If your Ford had a Matthew McConaughey, it would be a Lincoln

The Highway to Hell

A road trip in a T/A, digging deeper with the Demon in NYC, and an interview with Tim Kuniskis.

The Dodge Demon was introduced last Tuesday in Hell’s Kitchen on the eve of the New York International Auto Show. The hysteria surrounding the Demon’s launch had reached a fever pitch seen rarely, if ever, for a car. When the moment finally came to let the cat out of its cage, the world was watching. Over the top was going to be the bare minimum.

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Each week in the 3 months leading to the Demon’s revelation, Dodge had dropped a new video with a da Vinci-esque riddle, clue, or equation set to the soundtrack of an angry, supercharged Hemi. With each video they pulled back the curtain ever so slightly to reveal a bit more about what the car would be. Just enough to be like COME ON AND TELL US EVERYTHING ALREADY. We all jumped on the hype-train eventually, if for no other reason than to satiate our curiosity. For every clue that was straight forward, like a literal High Octane race fuel button,there was a seemingly nonsensical math problem like 13.5 = 575 @ 500. And while in years past an Easter egg like the Hellcat’s radio set to “70s on 7” foretold of that car’s 707 horsepower rating, during this campaign a Demon’s clock set to 7:57 sparked rampant speculation: All this commotion for 50 more hp? But in the end it meant nothing. It’s like my friends at Dodge/SRT had watched too many episodes of Archer and were now implementing tradecraft to throw obsessive fanboys and other OEMs off their scent.

I may or may not have known a little more than I let on, but for fear that me or one of my friends would wind up like an Vladimir Putin detractor, I remained silent. Only one thing was certain: The Demon would be insane. It had to be, because it had to top the 10 second 707 horsepower Hellcat. And once the build up started, just topping it wouldn’t be enough; it had to obliterate the 10 second 707 horsepower Hellcat. If this wasn’t going to be a single digit car you could drive everyday, it would be deemed a failure.

While the Hellcat remains a cult hero, the Demon reaches for a higher stratosphere.

You might not be a comic book geek, but you know who’s faster than a speeding bullet, right? (Bonus hint: He can also leap over buildings in a single bound but why would he do that when he can F$@&ing FLY?!?!) There are some things that transcend subcultures and embed themselves within a popular consciousness; Superman and his powers are among those things that do. You might not know that the fastest bullets in the world travel at 4000ft/second, but you do know that The Man of Steel is faster.

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And so it is with the Demon. Numbers aside, it needed to be the fastest, the most powerful, thefirst. This is how you become a household name. This is how you become a legend.

When it was officially announced that the Demon would be unveiled to the public April 11th, 2017 on Pier 94 in NYC, I knew a road trip from Detroit to New York would be in order. It just felt like the right thing to do, to connect the dots. Forget whatever reality TV nonsense you might watch where they “street” race (on airport runways) and hide from “cops” who were never looking for them anyways, Detroit and New York have historically been notorious for fast street cars and big money races. I live in Detroit a block from Woodward, and while most of the“real” racing doesn’t take place on the famous road, it sure gets set up there. Still. And still they go to 696 to sort out what’s what. Funny enough, I just came across this 40 year old article by Brock Yates. The more things change, well, you know…

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Dodge set aside a 2017 Challenger T/A for me to make the 1,400 mile round trip in. I’ve put a lot of miles on pretty much every performance car Dodge builds, from the Scat Pack Challenger to an Extreme Aero Viper ACR. This, however, was my first time in a Challenger with the “small” v8, a 5.7 Hemi, which puts down an impressive 410ftlbs of torque. I own a 2009 Ram R/T with a similar v8, and it ran 13.7@99.8 bone stock. 120k miles later and the truck still gets up and goes. I haven’t seen ¼ mile times for the Challenger T/A, but my guess would be it’s in the mid to low 13 second range. The car doesn’t have the type of brute force my 6.4L Scat Pack Shaker had, nor the “change the earth’s rotation” power of a Hellcat, but there’s still enough under the hood to have a good time. For 2 ½ days I enjoyed the heck out of it. Plus, this T/A came with the 6spd manual. As much as I dig the 8spd TorqueFlite, rowing gears is still fun! While most of the automotive industry seems to be worrying about how to get you from point A to point B as quietly and with as little human interface as possible, Dodge just keeps building cars to make you smile.

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The Yellow Jacket T/A has a very retro-cool look, with the satin black Air Grabber hood (complete with Mopar hood pins), wrapped black roof and deck lid, and black stripes down the side. Like the Scat Pack, the T/A sits a ½” lower than the base R/T, and this year, for the first time, the 5.7 comes with the 2 ¾” active exhaust previously found only on its more powerful siblings. It looks aggressive, and has the noise to go with it.

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I picked it up Monday night at the SRT garage in Auburn Hills, stopped by my place in Detroit to pack up,and headed east.

My original plan was to do the 1400 mile round trip in 2 days, but that wouldn’t put me in NYC until minutes before the unveiling. I had no desire for a Top Gear-style dramatic finish, so the first few hundred miles were put down Monday night. Despite a brutal storm front that dropped visibility to nearly zero through parts of Ohio, I made it to Pennsylvania that night and, after a few hours of sleep, shoved off early Tuesday for the Big Apple.

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The T/A was definitely an outlier in Lower Manhattan. There are a lot of black and yellow cars in the city, but not many with the sound and the fury of the Challenger. I told my friend and R&T editor Sam Smith to look for me, I’d be the guy driving a hot rod taxi. Kidding aside, the car has an impressive presence. When a lane would open up and I’d get on it, the v8’s boom would bounce of the buildings and heads would turn.

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Midtown Manhattan’s Pier 94 sits on the Hudson River, and made for an interesting venue in which to launch a muscle car. Inside the building was a mix of excited Mopar fans anxious to see their next icon, hungry media members dining on New York style pizza, and FCA designers, engineers, and executives ready to be done with holding the devil s secrets.

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The segue from pre-show revelry to the big unveil came by way of Pennzoil and SRT’s latest collaboration, the premier of a gymkhana-style video starring a sliding, leaping, and fire spitting ACR Viper. It’s a really well done, fun piece.

But that’s not why we were there. As the ACR drove off stage, attention quickly turned to the cage in the corner.

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The Demon’s Crage

Through an epilepsy-inducing light and pyrotechnics show that covered us all in smoke and ashes, Metallica’s“Fuel for Fire” rattled the walls as the crate’s giant door was lifted. The Demon’s lead engineer was also its pilot; Jim Wilder immediately set the linelock and lit up the car’s massive rear drag radials, warming the rubber and adding to the smoke and fire. He then set the trans brake and launched down the pier as fireworks blasted in a symphony of horsepower and explosions. It was one of those things where you were simultaneously thinking “did that just really happen?” and “that’s the only way this could have happened!”

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*I should note here that I’m pretty shaky and the wifi started causing quality issues, but hey, your there with me now!

Posted by Josh Welton on Tuesday, April 11, 2017

As the car quickly slowed and circled back to the stage, all was revealed. The Dodge Demon covers a ¼ mile in 9.65 seconds at 140 miles per hour. Its supercharged Hemi makes 840hp and 770ftlbs of torque. Yeah, the numbers are bonkers.

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THE NUMBERS

9.65, 140, 840. These are the numbers that mean everything to the enthusiast, to those in the “Brotherhood of Muscle” as Dodge would say. To the masses, however, they might as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics. Dodge needed to tell the Demon’s story in a way that was easy for the masses to consume. Or should I say, the Demon needed to accomplish things that made its story easier to tell.

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Tim Kuniskis is the head of all of FCA’s passenger car brands in North America, including Dodge and SRT. He explained this more clearly when I asked him “Why now, and why New York?”

“NY – timing. It fit perfectly with the production launch as well as the launch of F8 (The Fate of the Furious). One of our primary goals with the Challenger Demon was to generate exposure for Dodge in the general market mainstream media. “Car enthusiast stats” never cross-over unless they’re general market friendly—9.65, 840 and Wheelie mean nothing until you add “fastest ever, highest ever, and first ever”, respectively”

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Tim Kuniskis holding court.

With the sworn secrecy over, I was eager to ask Tim a few more questions about the car and the campaign:

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JW: What was the hardest feature to keep secret, or the most difficult part of keeping the Demon under wraps for so long?

TK: The wide-body kit and the drag radials were impossible, because people saw us testing on the streets for months – but that was OK, because everyone just expected a Hellcat with wider tires and possibly a DR option. The feature that we needed to keep quiet the longest was the Trans-Brake, because this was the one that would signal to anyone just how serious our intentions were.

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We didn’t want to make any claims “from Dodge”, we wanted the power numbers certified by the SAE, the quarter mile certified by the NHRA, and the wheel lift certified by Guinness World Records; so having all those critical performance metrics documented in writing, months in advance, by 3 different external agencies each with their own internal paper trails was nerve wracking.

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JW:How many people knew the ET, trap speed, and power numbers before Tuesday?

TK: ET and Trap Speed – Officially probably 15 (but who only knows how many of their friends were told in confidence).

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Power Numbers – Less than 10.

Time Slip
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JW: Would you undertake the same type of “slow burn” unveil campaign again? I think you’ve mentioned it before; the Demon was basically the equal and opposite type of reveal when compared to the sort of organic/viral Hellcat launch, where the numbers were leaked almost before the car was confirmed. Was this by design? How much of it was to build hype & excitement versus playing mind games with Ford and GM?

TK: Can’t do something like this twice. Yes, it was the opposite of Hellcat. Because with the Hellcat, when we told everyone it made 707hp, everyone wanted to write about how we did it – the engineering story was front and center. But the second time around, when you say that you make 840hp and it runs the fastest ¼ mile and its the first car to pull the wheels up, and it generates 1.8Gs during acceleration, etc., the engineering story would have taken a back seat (as evidenced by all the press since the launch) – so we decided to tell that story in advance. And by the way, January and February are the worst months to try to sell Muscle cars – so the billions of impressions generated by the teasers filled a normally slow period for Challenger coverage and helped achieve record sales numbers (the real business case for a halo car).

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By the way: no mind games with Ford or Chevy. The Challenger is a completely different car from the Camaro or Mustang. And besides, the ZL1 was already out and we believed like many journalists that the GT500 was being launched in Detroit – leaving NY as the last show of the season.

JW:Was there any feature conceptually that was just not possible to include in the final production version?

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TK: Roll cage.

JW: What was the (1/4 mile) ET goal? I’m guessing the time was more important than power numbers, or was there a horsepower number that had to be hit? Considering the Hellcat runs 10s, evenjust a 9.99 seemed required, yeah?

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TK: Horsepower was never the goal –the team’s Mantra was “9 with light” – meaning it had to run 9’s and lift the front tires in pure street trim (tires, pump gas, as it would come out of the showroom – which it does, 9.9 @ 136). Remember that the goal was to cross into the general market – a 9 second ¼ mile time has never been achieved by aproduction Muscle Car (the Demon overachieved and became the fastest ever regardless of class), and no production car has ever pulled the front wheels.

Lifting the DRs
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JW: What was the trick, part, or feature that was the most difficult to add while still keeping the Demon production viable and street legal? Was there an order to what was added (for example, was the drag mode suspension put in after the car’s power created wheel hop or was it in the plans all along)?

TK: Trickest Parts are – Drag Suspension (because it can react, but also correct if necessary), Power Chiller and Trans-Brake.

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JW: Were any of the Demon developmental cars tested on a road course or were they strictly tested in a straight line?

TK: Road Course? Not that we’ll admit… but there is usually plenty of down-time at test sessions… that’s how we know that it can pull 1g on the skid pad and brake from 60-0 in 97’.

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Widebody with wide meats.

JW: Will you be able to order a“Demon powered” car with a manual transmission and/or Hellcat suspension?

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TK: No Manual Demons.

JW: Will there be any special editions of the Demon?

TK: No – This is a “one and done”. 3,000 unit serialized, special edition car for the U.S. (with another 300 for Canada).

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More than just throwing additional raw power at a Hellcat, SRT made it smarter and stronger. There area lot of neat tricks that, while aren’t necessarily new to the drag racing community, are certainly new (or rare) for a factory produced and warranties car. Using the A/C to cool the blower, the trans brake, a higher stall torque converter, line lock, drag radials, front runners, a race fuel tune (and dual fuel pumps), hollowed sway bars, a beefed up differential, lighter brake calipers, stronger half shafts, a stronger bottom end, a bigger supercharger, Drag Mode that shuts off t/c for burnouts and then engages for perfect weight transfer and launch assist to reduce wheel hop and quickly intervene if the car’s power is too much for the driver’s skill. You can order the car with all but the driver’s seat eliminated, or with all the seats present. You can buy the Demon Crate that bundles all you need (tools included) to transform your daily driver Demon into a drag strip monster Demon. But you don’t have to. You can drive it out of the showroom with Nitto NTO5R 315 wide drag radials on all 4 corners, run it on pump gas, and still run 9.9 @ 130+ mph. As all the different tricks and modes and parts and options came out, most blog posts inferred that you HAD to buy the car that way. The reality is, you can build it almost any way you see fit. You can even put in a 19 speaker Harmon Kardon sound system, heated and ventilated seats, and a power moonroof if you’d like.

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Me, sitting “Death Proof” style.
Homage to the old dealer school dealer sold trunk racing equipment.
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The next day, Wednesday, was a beautiful day for a drive and the 600+ miles went by all too quickly. I’m not gonna lie, getting behind the wheel of a Challenger again just felt like home. There was a reason I bought one after my first road trip in the Sublime Scat Pack a couple years back. The Scat Packs, the 392s, the Hellcats, and now the T/A, all just fun cars to live with. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to live with a Demon.

Leaving New Jersey
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There was a time about 15 years ago when I was looking for a quick street car. Something that really moved but was still daily driver material. A co-worker had a brother selling a ’68 Dodge Dart with a beautiful new pearl white paint job, a car that ran 10s but was street driven, and I quote, “all the time.” The car’s owner was moving out of the country and needed to sell ASAP, so I went to check it out.

Walked into his garage and there’s the Dart. Huge carbureted big block engine plumbed for nitrous, tube chassis front end, back halfed with giant slicks, stripped interior and racing seats. Turns out that driving it on the street “all the time” meant that once or twice a summer he’d fire her up and rumble up the street to a local car show at Continental Lanes. It supposedly ran 9s on the juice but he’d yet to spray it. Right. As a kid who’s quickest car previously ran a 13.99…. just looking at that thing scared the shit out of me.

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Now we’ve got a factory built Challenger that will run a 9.99 on pump gas while lifting the front end’s 315 drag radials off the ground. And it will get 20mpg, out-brake a ’17 Corvette and sustain over a G in lateral acceleration. With A/C. Unlike that’68 Dart, you really can drive it every day.

Forget self-driving cars. THIS is progress.

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