From a tuned Neon to an 808 horsepower drag racing muscle car
The Street & Racing Technology division at FCA was born as an amalgamation of the Dodge Motorsports, Mopar, the Dodge Viper development team, and the Prowler development team. Under the helmsmanship of Dan Knott, a team of diehard enthusiasts at the top of their engineering game started tuning cars for Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler.
Once "Team Viper" had cemented their place in history, it was merged with "Team Prowler" to become Specialty Vehicle Engineering (SVE). From 2002-2004 the division was renamed Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO) and used SRT as a brand. In 2004, the division was officially renamed SRT. Curiously, though, the first car to go under the knife was not a muscle car or even a car with a big engine. And that's where we'll start our list of the most significant SRT cars that helped get the division to where it is today.
SRT's first car under its new name gave the import tuning crowd a sharp shock. In 1998, then Executive Vice President of Chrysler Product Development and Design, Tom Gale, had visited SEMA and figured that the Dodge Neon might be ripe for a slew of performance features. It went through heavy development and experimentation, including the use of a supercharger before it finally dropped on the public with a heavily modified turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. The chassis was also heavily modified, and the Neon SRT-4 was instantly loved by the automotive media. From there, it went on to dominate in its class in motorsport. It also took the world land speed record for four-cylinder production cars in 2006, topping out at just over 226 mph.
The Dodge Viper is a hellacious car powered by a V10 with a little help from the then Chrysler-owned Lamborghini. It was raw and uncompromising on power and handling, so, obviously, it needed even more hardcore versions. The Viper SRT-10 replaced both the GTS and RT/10 models in 2004, and the engine displacement grew to 8.3 liters. It generated 510 hp and 535 lb-ft of torque in the coupe version, which followed the convertible onto the market. In 2008, displacement crept up to 8.4 liters along with a host of extra engine modifications. That included some engineering wizardry from SRT to create variable exhaust-valve timing in a single-cam engine. In 2010, the Viper SRT-10 had 600 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque.
The last generation saw a complete redesign of the Viper by SRT and came in just two versions for 2012. There was the SRT Viper and the premium trimmed SRT Viper GTS. The 8.4-liter V10 made 640 hp on launch and 600 lb-ft, but horsepower went up by five in 2015.
In 1996, Dodge put a Viper engine into a RAM as a concept, but it never made production. The PVO division resurrected the idea and took it to the wind tunnel. When the Ram SRT-10 got to market for the 2004 model year, it used the same 8.3-liter V10 as the Viper. The regular cab model rushed to 60 mph in a record-setting 4.9 seconds, while the 2005 quad-cab model weighed a whopping 5,618 lbs and made it to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. The steering and suspension were heavily modified, with Bilstein springs lowering the truck by one inch at the front and 2.5 inches at the rear in the assumption it wouldn't be used as a work truck. For a number of years, the Ram SRT-10 was a record holder for the fastest production truck in the world.
The Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6 is the only six-cylinder SRT model so far. It was also built by Karmann in Germany and based on the Mercedes platform that underpinned the SLK. Under the hood of the SRT model sat an AMG supercharged 3.2-liter V6 engine making 330 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. It also poached suspension and brake components from the SLK 32 AMG. Essentially, it was a Mercedes AMG car dressed like an American, and one of the few high points of the Chrysler-Mercedes union that ended in 2007.
If you trace the genetic line of the muscle car back far enough, you'll find the Chrysler 300C had a vital role to play. The 1955 Chrysler C-300 was a homologated race car aimed at NASCAR and fitted with Chrysler's most powerful engine at the time - the FirePower Hemi V8. The C-300 was renamed the 300C a few years later. Chrysler brought the 300 designations back for the 2005 model year. The 300C topped the range with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8, but the faster SRT version packed a 6.1-liter Hemi engine making 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
The 300C SRT8 existed for two generations of the Chrysler 300. By the time the SRT version was retired in 2014, it cranked 470 hp from a 6.4-liter engine and held the road better through tuned suspension. It will hit 0-60 mph in the low fours, and stop hard again using Brembo brakes.
Over Dodge's long history, the Magnum name has been used for a variety of different vehicles. The last was as a station wagon version of the Chrysler 300 with a Dodge badge. The SRT-8 version ticks a lot of enthusiast boxes, including the 6.1-liter Hemi engine making 425 hp. It sat on 20-inch wheels, SRT tuned suspension, came with Brembo brakes and featured new front and fascias. While it ticked a lot of boxes as a performance-based station wagon, Dodge only built and sold a total of 4,130 units.
There was a long buildup to the Challenger name returning to the road, and, in 2008, Dodge delivered a true modern muscle car. All SRT8s were powered by the 6.1-liter Hemi that we first saw in the Magnum SRT-8, continuing duty until the 2011 model year rolled around. A new 6.4-liter Hemi V8 showed up in the SRT8 for the 2011 model, with 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. SRT engineers made the claim that they had sacrificed peak horsepower, opting instead for low-end torque, which came in hard at 2,900 rpm. Dodge claimed a quarter mile time of 12.4 seconds at 110 mph, and that it hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. In 2014, the Challenger SRT8 got launch control but was then retired in 2015. We'll get to why with the next car.
There were two reasons why the Challenger SRT8 name was retired. The first was because the SRT 392 model showed up using the naturally aspirated 6.4-liter Apache HEMI V8. The second was because the Challenger Hellcat bomb was dropped along with its supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI power plant. The supercharged Hemi's output of 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque was a mic drop on the rest of the industry. It's an old school drag monster that, on paper, shouldn't be a success. Yet, it'll rock the quarter mile on stock tires in 11.2 seconds at 125 mph after hitting 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. The Challenger SRT Hellcat will also top out, despite its brick-like aerodynamic qualities, at 199 mph, all the while looking as cool as a Dodge Charger cruising down Woodward Avenue in the 1970s looking to race a Ford.
When Jeep introduced the third generation Grand Cherokee circa 2006, it also introduced an SRT8 version. That featured the 420 hp version of the 6.1-liter Hemi engine, modified suspension that included Bilstein gas-charged shocks, and Brembo brakes. From 2012-2017, the fastest Cherokee you could buy was the SRT 392 with the 6.4-liter Hemi. Then the SRT Trackhawk model debuted for 2018 and blew it out of the water with the 707-horsepower 6.2L Supercharged Hemi V8 usually reserved for Dodge's Hellcat models. As the name suggests, the chassis has been tuned to raise eyebrows on the track as well as from the traffic lights, and it's perfect for scaring the hell out of the kids on the way to school.
At the current pinnacle of SRT's achievements is the Challenger SRT Demon. It's the wide-bodied drag-strip ready variant of the Challenger, and powered by an insane new 6.2-liter V8 engine with a 2.7-liter supercharger bolted on. It generates 840 hp and 770 lb-ft of abject lunacy on race fuel and, in ideal conditions with a sharp driver, will hit 0-60 mph in 2.3-seconds and ace the quarter-mile in 9.54 seconds. Even without using launch control and the provided drag strip equipment, there's not much going to take the Demon on and win in a traffic-light derby. SRT looked at all the flashy supercars, shrugged, and built a super muscle car instead.
The Charger has almost run parallel with the Challenger for SRT versions and practically relegated to being the four-door equivalent for those that have to take some practicality with their muscle car. The Charger Hellcat is an entirely different beast, though. For 2020, it still has over 700 horsepower at the disposal of the driver's right foot, but now it comes as a widebody as standard. That widebody is there to house everything needed to help tame the power through bends. The track is widened for stability and accommodates Pirelli 305/35ZR20 tires to get as much rubber on the tarmac as possible. The larger wheels also house a massive set of Brembo brakes, and, unlike traditional muscle cars, the Charger Hellcat can show up to the track and drop some seriously fast track times. Then, during the week, it becomes a big, comfortable, family sedan. While it may have been around in Hellcat form since 2015, the Widebody is the best its ever been.