Eight. Hundred. Forty. Horsepower.
For years, the Big Three have been selling parts-counter specials that are purpose built for drag racing: Cobra Jet Mustangs, COPO Camaros, and Drag Pak Challengers missing VINs that you order like an oil filter. These are cars only in the sense that they have four wheels. You can’t legally drive one to the corner store for milk or bait teenagers on Woodward Avenue any more than you could in an IndyCar racer. But Dodge is changing that with the Challenger SRT Demon.
Born to Drag
SRT head honcho Tim Kuniskis admits that the company wanted to go in a different direction than the Challenger’s obvious competition. Ford and Chevrolet clearly targeted the road-course demographic with their ultimate pony cars, the Camaro ZL1 1LE and the Shelby Mustang GT350R. To be different, SRT zeroed in on a target 1320 feet long—a quarter-mile—and packed this Hellcat-cum-Demon with legit drag-racing technology normally reserved for purpose-built trailer queens.
By fixating on a single goal, Kuniskis and company claim to have destroyed not only crosstown rivals, but all competition, in quarter-mile races—including the Porsche 918 (the quickest production car we’ve ever tested)—with a 9.65-second elapsed time at a blistering 140 mph. That’s quick enough that the NHRA says “no, thank you” unless the Demon’s owner installs a roll cage.
A nine-second production car that we expect will cost one-tenth the price of a new 918. Let that sink in.
So how did SRT do it? Details have been released in a form of Chinese water torture over the last three months. First we learned of all the weight SRT cut to get the Demon as trim as possible, most notably by stripping out every seat save the driver’s (the front passenger seat and the three-place rear bench can be optioned back in for $1 each). Then there was amysterious box full of parts and tools, a glimpse at the hood scoop, the wrinkled-sidewall drag radials, some suspension details and transmission specs, and on and on. Thirteen teasers in total, which included more than a half-dozen cryptic hints that Chrysler has finally decoded. The campaign nearly caused our interest to wane. All we wanted to know was how fast and how much power.
Eight hundred and forty horsepower regained our attention. However, that comes with a caveat: Showroom Demons make 808 ponies on premium fuel, an increase of 101 over the Hellcat. To unlock 840 in the Demon, buyers must also purchase the Demon Crate. Cost is TBD, but Kuniskis hopes it also will cost $1. In the crate are some skinny front wheels, all the Snap-on tools needed to change tires at the track, a new engine ECU, a new air filter, a low-temperature thermostat, a cover plate to facilitate removing the passenger-side mirror, and a new HVAC switch module with an extra button on it. That button, a gas-pump silhouette with “HO” in the middle, activates a high-octane engine map (hence the ECU and air filter), increasing power to 840 hp and torque to 770 lb-ft at 4500 rpm, up from 717. Kuniskis says the Demon is emissions compliant no matter what mode it’s running. All the tools and the “runners,” as the skinny wheels are called, fit in a molded piece of foam that stows nicely in the trunk and is easily removed in the paddock.
Demons ship with four Nitto NT05R drag radials in size 315/40R-18 tucked under blistered fenders that widen the car by 3.5 inches. The idea is that, with all the crate bits installed, one can drive to a drag strip on the barely legal street rubber and, with the runners in place, have two sets of rear tires at one’s disposal.
At the Strip
Making that kind of torque is one thing; delivering it to asphalt is another, which is why SRT turned to drag-racing tools. The Demon’s launch control is unlike anything previously seen in a road car. It uses technology that’s commonplace at the Winternationals. A Demon driver and the car itself must go through the following processes to unleash a most hellacious quarter-mile run:
Engage line lock, which locks the front brakes, to warm up the Nittos in the burnout box before approaching staging. Roll to the starting line and activate launch control, at which point a number of things are happening. First, the Demon has, essentially, air conditioning for its intake air. It superchills the intercooler’s coolant by as much as 45 degrees versus ambient conditions to help pack as many oxygen molecules into the intake charge as possible. Next, the transmission engages its own brake. A trans brake locks the transmission in both first and reverse gears simultaneously. This removes any chance the car will move off the line when hitting the throttle to reach launch rpm. Finally, the Demon’s two-stage ignition kicks in. Here, the engine cuts spark and fuel to half the cylinders but keeps all valves operating. This allows the 2.7-liter supercharger (up from 2.4 in the standard Hellcat) to keep its bypass valve closed and generate maximum boost (because a belt-driven supercharger’s boost is directly tied to engine rpm), without generating maximum power. Now the torque converter, an upgraded unit with a higher stall speed and 2:1 torque multiplication, keeps all the launch torque from eating the transmission’s innards. Flick either shift paddle, and the Demon launches. You’ll want to keep the car pointed straight.
There is some trial and error to this. Launch rpm and tire pressure, both of which are set by the driver, are the two biggest variables in generating the kind of hole shot that will lift the front wheels into the air. That’s right: The Demon will wheelie.
Achieving a wheelie, or any great launch, comes down to load transfer. The Demon’s suspension is set up specifically for quarter-mile passes. The type of setup needed to transfer a lot of load to the rear axle for maximum grip can make a car somewhat scary on public roads. Ever see a drag car get into a speed wobble? To avoid that situation when the starting lights wink green, the adaptive dampers will quickly revert to a tamer setup—with compression and rebound characteristics intended to improve stability—as soon as the driver lifts off the throttle.
The Uconnect system’s SRT Performance Pages function in the Demon has a special display dedicated to intake temperature, and the car will tell you exactly how long you need to wait between runs to generate max power during every pass.
But, like the power, that 9.65-second ET comes with a caveat. Dodge’s quarter-mile time was achieved at a drag strip. We test on surfaces with much less grip, so we expect to be off SRT’s pace. Once we get our hands on a Demon, we expect to burn a quarter-mile in 9.8 seconds on 100-octane fuel, or 10 flat when running premium unleaded. A zero-to-60-mph time on the street should be in the 2.3-to-2.6-second range.
The Demon hits showrooms this fall with an estimated base price of $85,000, but we suspect transaction prices will be higher due to demand. Dodge will produce 3000 Demons for the 2018 model year, plus 300 for customers in Canada. There is no word whether a second model year is in the Demon’s future, but it certainly will be remembered for many years to come.