Demon? I think not.
Dodge’s 840-hp modern muscle car is a slice of heaven, delivered unto our drag strips because a higher power — the executives on the 15th floor of Fiat Chrysler’s headquarters tower — want us to be happy. And fast. Really, really fast.
I just spent a steamy afternoon in auto racing’s Promised Land: Indianapolis. I have seen the second coming of the pavement-ripping, tire-shredding, straight-lining American muscle car and I believe.
The Dodge Demon’s technology lets novices master the finer points of drag racing — a much more nuanced form of motor sports than nonbelievers accept — and leads them to a paradise of sub 10-second quarter miles, 2.3-second 0-60 mph (96 kph) sprints and 1.8G acceleration, highest of any production car.
Did I mention that it’s street-legal? Yeah, you can drive the Demon home from the track. Well, as long as you don’t have more than one passenger. No rear seat, dontcha know? It’s optional.
So’s a front passenger seat. Gotta save weight if you want to fly.
The 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon will be in showrooms this fall, shortly thereafter to be seen doing burnouts and wheelies on drag strips around the country.
On repeated drag runs at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, the Demon shredded its tires, pushed me into the back of my seat and scared the dickens out of me, until I realized Chrysler magic had harnessed the Demon’s power, keeping me from harm.
Then I started to grin. I still am, 36 hours later, as I recall tire smoke wafting into the passenger compartment, the pre-race checklist and using the paddle shifters for “trans lock,” Chrysler’s feature to hold the car motionless as its supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine screams before electronics deliver a smooth launch and acceleration down the drag strip.
I went from the track to the street, driving a Demon — still in 840-hp mode, still shod in super sticky 315/40ZR18 Nitto tires — that behaved impeccably on a short drive through the country and neighborhoods around the race track. It even passes regulations for drive-by noise, though you might have to say that loudly for people in a couple of Indy neighborhoods to hear you.
The Demon’s touch screen offers street mode and drag settings and a host of tricks. Activate line lock, and the front brakes clamp down while the rear wheels spin, burning off rubber to reach racing temperature and scrub off rocks and other trash collected from the track.
The Demon vanishes in a cloud of smoke, and you’re not even moving yet.
No detail was too small, no idea too obscure for FCA’s SRT engineering group to pursue in their search for speed. In drag mode, the Demon redirects air conditioning from the passenger compartment to a chiller that cools intake air so the engine can reach peak power. In addition to creating the Power Chiller, Chrysler had to invent a drip pan with a sponge to keep condensation from dripping off the air-conditioning onto the racing surface, a major no-no. The drag run’s heat and rushing air dry the sponge so it’s ready for the next heat.
Developed in secrecy
SRT engineering and design developed the Demon in utter secrecy, like a cult of speed worshippers. A few wild-eyed engineers began development without notifying their superiors. As those acolytes progressed, the project got a double-secret codename: Bennie, after a secondary character from “Top Cat,” a kid’s cartoon series that ran a mere 30 episodes in 1961-62.
“We built fake readouts for our test equipment to fool people who walked by” while the secret engine ran in Chrysler’s already secret test facilities, director of advanced and SRT powertrain engineering Chris Cowland said. Only two test cells in the whole company were even capable of evaluating the engine’s output, and they were left over from the days when FCA built engines for NASCAR racing.
There were secrets even among the initiates. The official goal was to add 75 horsepower to the Dodge Hellcat V8’s 707 hp. Even engineers invited into the close-knit team did not know 800 hp-plus was in sight. After the final engine-certification test, the raw results were handed to the project director, so he alone would know what they meant when translated into the all-important Society of Automotive Engineers-validated horsepower and torque figures.
The design program was equally covert. “We hid the Demon work, even from other designers,” said Mark Trostle, head of FCA North America passenger, utility and performance vehicle exterior design. “The hood scoop is intentionally outrageous. It’s a big middle finger to everybody else on the road.”
DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS