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The Three Stages of Hellcat

Illustration for article titled The Three Stages of Hellcat

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” - Arthur Schopenhauer

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Prologue

Back in 2011, chatter regarding Dodge’s supposed development of a blown V8 picked up steam. What had long been whispered in Detroit backchannels now looked like a lock for production in the near future. Rumors pointed to a supercharged version of SRT’s upcoming 6.4L motor; a hyperbolic addition to the uninitiated, but necessary hardware to throw down in the escalating War on Tires. Chevy and Ford already had boosted V8s in their arsenal, each making north of 550hp. Dodge was about to join the fray in three, two, one. One. One….

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Stage One: Ridicule

Ok, so it wasn’t gonna happen in 2012. Or 2013. Huh. While the ‘12 Zl1 destroyed Nurburgring and the ’13 GT500 hit TWO HUNDRED MILES PER HOUR, the Dodge SRT8 was lugging around town with a naturally aspirated 392 cubic inch motor and an aging body, inside and out. The 470hp 392 (6.4L) was a bad ass motor in it’s own right, but lined up against the 580hp Camaro or 662hp (gasp!) Mustang…the Challenger was pedestrian. Fat. Old. Slow. The bowtie and blue oval crowd laughed in its general direction.

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Then came The Year of our Lord 2014.

By ‘14 it was common knowledge that, along with a complete refresh inside and out, the “Hellcat” drivetrain was a go in both the Charger and Challenger. Finally. And it wasn’t just a 6.4 with a blower thrown on top, but a fully weaponized 6.2L engine, crafted and forged from top to bottom for maximum effort. Dodge wanted to cement it’s status as Chrysler’s performance brand, and the Hellcat twins fit the bill. When Dodge/SRT CEO Tim Kuniskis officially announced the Hellcat powered Challenger (and shortly thereafter Charger) in May, he confirmed suspicions that it would make “600 plus” horsepower. If you’re gonnabe late to the party, you best be dressed to the nines with a bottle of single malt scotch in hand.

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Mopar fans rejoiced. At last a machine prepped to go head to head with the best their rival tribes had to offer. Blogs speculated at the numbers. Six hundred “Plus” means like 601, 615, something like that, yeah? Enter Chrysler design sage by day/ rock star by night Ralph Gilles , who while talking to Hot Rod Magazine dropped the infamous “we have.....we may have a situation where our flagship car isn’t our most powerful car.” The Viper was rated at 640. The Hellcat is going to have more than 640hp???

Illustration for article titled The Three Stages of Hellcat
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Stage Two: Violent Opposition

Detractors scoffed. They compared hypothetical Hellcat stats to real world GT500 specs. The lighter (3,900lbs) and affordable ($55k) GT500 had 662hp. Even if the Hellcat put down the same, it would weigh close to 500lbs more. No way it keeps up. Then “sources” put the Hellcat price tag in the $70-80k range. That’s a lot of dough for a Dodge. And nobody talked about top speed. The GT500, with its combination of weight and horsepower, still had to find a track in Italy (the Nardò Ring) that was lengthy enough for it to hit 200mph. The ZL1 tops out at 184. The fat ‘Cat’s potential peak velocity wasn’t even in the collective consciousness.

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Then, real numbers started trickling in. Real, absurd numbers. On June 11th, I was flipping through a local car club (Motown Muscle) forum’s threads on my phone. A long time member, moneypit, posted from Milan Dragway: “Hellcat was Dragstrip testing Off the trailer first pass 11.01 second 10.94 third 10.93 4th 10.91”

TENS? A look at the quickest production cars in history will show a handful of nameplates in that high 10 second range. Lamborghinis, Porsches, McLarens, Ferraris. Dodge? Both the aforementioned GT500 and ZL1 were almost a full second slower. Haters, of course, wanted more proof. The test car had to be a freak. A lack of trap speed fueled the skepticism. Must have been on slicks.

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It turns out that particular test car was a manual. The tried and true Tremec 6060 which was found in the Vipers…but still slower than the automatic. The 8HP90 TorqueFlite is 8 angry speeds of fury, set to kill. It’s not possible to overstate the jump in drivability and durability between this gearbox and its predecessors, the garbage NAG1 and even worse 545RFE.

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That “600+” turned to “700+” plus in a hurry. A friend I worked with, his dad was in engine development at Chrysler. He tossed around horsepower figures in the 7-850 range. Any time you’re testing a new engine, you’re pitting efficiency, reliability, power, and emissions. 850 was a stretch. But we did the math based on weight + ¼ mile times, a conservative driveline loss, and guessed the motor was in the 700 to 750 range. Ended up being pretty much right on.

The Challenger was first to go official with stats. 707hp. Officially. SEVEN ZERO SEVEN. One thing to fanboy theorize, another to read it in a press release. It ran 10.8 @ 126 on drag radials. Top speed of 199mph. All while weighing in at a staggering 4,449 pounds. 3 mode suspension, 6 piston Brembos, 15.4” two piece rotors. Then the price….starting under $60k!

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Illustration for article titled The Three Stages of Hellcat

I’m going to mention the weight again, this time for the Charger. It’s relevant because, at 4,575lbs it literally weighs as much as my truck. And yet it outperforms its slightly smaller twin in nearly every category. For whatever reason, SRT likes to quote the Challenger’s quarter mile time on drag radials and the Charger’s time on street tires. Equally equipped, the larger Charger wins both with either set of rubber. How? Well, that brings us to the top speed of the Charger...

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204 mph. A 4 door sedan, weighing in at almost 4,600 pounds, did 204 miles per hour. I actually messaged Mr. Gilles. Was this number real, or did it pop out of some complex equation? Not only was it legit, but it did 206.9 in one direction and 202 going back. Right down the road in Ohio at the Transportation Research Center. The trick? One more number for you, and I promise it’s the last. Drag Coefficient. With its longer wheelbase and sleeker front fascia, the Charger has a cd, of .355, almost identical to the GT500. The aero is more important than curb weight when going flat out, and with more power the Charger comes out on top.

Stage Three: Accepted as Being Self-Evident.

The dust has settled and the Hellcat stands as one of the few instances in automotive history where the gaudy speculation and subsequent expectation of a thing paled when compared to the tangible substance it preceded.

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When insanity becomes reality, when a bat shit crazy idea sheds the confine of mere conception and forces its way into existence, it can become familiar. And when a thing becomes familiar, we tend to take that thing for granted.

The ’13 GT500 set the table, not just because of it’s performance, but because it did it in an accessible manner. Easy to drive, affordable, with bonker power numbers. The Hellcat followed suit with a bit of one-upsmanship. Now we just expect gobs of horsepower, a smooth ride, decent gas mileage and the ability to dominate at the track. While eating cake.

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Epilogue

I wasn’t planning on writing a Hellcat story. What hasn’t been already said?

It’s one of the things that has been said, and repeated in several stories, that bothers me. In the short time it’s existed, the Hellcat has gone full circle with both the public and media. From disbelief, to astonishment, to acceptance, to boredom. There was a story recently on Jalopnik about how “high horsepower cars suck.” It didn’t focus specifically on the Challenger, but you know what car was featured in the cover graphic. I can absolutely get down with the “slow car fast” paradigm, but have you ever experienced a major brake failure? Blown head gaskets? Seized wheel bearings? I have, and not on anything with more than 100hp. The thing with the majority of “slow cars” is that they’re dangerous and/or unreliable at their limits. Tires, brakes, drivetrain, suspension...not built for punishment.

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I’ve read a few articles that wax poetic about the 6.4L powered Scat Pack Challenger and its “usable power” on the street and track, as compared to a Hellcat. I’m not gonna argue with the Scat Pack love (I own one and put 8,100 miles on another), but I just can’t get down with this now vogue notion that you can have too much horsepower. In the last month I’ve had the chance to drive a Hellcat Challenger on the track at Bondurant, and a Hellcat Charger for two weeks and a couple thousand miles around town here in Detroit and on a road trip to Wisconsin. Both cars give you the option to drive with “only” 500hp. Guess how many times I exercised that ability? ZERO.

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Well once, on accident. IT WAS HORRIBLE.

Illustration for article titled The Three Stages of Hellcat
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What’s not to love about throwing 2.5 tons of metal into a corner, melting brakes the size of a large pizza while stopping, then accelerating out of it quicker than a M3? Breaking the tires loose at 60mph anytime anywhere with the twitch of your foot? About doing burnouts a city block long? (At literally every stop light and on every desolate country road). Crossing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on U.S. Highway 2, there was no need to wait for a passing lane to swap positions with tractor trailers. The Challenger was fun on the track, but the eight speed Charger was Christmas morning as a nine year old finding Nintendo with Duck Hunt under the tree every time I hit that red ignition button. It’s purpose in life is tearing up streets. I’ve never driven a car that does John Force tire fires on command the way the 4 door kitty does. You feel invincible, like Iron Man fighting a bunch of pheasants. Roasting the tires is fun. It is a use. Tires are expensive? Yeah, so is your Friday night bar bill, and where does that get you? In a grim and serious world, the Hellcat is the Joker to your 9 to 5’s Batman.

“...some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like (a Camry). They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch (tires) burn.”

Here’s to the escalation of ridiculousness, to the War on Tires, and to never getting so jaded you can’t see a good time when it blows out your eardrums with 707 horsepower.

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