April 23, 2024

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

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Peak Muscle

2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Super Stock: The Dodge drag racing machine with 807 horsepower was the world’s quickest and most powerful muscle car — until yesterday. Image: Stellantis

A few years ago, Dodge made history by turning their long-produced Challenger into the wheel standing Demon — a certified 840-hp supercharged Hemi monster that could click off 9.65-second quarter mile times at 140 mph. It was so fast, in fact, that the NHRA promptly banned it from competition for lack of certified safety gear.

The Demon had special tuning to maximize 100-octane fuel, and a factory transbrake for instant power application when the yellows flash to green. Further tricks included using the a/c system to help chill the intercooler and the supercharger, and a drag-mode suspension to help with weight transfer off the line. All of these were production items on the Demon — a car that took hard-learned drag racing tricks and crossed them with a big budget carmaker’s engineering and marketing teams to build what was then the summit of modern muscle cars. And the car world loved it.

But now the car climate is changing and the world of muscle is evolving. Dodge has made a commitment to EV power, and as such, they’re closing the door on the traditional elements of gasoline power. But that transition isn’t going uncelebrated. Alongside the standard run of SRT and Scat Pack cars, they’ve launched six “Last Call” muscle cars, including the Challenger Shakedown, the Charger Super Bee, the Challenger and Charger Scat Pack Swinger, the Charger King Daytona and the Challenger Black Ghost.

Dodge is announcing the brand’s penultimate “Last Call” special-edition model, the 2023 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost, a modern-day vision that channels the HEMI-powered spirit of a muscle car that haunted Metro Detroit’s famed Woodward Avenue in the 1970s. Image: Stellantis
2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, shown here in F8 Green with dual carbon stripes. Image: Stellantis
A pair of modern-day “Swingers” with a retro-themed appearance are joining the Dodge brand’s “Last Call.” The special-edition 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Swinger (rear) and 2023 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack Swinger models (both shown in F8 Green) give a nod back to the unique style of the Dodge brand’s “swinging” muscle car lineup of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Image: Stellantis

You can bet the car world is going to snap all these up as instant collectibles. But the best was saved for last.

Yesterday, Dodge launched seventh and final “Last Call” car: The all-new Challenger SRT Demon 170 — the first-ever production muscle car capable of a certified 8-second quarter mile time. It produces 1,025 horsepower from its supercharged 6.2-L Hemi, with actual power output determined by the ethanol level of the fuel used. From 0-60, it’s the world’s quickest production car at 1.66 seconds, and it pulls over 2gs of acceleration while doing it. It even comes with an available Direct Connection parachute mount.

The 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 delivers 1,025 total horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 945 Ib.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. Image: Stellantis
Additional personalization options for the 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 will be available through Direct Connection, the Dodge performance parts brand, including a Direct Connection Parachute Mounting System. Image: Stellantis

Factory Lightweight Fords? Max Wedge Mopars? Aluminum-built Z11 Impalas? Meet your newest iteration.

With this Demon, the lines between muscle car and race car have never been more blurred. And yes, the NHRA has banned this one, too. Dodge is promoting that as a badge of honor.   

Why the 170? It’s a callout to the 170-proof ethanol E85 fuel that’s required for the engine to produce top power. It’s also a reference to the Hellephant C170 crate engine, with which the new engine shares the 3.0-L supercharger. 

As Dodge puts it, the Demon 170 delivers a “HOLY $#!& LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE.” Nice.

The Dodge brand’s seventh and final “Last Call” special-edition model, the 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 is the quickest vehicle ever produced in the brand’s 100-plus-year history and runs the world’s quickest production car quarter-mile elapsed time (ET). Image: Stellantis

You can read all about it here.

For a U.S. MSRP of $96,666 (see what they did there?), you get a choice of 14 exterior colors, 4 interiors and other options such as carbon fiber wheels. But like with the Ford Bronco Raptor, I’m willing to bet your chances of getting one at anywhere near MSRP are as good as your chances of outrunning one in any other production car on the market today. Your average buyer is going to see nothing but Dodge Demon taillights, but keeping it scarce drives the demand.

The 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 reaches 60 miles per hour (mph) in just 1.66 seconds and delivers the highest g-force acceleration of any production car at 2.004 gs. Image: Stellantis

But as a former drag racer and longtime car guy, I’m just as conflicted on this Demon as I was on the last. There’s just something so easy about it from an end-user’s perspective — and I suppose that’s part of the appeal for most. You want to go fast? All it takes is a check.

But in the era before the Demon, getting a muscle car into the 9s — let alone the 8s — took know-how, money and guts. This was a specialized corner of the car world — and getting this level of performance was a much bigger challenge than scoring a dealer allotment (as hard as that may be today). 

Don’t get me wrong — I love that we’re here. But I don’t know how to feel about it. If you’ve seen “Two Lane Blacktop,” where the struggle between homegrown bare-bones builds and bought-off-the-lot glory takes center stage, you get what I mean. It’s a weird place for a car guy to be, because everything about the Demon is good. Maybe too good…

In the last issue of Linkage, I spoke with a number of people about the height of muscle, and something collector and restorer Colin Comer said in to me has stuck out, especially as this news hit from Vegas: 

“…Guys like us like to dive in under the hood and go tinkering.

“Maybe the height of the modern muscle car was the first year guys didn’t have to change the exhaust to make it sound like something. It’s crazy that, in 2014, you buy a new GT500 or whatever, and you immediately decide you need a Borla. And in 2016, 2020, you go, ‘it’s perfect!’

“Even a 2006 Ford GT — the first thing I did, it was a dog! I changed the blower pulley, did a tune, did headers, did the exhaust. I got a 2020 GT500 and I don’t know what I would do! I mean, I could tune it. I could port the blower. But am I going to blow it up? I never thought I’d say… it’s plenty fast the way it is! When we get to the point where guys who like to wrench don’t know what they would do, maybe that’s the height.”

So, with regard to the Demon, Dodge has built something that’s pushed the limits of capability beyond reason in the name of all-out performance. Heck, they’re even using an all-new transbrake for even more violent launches, along with added boost, a beefier drivetrain and more. This is the world’s first 8-second street car built on a production line. That’s unbelievably cool, and it’s right in-line with Mopar’s mission as of late.

Dodge revealed the quickest, fastest and most powerful muscle car in the world, the 1,025-horsepower 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170, at the Dodge Last Call Powered by Roadkill Nights Vegas performance festival at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 20, 2023. Image: Stellantis

But what’s left here? Can a tinkerer turn this thing up further and shoot for low 8s, and even if he or she could, is that something anyone would actually do to a “rare” last-of model? See every other Instant Collectible car ever produced, from the Indy Pace Car C3 Corvette through the GNX. How many of those still wear MSO plastic on the seats? Rarity and specialization are going to be this car’s worst enemy, as least in terms of actual use.

Rarity aside, how close is this thing to the razor’s edge of performance versus longevity?

The 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 is the quickest vehicle ever produced in the Dodge brand’s 100-plus-year history and is the first factory production car to run the quarter mile under 9 seconds with a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA)-certified 8.91-second ET at 151.17 mph. Image: Stellantis

Now that’s nothing against this Demon or the one that came before — but I do think that Colin’s point here is a good one. If we hadn’t already hit the peak of muscle with cars like the GT350 and GT500, we certainly have now with the Demon 170. It’s true for the 3,000 American buyers who are likely already calling their dealers, and for the untold numbers beyond who watched yesterday’s launch online, dreaming of half-track burnouts and knowing that the world’s about to move on from the shriek of a supercharger and the violence of a wheels-up launch at high rpm — at least with regard to turn-key solutions that come with power locks and a warranty.

As with the muscle of years past, the goal here isn’t really to sell Demons. Top-level muscle sells everything else. This car will sell cheaper and easier-to-get SRTs. RTs. Scat Packs. And those owners will tinker because they always do. The real question is how Dodge will respond to the actual end of the line — especially if business is still booming when that time comes. I suspect it will be, because it’s always hard to leave the party when the party is just getting good.

As for the Demon, if any of what makes this car special stirs you further — and it should — you’d better move quickly. Dodge is going to sell these out even faster than the first round of Demons.

And even though I’d rather build it myself, I want one, too.