Ignition Spring/Summer 2018 #21

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The Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. Rebels Welcome.

As auto show reveals go, the debut of the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon (our story begins on page 30) at the New York Auto Show last spring was pretty over the top. My words can’t do it justice, so please search it on YouTube for the full experience. I’ll sum up by saying it was a spectacle very much in keeping with the car itself: big, loud and outrageous.

When Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) decided to let this car out of its metaphorical (and literal) cage, the obvious question is why.

Why is FCA building an expensive, low-volume, impractical car that produces more horsepower than six Toyota Corollas combined?

Sure, it’ll make for some great action sequences in the next Fast & Furious movie and it’ll be king of the Saturday night drag strip scene, but there has to be more to it than that, right?

Among the remarks Tim Kuniskis, the head of FCA passenger car brands, made during the Demon reveal that caught my ear was the notion that the car was green-lit, in part, to serve as a bulwark of sorts against the rising hegemony of autonomous cars that every manufacturer is working on these days, FCA included.

So, to stave off the ‘rise of the machines’ (apologies to The Terminator), and to keep human hands on the steering wheel we need an 840-horsepower Challenger with drag radials that can run on 100 octane gas?

Look, I’m familiar with the idea that one thing can exist in opposition to something else, but I think the Demon’s arrival has little to do with the rise of autonomous cars. Or the desire to serve a subculture of enthusiasts better, as Kuniskis says, because the group of mostly middle-aged white guys that make up that subculture already have a massive buffet of big-horsepower, rear-drive muscle cars to choose from, including the 707-horsepower Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcats.

What Kuniskis didn’t mention is the Demon is arriving just as the Viper is exiting stage right after a 25-year production run. The Demon and Viper are very different cars, I realize, but for Dodge they serve a similar purpose by occupying the same place within the car-buying consciousness where high-cost, high-performance and exclusivity all intersect.

People want these cars, but mostly for ephemeral reasons. Yeah, you want the big horsepower, the loud engine and the dragstrip cred, but those feelings are fleeting. More eternal, however, is the satisfaction that comes from a form of disobedience that is completely legal. The Demon may be ‘banned’ by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) in the U.S., but you can still own one!

I mean, how great is that? Our human nature drives us to covet things we’re not supposed to have, and the Demon is exhibit A. Even though the NHRA ban is somewhat bogus, it doesn’t matter. The impression has been made - this car is too hot to handle!

And while it won't be here for nearly as long as the Viper was, the Demon is ready to continue the snake's middle finger salute to reasonability. Every gram of the Demon is open rebellion, and Dodge has upped the ante with all manner of engineering geekery that has been looking for a production home for years. The Demon isn’t without other virtues, but as the saying goes, you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. And the Demon isn’t a gun – it’s a howitzer.

Ignition Spring/Summer 2018 #21 is now available on newsstands.

Tim Rutledge
Group Publisher & CEO