Mopar Muscle Cars - SRT - The Rebirth of the Musclecar
A look at some of Street Race Technology's performance vehicles for Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep
From the February, 2007 issue of Mopar Muscle
By Kevin Shaw
Photography by Brit White
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.
Differing from its 5.7L predecessor,...
Differing from its 5.7L predecessor, the 6.1L SRT Hemi features redesigned heads, higher compression ratios, larger fuelrails and injectors, and an impressive coiled-ram-designed aluminum intake. Lightweight and rev-happy, the 6.1L produces the buzz-number of 425 hp from a smaller cubic inch plant than its '66 ancestor, making the power-to-cubic-inch ratio even better than the famed elephant of yesteryear.
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.
As controversial as a four-door...
As controversial as a four-door platform might be for some Charger enthusiasts, with the return of the Daytona and the new-for-next-year Super Bee, the performance is undeniable. Mopar plans on selling the Super Bee Charger as part of the SRT8 lineup. This marks the first time the Charger has carried the Super Bee name since the early '70s. Accents such as the signature blacked-out ram-air hood, racing bumblebee cartoon character, and tail stripe help to validate the brand's renewal.
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.
Other than the distinctive...
Other than the distinctive color and trim scheme, the Super Bee's performance will remain identical to the spectacular SRT8 Charger. Think the Rumble Bee, but without the cheap, loosely riveted-down hoodscoop.
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.
Inside, the cabin of the SRT...
Inside, the cabin of the SRT 300C has added flair. New sportier seats are covered in two different types of leather, wrapping around side and hip bolsters, the seats' high backing, and headrest. Special "SRT8" embroidery adds a little touch too. The same leather carries over to the steering wheel and shifter, while embossed cladding decorates the door panels and dashboard.
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.
How do you improve upon one...
How do you improve upon one of the most honored and praised vehicles of all time? Why, more power of course! Coming out at nearly the exact same time as the SRT8 Magnum wagon and Charger, the 300C rendition retains its regal poise and stately nature, while punching out ridiculous power to the pavement. with its style and sharp looks, it truly is the classiest musclecar Mopar has ever produced.
"[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."
Now with a stronger nose,...
Now with a stronger nose, creased rockers, and specialized rear fascia, the SRT8 Magnum makes the already sporty-looking RWD wagon look down-right menacing. Factory 20-inch "dubs" engraved with the SRT logo show off the large red calipers and discs. Special ducting next to the bottom fog lamps help to tunnel cool air into the heavy breathing 6.1L.
Easily the most underrated...
Easily the most underrated and unexpectedly impressive performers of the SRT line are the Jeep Grand Cherokees. New body panels, exhaust systems, wheels, tires, and drivetrain dynamics, the SRT Jeep clocks eye-popping numbers reminiscent of Mopar's past. With low-13-second quarters in nearly all weather conditions and 0-to-60 times under 5 seconds, you'd think you were racing a '69 Hemi-powered Road Runner.
The Jeep's interior is just...
The Jeep's interior is just as impressive as the rest of the lineup. Leather accents and racy labeling never let you forget you're driving an SRT8.
Possibly the single most anticipated...
Possibly the single most anticipated vehicle since the first Viper in 1991, the '08 Challenger shook the automotive world to the core. Strikingly classic while not being a direct retro-redesign like the GT Mustang, the new Challenger concept features the venerable 6.1L Hemi while in R/T trim. Though it is doubtful the base R/T will see anything more than the 5.7L plant, the arrival of the SRT version is unavoidable. DaimlerChrysler announced the R/T Challenger will feature the first manual six-speed available with the Hemi.
Ever seen one of these? Unless...
Ever seen one of these? Unless it came from a custom body shop or you live in Europe, you wouldn't have. Marked the Chrysler 300C SRT8 Touring Edition, the 300C-married-to-a-Dodge-Magnum is an interesting take. Frankly, we don't see why DCX doesn't offer the Chrysler 300C or the SRT8 version in wagon form in the states.
The entrance and registration...
The entrance and registration tent for Daytona Beach's SRT Experience. enthusiast and SRT8 Jeep-owner, Brit White, attended this event.
Instruction was provided at...
Instruction was provided at the beginning of the event day to familiarize the attendees with the course, the vehicles at hand, and the power and potential these machines made. Only those brave enough to purchase an SRT at the dealership were cordially invited to the race day. many had never owned a machine with so much available power before.
The day included some cat-and-mouse...
The day included some cat-and-mouse exercises on the open track with speeds racing up into the triple digits.
Brit White says about the...
Brit White says about the SRT Experience, "One tip I soon found out was to always try to get the SRT that had the big white Mopar decal on the back windows. These vehicles had been tricked out even further than normal SRT vehicles by the factory with cold air kits and bigger exhaust systems. These were the fastest SRTs in the field and worth the sprint to get into a tweaked one first."
The makeshift dragstrip wasn't...
The makeshift dragstrip wasn't meant for competition, but rather instruction. At the conclusion of the day, the SRT8 Jeep Grand Cherokee had not only earned its stripes in the eyes of the test drivers, but also proved itself as an all-around performer. SRT Jeep-owner Brit White has even admitted to harassing local Corvette owners with his silver SUV.
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.
The Viper started life as...
The Viper started life as a stripped-down, zero-frills racer in 1991. Dubbed the RT/10, the first Vipers were rough, unrefined, and free of rolling side windows, radio, A/C, and other interior commodities. By 1996, the Viper had matured slightly, offering a stiffer GTS coupe model and more cabin creature comforts. A drastic redesign was introduced in 2003 with 100-plus changes to the mean machine, including a swelled all-aluminum V-10 to 505 ci from the previous 488, bigger brakes, wider stance, and sharper body lines. The Viper, given the name SRT10, became smooth, trimmed, and sophisticated, while still retaining its beastly powertrain and brutish demeanor
Sharing the most DNA with...
Sharing the most DNA with its Mercedes Benz cousin, the C-Class roadster, the SRT6 Crossfire is an unsung performer, offering 330 RWD horsepower delivered from a German-refined, 18-valve, hand-built 3.2L V-6. Pressing the plant is a helical IHI supercharger and a water-to-air intercooler that delivers an impressively flat torque curve, punching out 90-percent of its peak twist between 2,000 to 6,200 rpm. All that output is routed through an upgraded five-speed AutoStick-equipped automatic.
The first non-Viper-powered...
The first non-Viper-powered vehicle in the SRT lineup-the Neon SRT4-was nimble, agile, and the quickest production car available for less than $21,000 in 2003. Propelled by an aluminum-headed, turbo-charged, 2.4-liter four cylinder, the SRT used up every inch of its advertised 230 hp. Nowadays, the SRT4 Neon has been replaced with the SRT4 Caliber boasting an incredible 300 ponies out of a massaged version of the same 2.4. Consumer Reports recently reported the SRT4 Neon is still one of the hardest vehicles to insure because of its aptitude at competitive, though illegal, street racing.
If the SRT10 Viper is Dodge's...
If the SRT10 Viper is Dodge's "halo" vehicle, then the Viper-powered Ram SRT-10 is its meaner, grittier, big brother. The mad scientists at DCX's Performance Vehicle Operations dropped in the venerable Viper V-10, six-speed manual crash box, along with all new body cladding, snow shovel-like front fascia, performance exhaust, functional hoodscoop, and an angular rear spoiler. The interior features high-grade quality leather seats and SRT-specific details. Meant to be the baddest truck available from a showroom, it proved itself the fastest production truck in the world in February 2004 by hitting an astounding 154.587 mph. The Ram is now available as an automatic-equipped Quad Cab, but the six-speed standard cab is still our favorite.