Greetings Garage Friends…I know it’s been like forever, but I’ve been seriously busy with several different projects. I’ll have lots to share in a future edition. This time I have a sort of open letter to Sergio Marchionne head of FCA Automobiles.
In place of our monthly quote, here is a photo of a fortune cookie that I recently received that I think is apropos.
You don’t know me, but trust me we have the beginnings of a real bro-mance. I’ve recently spent seven days behind the wheel of your 2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat…and well I’m just a little bit smitten. Actually your creation is the coolest damn car I’ve ever driven, and I’ve driven hundreds. Forget the Porsches, Lambos, et Ferrari’s, Dodge now sells the baddest sedan on the market for $65 large, and oh yeah it runs 204 m.p.h.
When Dodge dropped this snarling best in my driveway the chase vehicle was a Challenger Hellcat … Wow, what a pair and they are in my driveway! Truly two of the most coveted new cars on the planet right here in God’s Country, aka Magnolia by God Texas.
The main exterior identification is this cool little Hellcat emblem on the front fenders. There is little else on the exterior to designate the snarling beast within. Dodge warned me that they have had several badges pried off of test cars.
At every start this cool Hellcat graphic pops up in the center of the dash.
Remember the line from the song that goes, “the kind you don’t bring home to Mutha?” Yep, that’s the Hellcat. It started with my friends joking about taking up a collection for bail money. I did sort of establish a reputation for…spirited driving, not long after obtaining my driver’s license. Ah, my old Monte Carlo SS454 signing the pavement …. but I digress. These troopers didn’t quite haul me off to the hoosegow, but their was some discussion on whether it would outrun the Charger cruiser (it will.) I did make a little noise leaving the parking lot, and all I got was thumbs up.
There it is in all its 707hp Supercharged glory. Viva the American V8!
This particular Hellcat and I had a previous engagement at The Texas Auto Writers Spring Roundup. My brief ride in the wet confirmed that the Hellcat is a car for for-real grownups with proper respect for 707hp, and 3.5 second 0-60 times.
When it arrived in our driveway I asked my bride if she wanted a ride? Her reply, “no I’m good.” She did eventually strap in but one quick part throttle stab had her screaming. After a couple of days she told one of her friends that Dodge was going to need pry the keys from my hands.
I can never remember any sedan grabbing attention like the Hellcat. People stop and stare, and the local constabulary gives big thumbs up. The exhaust burbles and crackles in a near ear splitting crescendo. Ah, but gentle reader that’s only outside the car. Inside everything remains, well not exactly quiet. I hereby dub it loudly melodious. I drove it for two days in full Nannie mode before I started fiddling with the performance settings and paddle shifters. This is a car that commands respect and let me emphasize again, definitely not a car for beginners.
All of my friends begged rides, even a couple of guys that have seven-figure machinery in their Garage-Mahals. Yep, it is that kind of bad-ass.
In full-on track mode the Hellcat is a snarling untamed beast. A little bit of steering input in either direction while under moderate acceleration causes billows of tire smoke and traditional muscle-car tail-wagging action. I would bet on a proper race track she would drift in unbelievable fashion, and cutting donuts is…well…as easy as pie….er, donuts. This mode also considerably stiffens the suspension settings. This also puts the transmission in full-manual mode and the shifts bang out like an old school Muncie crash-box. Truthfully only an aspiring member of the Darwin club would drive this sledge hammer of a car on the street in full track mode.
Default mode disables the paddle shifter, and puts the suspension in Boulevard mode. The shift points come at lower RPM, and are much smoother. Put it in drive and your grandmother could drive it to church. If she were to inadvertently stab the loud pedal a little too hard, the electronic nannies would do their job so even the little old lady from Pasadena could control things. I found it pleasant to drive on the highway, and more than comfortable for long distances. You could still hear the burbling exhaust, but it never drowned out the excellent Harmon-Kardon sounds.
My favorite mode was Sport mode. The suspension was considerably stiffer than default, and the transmission could move seamlessly between full automatic and manual shifting. Pull the left paddle once and you are in manual, pull and hold the right and in a split second back in full auto. Perfect for picking your spot on those freeway entrance ramps, or at the toll-booth grand-Prix. The shifts were firm, but not quite neck snapping as in track mode. The mid-range acceleration is like nothing I’ve experienced before.
After a few days I did try a couple of hard starts in default, sport, and the totally insane track mode. On concrete, hard launches were controllable in all three modes. I repeated this only once in sport mode on asphalt which resulted in regrettable amounts of tire smoke. After the concrete launches I truly didn’t anticipate what we used to call, “wasting the skinnies.” The Hellcat is shod with wide 275 mm ultra-sticky Michelin Pilots on the rear and I’m sure this faux-pas shortened their life considerably, but god was it fun obliterating the scenery with blue tire haze!
I did make one quick sprint past 100 mph, which arrived in what seemed like milliseconds. Truthfully I did briefly exceed my own personal high-speed record (known only to a handful of old friends.) The big Dodge always seemed firmly planted and well behaved. I came nowhere near its fabled 200mph top end, but I would expect things would remain well controlled.
So what’s the downside? Well, my experience was sort of like a weekend fling that continues into Monday, and you realize things have gotten serious way to quick. I quickly became acclimated to the Hellcats charms and found myself driving in…ahem…a highly spirited manner. And there my friends is the downside. The Hellcat is a car that inspires confidence, making you forget the snarling beast that is always lurking just below the surface in Mr. Hyde fashion.
At the Texas Auto Writers Roundup I found myself in the elevator with a couple of Dodge honchos. I asked them if they had any concerns about making such a car available to all comers. The response, “Yep we’ve discussed internally that there are a lot of guys that can stroke a check for $65 large, but most of them have never driven anything like the Hellcat.” Translation? Treat this car with the respect 707hp deserves because it can bite your ass, really, really HARD.
Our loaner stickered for $70,170 which ain’t chicken feed, but compare it to competitors of similar performance and it seems like a virtual blue-light special. And you can almost justify this to Mama as a four-door grocery getter. Try making the same argument for any of its gull-wing and scissor doored brethren.
So why the Bro-mance with ‘ol Sergio? Well I think he is the most worthy successor to head this company since old Walter Chrysler hisself. Yes, I know that Iaccoca has been anointed to that position, but Serg took a gutted Chrysler corporation, merged it with a not overly healthy Fiat and created a world-class portfolio of automobiles for every want and need with a specific nod to hard-core gearheads like us.
Heck even the new Dodge Brothers commercials are inspired. They may have taken a few liberties with John and Horace but these guys were my kind of balls-to-the-wall entrepreneurs. When ‘ol Henry Ford tried to give ‘em a good screwin’ they responded by building their own car that was light years ahead of the T-Model.
Just look at the portfolio of brands under the newly re-minted FCA Automobiles; Dodge, Chrysler, RAM, Alfa-Romeo, Maserati, Fiat, and of course Ferrari. Some of the most storied automotive brands of all times, all under one corporate umbrella.
What of the comparison between Walter P. and Sergio? Well if you don’t have a copy of Vincent Curcio’s excellent book Chrysler, you outta grab one. At 690 pages it ain’t light reading, but I’ll guarantee you learn loads about the early auto industry. Until I read it I never fully appreciated what major contributions Chrysler made to the early industry.
‘Ol Walter P. combined Chalmers, and Maxwell, to form Chrysler Corp. while simultaneously launching a world beating car bearing his own name. He then founded Plymouth in large measure to apply pressure to Dillon Read & Co. to essentially give him Dodge Brothers. Kinda like Sergio, Cerberus, and Uncle Sam.
I did sign the pavement just a little (Sport mode.)
I have a couple of quick videos to share with you. The first is a quick ride along with me and my Go-Pro, the 2nd is a quick SRT Promo piece. I think you will enjoy both!