When did the musclecar die? Depending on your personal philosophy and mode of thinking, the musclecar may never have died. Many performance zealots slam their collective fists on the table demanding that 1971 be deemed the last year of the musclecar-the 426 Hemi disappeared, all the high-compression ratios dropped through the floor, and the big powerplants vanished forever . . . or did they? But others claim it wasn't until the later years of the '70s that the musclecar was finally snuffed out. Whatever the truth, we're now living in the second generation of musclecars.

Not since 1969 have the Big Three been in such tight competition. While Ford and GM figure out how to keep from going bankrupt, DaimlerChrysler is plowing ahead and blazing new trails. It was Mopar that first kicked the automotive world in its communal shorts with the snarling, untamed RT/10 Viper in 1991. It was Mopar that shocked the specialty vehicle enthusiasts with the retro-before-retro-was-even-cool Prowler and PT Cruiser. It was Mopar that looked at Ford's SVT troop with a smirk of amusement and birthed the SRT line, utilizing every trick accrued from Chrysler's Performance Vehicle Operations team. And it was Mopar that laughed at the automotive journalists who said the RWD sedan was dead and introduced the most celebrated four-door domestic sedan in recent history-the Chrysler 300C.

Thanks in part to the acquisition by Daimler-Benz, Chrysler has benefited from the shared technologies, refined platforms, suspension geometry, and engine development that has helped maintain Benz near the top of the luxury market for nearly a century. The '04 300C immediately changed the world's opinions about larger, RWD American sedans and shot DCX to the head of the class. The Magnum wagon would soon follow in the 300's footsteps. In 2006, Dodge dusted off one of its most beloved labels-the Charger-and made it a reskinned performance sedan. Almost simultaneously, Mopar would unleash all three LX-based entries to the SRT club.

The Charger offered the most visible leap from R/T to SRT8 with new body treatments: a hungry-looking functional hoodscoop and arching wing. The Magnum also received a new front and rear fascia, along with new rocker panels, wheels, and interior treatment. The 300C-based SRT8 was the most distinguished from the group, maintaining its Bently-esque stoic stance and regal look. But underneath all the new plastic cladding and leather sports seats was an all-new 6.1L Hemi. A larger, aluminum-coiled intake fed the larger displacement elephant that featured a longer stroke, wider cylinders, and an innovative internal cylinder oiling system. Bigger brakes, stiffer suspension, and larger wheels wrapped in performance-rated, low-profile tires made the SRT8 package complete.

But the SRT line didn't end there. Realizing the public draw the two variations of the new-generation Hemi had, DCX quickly decided to drop the standard 5.7 in their SUVs, including the Dodge Durango, Jeep Cherokee, Commander, and the new Chrysler Aspen. Wanting to thrust Jeep into the performance arena, the SRT group pooled together all their know-how and crafted one of the toughest street-machine SUVs ever. The SRT8 Jeep Grand Cherokee would not only wield the same hard-as-nails 6.1L, but would press that power to all four wheels via an all-time four-wheel-drive platform. That combination would propel the Jeep down the quarter-mile in the low-13-second range, wet or dry. The SRT8 Jeep would rise above its competitors, surpassing the likes of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the BMW X5.

Larry Van Gelder, owner of a blacked-out SRT8 Magnum, explained to us what drove him to pick the SRT over the R/T. "To get a baseline, I needed to drive an R/T first, which drove nicely and had decent power, but the suspension was a bit soft, and the seats weren't as supportive as I had hoped. [When I testdrove] the SRT8, all it took was one ride around the block, pitching the salesman across the back seat when I stuffed it into a corner off an interstate ramp, and I was ready to sign up. The final deal-maker was when my wife wanted to see how well it would scoot, and we did a burnout in front of the dealership. It had seven miles on it when I bought it just about a year ago, and it now has 15,000 without any problems."

Included in the purchase price of any SRT vehicle is a zero-charge day at the SRT Track Experience. This serves a couple purposes. The first is to help cultivate a sense of exclusivity among SRT owners; the second is to train and instruct new SRT vehicle owners on the power and potential of their new Mopars. This is specifically important for those who have never handled a street machine making this level of power. Lastly, it is to encourage a little friendly rivalry among the different brands. Too often the Viper owners think they have the market cornered in factory potency. It's at events like this that a slightly tweaked and warmed-over SRT8 Charger might make that braggart Viper owner eat his words. These SRT Experiences are held nationally at tracks and race courses scattered coast to coast.

Larry walked us through his SRT training experience, "[We] were directed into the classroom building for about an hour of well-presented instruction on the basics of performance driving. We were then divided into three groups and shuttled off to various locations around the infield. We would have the opportunity to participate in drag racing, infield high-speed ride-and-drive, and autocross. First was drag racing . . . well kind of. One car at a time was allowed on a single lane section of a service road in the infield. It provided a good way to compare timed acceleration and handling of three disparate SRT vehicles: the SRT8 300C, SRT10 ram, and SRT8 Jeep. The return road for the dragstrip was setup like a short autocross course, and allowed us to pitch the vehicles around a bit on the way back to the starting line. The 300C was predictable and capable; the truck was a bit of a handful. But the Jeep was the most impressive. It was surprisingly fast and handled like it was on rails.

"[Finally, we got to race] the road course. Magnums, 300Cs, and Crossfires all lined up at the side of the infield road course. Everybody got to drive each type of car at least once, with three cars following the instructor in the lead vehicle. After a couple of laps, the instructor gives a signal and the car behind the instructor pulls toward the left, allowing the two other cars to move forward behind the instructor; the car that was first in line now moves back into the third slot. Sounds a bit complicated, but it really works very smoothly. All three cars in each group are of the same type, and as long as everybody keeps up with the instructor and presses him to go faster, everything [moves] along quickly and in impressive fashion."

Larry's experience with his SRT8 Magnum inspired a coworker, Brit White, to purchase the renowned SRT Jeep. Brit shared his weekend at the SRT Experience saying, "Imagine having 42 SRT vehicles from Vipers to Crossfires and everything in between, including several SRT Jeeps, at your disposal for the day. The biggest surprise was just how well the SRT Jeeps performed. these are not your normal soccer mom Jeep Cherokees. they flat out kicked butt on the dragstrip and could whip anything around the first road course, including the Vipers."

And The Rest
Although not Hemi-powered, we would be remiss to omit the rest of the SRT lineup. DaimlerChrysler's inclusion of four different engine combinations in five different platforms is the most widespread selection from a factory performance division. Ranging from front-wheel-drive four cylinders, supercharged V-6s, stroked V-8s, and big breathing V-10s, the Street, Racing Technology division of Chrysler produces some of the most powerful production cars in each of their respective market segments.

  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • View Full Article