What’s the car in Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’?

The hit song is having something of a resurgence in 2024, but which fast car was Chapman originally singing about? We investigate.

American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman topped the charts in the late ’80s with her hit track Fast Car,

The song made a comeback in 2023 after it was covered by country music star Luke Combs, which culminated in Combs and Chapman taking the stage together for a performance of the song at the 2024 Grammy Awards on Sunday, February 5.

The song details a struggling romantic relationship, with Chapman singing: “You got a fast car I want a ticket to anywhere … So I remember when we were driving, driving in your car. Speed so fast it felt like I was drunk.”

With the earworm well and truly back in our heads, it’s inspired the Drive office to reflect on whether the car of Chapman’s lyricism was real or metaphorical.

According to Chapman herself, it’s a case of the latter.

“It’s not really about a car at all,” she told Q Magazine. “Basically it’s about a relationship that doesn’t work out because it’s starting from the wrong place.”

Still, we like to think the songwriter had a car in mind while she created her masterpiece – and all signs point to it being a 1969 Dodge Charger.

Chapman, coincidentally, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1964 – the same year the Ford Mustang launched and the American muscle car era truly began.

This was a period of big names and bigger engines that rose throughout the 1960s to a peak in 1970 before being impacted by rising insurance costs, tougher emissions laws, and the 1973 oil crisis. While the colourful machines were many and varied, the second-generation Charger (1968-1970) was a huge sales success at the time (over 150K sold in a three-year period), and became an icon of the breed.

With hidden headlamps, long lines and engines that ranged from a 3.7-litre inline six-cylinder to a massive 313kW 7.0-litre V8, it was, in every way, a ‘fast car’.

It wasn’t just fast on the street either, as the 1969 Charger was given an aerodynamic nosecone and giant wing in the guise of the Charger Daytona, which would see it win multiple NASCAR races and earn notoriety as the first car in the American motorsport to break the 200mph (324km/h) speed barrier.

In 1979, when Chapman was 15 years old, the Charger gained even more notoriety starring as the ‘General Lee’ on the Dukes of Hazard TV series. It was no longer new, and it was not yet considered collectible, but to viewers around the world, it was the car that was regularly ‘fast enough so we can fly away.’ Worth noting that the TV show reportedly claimed over 300 of the approximate 90,000 1969 Chargers built, with up to three being destroyed per episode.

More recently, the second-generation Charger has seen further pop culture fame (albeit in 1970 guise) as the favoured vehicle of Vin Diesel’s Domenic Toretto character in the Fast and Furious film series.

So why do we think Chapman’s ‘fast car’ is a Charger?

Chapman started her musical career busking while at university in Boston, Massachusetts, and eventually made her major stage debut there in 1985. Chapman released Fast Car three years later, in 1988.

For context, in 1988, the top-selling car in the United States was a Ford Escort – not exactly a “fast car” by anyone’s standards – but ‘fast cars’ were back on the American radar as the 1988 Chevrolet Corvette Callaway Sledgehammer broke the world speed record for a street-registered vehicle, topping 254.76mph (410km/h) at a test facility in Chapman’s home state of Ohio.

Note that the Callaway ‘Vette didn’t blast its way into the record books until October 1988, whereas Chapman’s single was released six months earlier, in April.

The important factor here wasn’t the date, however, but the location. Or more importantly, locations.

In a report published by Forbes in 2018, American classic-car classifieds platform ClassicCars.com tallied up all the searches made in each US state and noted the most popular vehicle in both Ohio and Massachusetts was the 1969 Dodge Charger. In fact, it was the most popular search in thirteen states, outranking even the iconic Chevrolet Corvette.

Half a century after its release, the ’69 Charger, now buoyed by even more nostalgic influence, was THE ‘fast car’ for many Americans.

Given the Charger’s emotional connection to collector interest in both Ohio and Massachusetts, it’s fair to assume both states saw their fair share of the muscle icon on the roads over the years. And while the Charger may not have been as ubiquitous as the Ford Mustang, it always carried an aura of performance and strength and a slightly beaten but equally loved example would have felt just like a machine that could offer you that high-speed ‘ticket to anywhere’.

The post What’s the car in Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’? appeared first on Drive.

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