The Challenger SRT Demon 170 Was Born From Spite
The Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 marks the final chapter of Mopar’s gasoline-burning shenanigans. Despite the impressive capabilities of the new 1025-horsepower dragster, it was the original Dodge Demon from 2018 that the brand intended to leave behind as their high water mark. Here’s how the COVID pandemic, a small team, and a genuine grudge brought us the most ludicrous muscle car ever built.
The Dodge Charger and Challenger are genuine sales leaders today, but that wasn’t always the case. By the time the Charger first returned for 2006, and later the Challenger for 2009, competition in Detroit was gaining steam. The Shelby GT500 arrived in 2007 with 500 horsepower, while the Camaro returned to the market in 2010 as a lighter, smaller machine than the Challenger. By the time 2013 rolled around, the Camaro ZL1 made 580 hp and the GT500 was turning 662 hp. For reference, the most potent Challenger SRT8 model only produced 470 horsepower at the time. CEO Tim Kuniskis believes Dodge was so far behind the competition at that point that rival companies overlooked Mopar.
“We were so far below both Chevy and Ford, I’m sure they weren’t even paying attention to us,” Kuniskis told R&T at a press briefing. “Non-existent in that field.”
Dodge’s positioning in the market changed dramatically in 2015 with the arrival of the Challenger SRT Hellcat. The 707-horsepower muscle car became an instant classic, lending the brand credibility from the moment the car debuted. Whereas Ford and Chevy spent their development budgets transforming their pony cars into proper sports car competitors, Dodge chucked a bunch of power at the Charger and Challenger in the truest muscle car tradition. Mopar was back in a real way. Sales numbers backed up the car’s cultural appeal. Dodge has sold 80,000 Hellcat-powered cars since the engine's debut, making up four percent of the brand’s muscle car sales. The Hellcat was never meant to be a long-running product however, as Dodge’s high-powered lineup was hit with “more fines than I can open credit cards to pay,” according to Kuniskis. The executive further explained to R&T that the Demon was meant to be the final highlight of Mopar madness, with the Redeye and Super Stock following as measures to recoup some of the investment from that program. Thankfully for fans, 2019 was not a normal year.
“Now right after that, that car should’ve gone, and the new car should be there,” said Kuniskis. “What happened in this timeline? Merger. One of the biggest mergers in automotive history. And then Covid hits. Oh shit. If you’re an enthusiast, great, because now people are worried about way more important things than the L Cars. We’ll worry about Covid, what’s happening with the economy and microchips, are we going to keep the plants running? So what happens? The L Cars get an extension on life.”
It was in the middle of the Covid pandemic that the Demon 170 project was born. Kuniskis secured the budget for a special project following an early meeting with Stellantis leadership, but lacked any staff to work on the project amid the lockdowns. Despite local ordinances suggesting otherwise, Kuniskis managed to set a meeting with 40 Dodge employees outside of the SRT building. That location was particularly important to the staff at that time, as reports swirled that SRT would die off as a result of the merger. That very team was informed that funding had been secured for a final project, and that any work on said project would be volunteer based. It also meant you’d be working directly under Kuniskis, which ensured extra scrutiny. According to Kuniskis, not a single employee turned down the opportunity to take on the additional workload. The team's passion for these machines is the very reason that Kuniskis sought out funding.
“I need to do something for a couple of the guys that are in this room,” said Kuniskis. “I have to do something to respond to what people were saying about SRT. Maybe some people in this room. When we reorganized, people said SRT is dead. The department of batshit crazy has been closed. We said no, bullshit. Brick and mortar can’t contain crazy. It can’t. SRT is in our DNA and we can still do crazy better than anybody. So we’re going to celebrate the end with what is now going to be the new plateau. The new pinnacle of factory crazy.”
To call the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 crazy is perhaps a bit of an understatement. Thanks to an entirely reworked 6.2-liter V-8 engine that runs on E-85, the Demon 170 is capable of producing 1025 hp and 940 lb-ft of torque. Combined with a trick suspension, Transbrake 2.0, and sticky Mickey Thompson drag radials, the Demon 170 can do 0-60 mph in 1.66 seconds with a 1-ft rollout. Find yourself a prepped surface and this Mopar will rip through the 1/4 mile in an NHRA-certified 8.91 seconds at 151.17 mph. The car is even pre-configured for a parachute, which you can purchase through Dodge’s Direct Connection program. Dodge intends to build just 3300 examples, or as many as they can get through before December 31st. After that, the gasoline-powered Mopar will be no more. Dodge’s electric replacement for the L Car pairing should arrive next year according to Kuniskis, though Dodge hasn’t finished tweaking the project quite yet. When the electric coupe does arrive, the executive is convinced it will retain the same spirit that made people fall in love with cars like the Demon 170.
“We didn’t ask for these rules to change, we don’t want these rules to change, but I gotta mountain of debt that I have to pay back,” said Kuniskis. “So while everyone else is going to build an electric car, we’re gonna channel this. And the only way that you cannot be first and not be last, is if you have something better than the guy that was first. So everyone else is going to build an electric car, we’re going to build a muscle car.”
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