted this big blower sticking out of the hood. So it is kind of like him. He wanted a contrast in personalities. On the outside, clean cut. He looks very in shape, he is obviously physically fit. He is very attractive, a good looking guy. He has such a pleasant way about him, he seems harmless.
“But inside Peter, he has got this 1000 horsepower 871 9lbs boost furious engine. Inside there is this giant beast that he knows how to let out.”
Digging deeper into his character
Over the years Tedro has got to know Sagan and he is clearly impressed with him as a person. He describes him repeatedly as very intelligent and extremely inquisitive, and sees him as more than just a successful rider.
The Slovakian initially gained a reputation in the sport as something of a big kid, due in part to his podium antics at the 2013 Tour of Flanders and also his tricking about on his bike. However beneath that exterior there is a very different personality.
He’s much more nuanced that that initial impression and, away from the playful exterior, there is a relentless inner drive.
“Peter is very intense without meaning to be,” says Tedro. “He is the kind of person that if you walk in the room, you are immediately drawn to him because he is very charismatic. But people also find him intimidating; he has a very intimidating presence, as he is very intense.
“He is like a hawk. When you talking to him, he looks right at your eyes. He is extremely detail-oriented, he is extremely focussed. He knows what he wants.”
Digging deeper, Tedro breaks down different aspects of Sagan’s personality.
“From a sponsor’s standpoint, he is a dream. He is extremely humble. He is very well spoken. He is thoughtful. He is kind. Just a humble, sweet, nice guy. He really is very pleasant to everyone.
“Then, as an athlete … On the outside he looks like any other cyclist. He looks very fit, very attractive, a good-looking guy, but inside he has this ability … He is so gifted mentally that he can literally force things to happen. He can literally make his bike do things that it shouldn’t do.
He comes up with an interesting analogy to make his point. “I’ll put it this way … he is a bee,” he says, pausing for effect. “Scientifically, bees shouldn’t be able to fly. Likewise, Peter is able to do things with his bike at times that defies science. I think it is because of his incredible willpower and his incredible focus.
“As an athlete, he has this extreme drive. He is going to ride the mountainbike in the Olympics. A lot of people have been critical and have said he is starting from so far back that it will be virtually impossible for him to podium. But I will be willing to bet money that Peter will podium at the Olympics.
“That takes nothing away from the unbelievable mountainbike riders that will be there. But Peter has the ability to take himself to another level, to another dimension. If you spend any time around him you can see it. He has such an intensity about him, and if he is convinced of anything, he is relentless in his pursuit of that. He is special.”
He has, Tedro adds, also a bigger picture in mind beyond his pro career. Many athletes are so preoccupied with their sporting life that they don’t look beyond it. In contrast, he says that Sagan has a long-term goal in mind, and it is a somewhat unexpected one.
“One of Peter’s idols is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He likes him a lot, he wants to be an actor someday. He would like to act, he really enjoys acting. And he thinks Arnold is a great example of somebody who took his sports background and turned it into a career in acting and in politics.”
Don’t expect him to quietly fade away once he is done with pro racing.
A machine to match the man
Whether or not he ultimately follows Schwarzenegger to Hollywood, Sagan has already marked himself out as someone distinctive. In a sport renowned for its tradition, he has become known for challenging convention. One example came earlier this year when he decided not to shave his legs for several months.
As world road race champion he understands he is in a position to be a role model, and he decided to buck the century-old trend in order to show that he could.
Asked about this before Paris-Roubaix, he questioned why people blindly followed others.
“Who came with this style to shave the legs in cycling? I don’t know. Nobody knows, and everybody is shaving their legs,” he said then.
“But why? Nobody answers, they don’t know the answer.”
While he ultimately did subject himself to a razor, he made his point: he won’t simply follow others, but instead will buck trends when he wants to.
He’s shown this again in his choice of car, spending a huge amount of money to get something both historic and very unique. Rather than walking into a showroom in Europe and buying the latest sportscar, he has spent time and cash to work on something very different.
The machine combines many different elements and, according to Tedro, fits in well with his character.
“I think you can find a lot of duality between Peter and the car,” he says. “He went with a matt silver finish, it is not shiny. Blower aside, the exterior is in some ways understated, yet you have this huge power inside. And it’s like Peter: he is a quiet, humble, Bengal tiger. That is the best way I can describe him.”