All posts in “SRT”

We made Vipers: The men and women of Chrysler’s Conner Ave. plant


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Fiat-Chrysler’s Conner Avenue factory was unusually quiet. On a day in early August, as the Dodge Viper inched toward history, the factory was more like a funeral parlor. The line had shut down before 2 p.m., and noises inside the 392,000-square-foot plant were faint and faraway. The row of landmark Vipers that long greeted employees and visitors—Le Mans winners and Nordschleife record holders—sat undisturbed.

Soon the collection would be joined by the last Viper and sent to storage. That day in August, three weeks before Conner’s official closing, the last Viper was already in the line.

To build the fifth-generation, 2013-17 Viper, Conner Avenue was outfitted to assemble eight or nine cars a day. After February 2017, when orders were locked down for remaining production, it had been building about three. Some 90 percent of those were Viper ACRs, and the vast majority were ordered through Dodge’s “1 of 1” program, which allowed thousands of permutations and came with assembly photos and a plant tour.

Ironically, maybe cruelly, the Viper died on its 25th anniversary, after more than 30,000 had been built. One of the world’s unique automobiles is gone, and with it goes one of the world’s unique automobile factories. The end of Conner Avenue Assembly, the source of 26,000 of those Vipers, dispersed a relative handful of sad but appreciative workers—and left only one auto assembly plant operating entirely within Detroit’s city limits. There were more than a dozen in the mid-20th century.

inside plant 1

A Viper chassis ready for testing.

The factory at 20000 Conner opened in 1966 as a Champion spark plug plant. It had been fallow for five years when Chrysler bought it in 1995, after management realized that the crazy Dodge Viper roadster might actually have legs. Launched in 1992 as a one-run-and-done special from a corner of Chrysler’s Mack Assembly plant, Viper demand continued to exceed expectations as the original tooling wore out.

The Viper line at Conner started in October 1995, and the GT-S coupe joined the roadster. Plymouth Prowler production was added in 1997, and before the Prowler finished its five-year run, Chrysler’s V10 engine production was moved to Conner. Yet in the desperate days after Chrysler’s bankruptcy and the merger with Fiat, the Viper became imminently expendable. Production ended the first time in July 2010. 

Then, as the economy improved and to the surprise of some, FCA polished up Conner Assembly and began building a new-gen Viper in December 2012. Even in the new millennium, the Viper line reopened without robots.

Viper production was basically three stages: engines, chassis and final. The blocks and heads were cast in England and shipped to Canada, where they were machined and the heads were assembled. After final assembly at Conner, every engine was trucked to FCA HQ in Auburn Hills, Michigan, fully dyno’d and then returned to Conner for installation. With the end of

Viper, new Chrysler cam-in-block V10s—based on the 5.9-liter Magnum V8, massaged by Lamborghini and famous for a burble like a school bus—hiss no more.

Inside plant 2

One of the last Vipers to leave the Conner Ave. factory.

Viper assembly started with steel spaceframes jigged up at a supplier in Kentucky and placed on a rolling trolley at Conner. The wheel hubs were essentially identical to those on a Dakota pickup, which was last built before the last-gen Viper started production. Body panels were molded by Plasan Carbon Composites in western Michigan and painted at a facility near FCA headquarters.  Interesting stuff, all that, but it doesn’t account for Conner’s unique place in the automotive universe. If 392,000 square feet seems like a lot of floor space, understand that it’s less than 10 percent of the space at FCA’s Ram pickup plant, just northeast of Conner Assembly in Warren, Mich. Through the last Viper’s run, Conner employed 14 salaried and 67 hourly workers (Warren Truck has 4,706). Through 2017, the average cycle time—the time the trolley sat at a given stop on the line—was 69 minutes. In the typical auto plant, it’s less than a minute. Yet a majority of Conner’s workers had been there since it opened for Viper, and they had helped build 26,000 cars.

Conner Avenue came as close to legitimate by-hand assembly as there is at any large automaker, right up to Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

Now Viper is finished, and the city of Detroit is down to 1.5 auto assembly plants. The one is FCA’s Jefferson North Assembly, home of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. The 0.5 is GM’s Buick/Cadillac/Chevrolet sedan plant, which straddles the border between Detroit and the encapsulated city of Hamtramck. The Conner Assembly building will be converted to another FCA purpose, but only the company knows what. We’re guessing it’s going to be Italian.

As for the 81 craftspeople and managers who built Vipers, all are guaranteed jobs elsewhere in the FCA scheme. While many believe those jobs can only be a step down, they seem almost universally grateful to have had the opportunity to tangibly contribute to something very cool.

Few of us get an opportunity to meet the people who build our cars. It’s easy enough to lose track of the fact that our cars are still largely built by people, who are largely proud of what they do and worried about the same things we are. With the end of Conner Avenue Assembly, we’ll take the opportunity to introduce some of those who built one of history’s truly unique automobiles, in one of Detroit’s unique assembly plants.

Viva Viper.

Deron Rogers II

He took one with him.

He took one with him

Deron Rogers II is reminded daily of what he used to do at Conner Avenue. He was the only non-salaried plant employee who owns a Viper—a third-gen 2003 he calls Black Mamba.

“When the Viper came out, I knew someday I’d own one, long before I had any hope of working here,” he said in August.

Rogers went to work at Conner in 1996, shortly after it opened as Viper Central. He was responsible for parts inventory when it closed Aug. 31, 2017. He’ll move to FCA’s Jefferson North Grand Cherokee factory, but as of August, he still didn’t know what he’d do there.

“For me, this plant was a blessing. It’s history. I’ve met Ralph Gilles a bunch of times and hobnobbed with people I never would have otherwise. And I don’t think too many people can say they helped assemble their own car.”

Greg Rinehart

Off the street, into America’s most unusual car factory.

Off the street, into America’s most unusual car factory

Greg Rinehart believes he’s the only person “hired off the street’’ to build Vipers.

The lifelong Detroiter was still fresh from military service when he was hired as a temp at Chrysler’s Mack Avenue Assembly. His foreman was so impressed that he pulled some strings to bring Rinehart to the new Viper line at Conner in 1995.

By the end of Viper’s run, Rinehart was supervising the three people who assembled its V10 and conducting the “cold test”—filling the engine with oil and running 850 diagnostic checks without firing it.

Back in the day, Rinehart’s crew built 47 V10s a week. In the summer of ’17, it was a handful. “I hate that it’s ending. Just about anyplace else (in FCA production), you’re no more than a warm body. Here your responsibility is wider—and your input. I love having worked here. Very proud of it. (Sept. 1) is going to be a very quiet day for me.”

Dave Ironside

Friends in high places.

Friends in high places

Dave Ironside, a self-described Navy brat originally from Rhode Island, started at Chrysler in 1973, building Chargers at Lynch Road Assembly, which opened in Detroit in 1928 and closed in 1981. He built Lancers, Shadows and Sundances in Sterling Heights, then moved to the original Viper line at VIN 30. Some 30,000 Vipers later, he was responsible for post-assembly quality checks at Conner Avenue.

There, Ironside met Bob Lutz, Jay Leno and dozens more celebrities, and he’s friends with members of the Viper Club.

After 44 years on the line, he plans to go back to Sterling Heights to build the next-gen Ram pickup, but it won’t be the same.

“The central thing is that I love building something I’ll probably never be able to own,” Ironside said. “I’ll settle for the pictures of what we’ve done, I’m fine with that.” 

Trexcella Evans

Worse than leaving high school.

Worse than leaving high school

Texcella Evans moved to Conner from Jefferson North Assembly, where her job was essentially one repetitive operation for an entire shift. She did it well nonetheless, with perfect attendance, and in 2012, she jumped at the chance to land a spot on the refired Viper line.

At Conner, Evans moved between three assembly stations, installing the Viper’s rear end, front suspension bits and brake lines and ABS pump. And her stress level was substantially reduced. At Conner, a Viper sat at one station about 100 times longer than a Grand Cherokee does at Jefferson North. Now Evans is headed back to Jefferson North, though she isn’t sure what she’ll do there. She compares the end of Viper to the end of high school, without the anticipation for what comes next.

“Wherever I’m going will be a step down,” she said. “It’s sad, but it just is. It was always supposed to be a five-year run.”

Anthony Banks

What 90-mile commute?

What 90-mile commute?

Anthony Banks started at Conner shortly after the Viper line opened and shuttered the plant as team leader, final assembly. Through 21 years, he collected autographs from factory visitors and a storeroom full of memorabilia: over 350 die-cast Vipers, remote control models, posters, books, license plate frames. His most prized autographs might be Sergio Marchionne and Evander Holyfield; his favorite Viper is definitely the last generation.

For Banks, there’s a silver lining in Conner’s closing. He hopes to land a spot at an FCA distribution warehouse minutes from his home in Marysville, 45 miles northeast of Detroit. But he’d trade the silver lining to keep his 90-mile commute.

“I’ll be crushed when I drive out of here for the last time, frankly,” he said. “I’ll probably cry. As the minutes tick by, it’s starting to feel like losing a family member.”

This article originally appeared in the November 27 issue of Autoweek magazine. Subscribe today.

Saying goodbye to the Dodge Viper with a V10-powered road trip


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Long after sundown, on a quiet stretch of I-65 an hour or so north of Nashville, an RX-8 materializes in the rearview mirror. The guy wants to race. No real surprise there. It’s the kind of thing you come to expect when you’re driving a Viper. More so when that Viper is the street-legal race version, the ACR, what with its towering rear wing, ground-scraping front aero, semi-slick tires and particular brand of large-displacement attitude.

By design, any Viper makes a very unsubtle statement—one which must from time to time be backed up with action, if only to uphold the reputation of the good people back in Detroit who hand-built the thing.

The Mazda is decidedly nonstock; its rotary wails and its tailpipes spit flames. But even before I drop to third gear, wind up the V10 and punch a Viper-size hole in the darkness, its driver has to know there is no way in hell he has the faster car. No, he just wants to see what the Dodge can do.

There are two kinds of people out there: those who appreciate the Dodge Viper and those who don’t understand it. That was as true in late 1991, when the first generation of the unlikely production hot rod emerged, as it is of the fifth-generation (or third “phase,” depending on how you break it down) car today.

The RX-8 driver gets it. So does the guy in the Challenger 392 and whoever is driving that new Stingray and all of the other people on my 1,200-mile drive from Detroit to Nashville and back who either want to race or nearly drive off the road with astonishment and excitement when they see me slicing through interstate traffic like a predator.

The Viper has always been a special, difficult car. Did its front-midmounted V10, rear-wheel drive and manual-only setup make sense when the model was first conceived, nearly three decades ago, as a sort of Shelby Cobra successor? Tough to say. The configuration was certainly archaic by the time this, the present (and for the foreseeable future, final) version debuted in 2012. But that’s the way it had to be. To have done it any differently would have been to lose what made the car extraordinary. It wouldn’t have been a Viper.

Disclaimer: I have never driven one of these of any vintage on a track. I do know that in the right set of hands, the Viper ACR is faster than just about anything else on four wheels. Look to a privateer team’s 7-minute, 1.3-second Nürburgring run earlier this year, plus a baker’s dozen records at domestic tracks, for proof.

I will never set any lap-time records in a go-kart, let alone a monster like this, but I’ve always appreciated the idea of the Viper. What started as a halo car became a sort of middle finger to the rest of the world. It’s a manifesto: This is the way it’s done in Detroit. Deal with it.

The Viper Experience is not for everyone. It’s best described as “visceral,” if you’re in charitable mood, “crude” if you’re not. When you hit the starter button and all 8.4 liters of that V10 sputter and boom to life, the car rocks slightly, side to side. That engine may drone a bit while loping along in sixth gear on the highway, but that’s its way of reminding you that it doesn’t peak (at 645 hp) until 6,200 rpm. The chassis is rigid and the suspension wonderfully direct, which is another way to say that the setup reveals every bump and groove beneath it. 

You have to reconfigure yourself mentally, and to an extent physically, to accept the car as it is, or you’re simply not going to have a good time with it. If the seats get uncomfortable after long stints—even with, as on this car, a GTS package that adds a more luxurious interior than your standard-issue ACR—be thankful that it doesn’t get better fuel economy and stretch it out when you stop for gas.

In its fifth generation, the Viper finally got traction and stability control, which is less of a surrender to the nannyism than you might think. Despite its surprisingly mild manner when driven even semi-sensibly, the Viper can snap—quickly—if you get too comfortable and push it beyond the threshold of balance. At times, it can get downright scary, but this sense of lurking danger adds a certain savor to the experience. Maybe I’m wrong to enjoy that. You’ll miss it, though, when cars are sold without steering wheels.

In any case, those Kumho ACR tires are useless in the rain; think of their grooves as more of a suggestion of treads than an actuality, and you’ve got the idea. There are a few white-knuckle moments, and, driving back to Detroit, I have to pull over to let a thunderstorm pass. When was the last time you felt compelled to do that in a new car?

But the Viper isn’t a new car, at least not spiritually. It’s all of the best parts about a classic grand tourer zapped into the present. Or maybe it’s a vintage muscle car that’s been taught to handle. Maybe, in true hot-rod fashion, it’s some combo of the hottest, most essential bits of everything. And while the Viper badge speaks for itself in and around Detroit, I am floored to meet Nashvillians who don’t even know what the thing is. It doesn’t help that this generation of Viper suffered an identity crisis (recall that, for a time, it dropped the Dodge badge in favor of a standalone SRT nameplate). 

We made vipers

The Viper’s ostensible competitors—depending on how you look at it: the Mercedes-AMG GT, the Nissan GT-R, even the Chevrolet Corvette Z06—may do certain things better, or for a lower price. Even Dodge’s own Hellcats have it beat in the horsepower wars.

But the Viper isn’t about power above all, nor was it ever supposed to be a slick, tidy toy designed for the clinical delivery of speed. It is a demanding, rewarding, multisensory experience, built to order by hand by skilled workers in an old factory at the northern edge of Detroit. There is effectively nothing else to compare it to.

Now that the Viper is dead, the elegies flow: opinion pieces praising its analog brutality and its Motor City bona fides, market analyses trumpeting its prospects as a future collectible. They are belated—and correct. Read it here first: The Viper was and is good. Cars like it are too few and far between to go unsung.

A neighbor recently took delivery of his Viper; it must have been one of the last cars off the line, which has since gone quiet. Sometimes, when I hear him rumbling down the street, I stop what I’m doing and run to catch a glimpse. Like a kid running for the ice cream truck. His Viper, with its TA 2.0 package, is subtler than the ACR but still impossible to miss—painted the bright yellow of lane markers.

It’s a car I’d love to own, but I’ve never felt even a tinge of envy. It’s his car, and I am content that he has it and appreciates it. That there are at least two of us on the block that really get it.

This article originally appeared in the November 27 issue of Autoweek magazine. Subscribe today.

Graham Kozak

Graham Kozak – Graham Kozak drove a 1951 Packard 200 sedan in high school because he wanted something that would be easy to find in a parking lot. He thinks all the things they’re doing with fuel injection and seatbelts these days are pretty nifty too.
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The VLF supercar will live on despite the death of the Viper it’s based on


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The end of Dodge Viper production in August won’t affect VLF Automotive’s plans for the Force 1 V10 supercar, which shares its underpinnings.

Henrik Fisker, a partner and head of design at the boutique car company, said VLF has access to enough Vipers through a partnership with race car driver Ben Keating, owner of a Viper specialty dealership in Texas, to complete orders for the low-volume vehicle.

“We have more than enough donor cars to be able to do the Force 1,” Fisker told Automotive News. “He bought them early on for this project.”

VLF plans to produce no more than 50 of the $268,500 cars, and recently started delivering cars to customers, according to Fisker.

“These are hand-built specialty cars for collectors,” he said.

The Force 1 features an 8.4-liter V-10 engine with 745 hp It is marked by its carbon-fiber body, 21-inch wheels and thin headlights, as well as its rear-wing spoiler and long hood. The car can reach a top speed of 218 mph and can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds.

FCA shutting down the Dodge Viper plant

Fisker, who is awaiting delivery of his Force 1, unveiled the car alongside Keating and fellow VLF partners Bob Lutz and Gilbert Villarreal at the Detroit auto show in 2016.

VLF is separate from the famed designer’s Fisker Inc., which is preparing to officially unveil its all-electric Fisker EMotion car in the coming months. Another company that once bore the Fisker name failed and was reincarnated as Karma Automotive.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is ending production of the Viper on Aug. 31 because the two-seater cannot meet new safety regulations that go into effect Sept. 1.

The article “Viper’s end won’t affect VLF supercar” originally appeared at Automotive News on 7/17/17.

By Michael Wayland, Automotive News

The Dodge Viper is dead; its assembly plant will meet the same fate


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Fiat Chrysler will permanently close its Conner Assembly Plant in Detroit on Aug. 31 as production of the Dodge Viper ends.
In its 2015 contract with the UAW, FCA said it would end production of the low-volume, high-powered $90,000 sports car. No replacement had been planned for the plant.

Last year, FCA sold 630 Vipers, down 8.7 percent vs. 2015.

Dodge Viper limited editions will send the Viper away.

Dodge Viper axed, but will not go gently

Celebrating 25 years of its soon-to-be discontinued all-American bruiser, Dodge will build five different special editions of the SRT Viper. With the sports car approaching its …

Conner is FCA’s smallest assembly plant in North America, where the automaker has built the Viper — with interruptions — for over 25 years.

Production will end in August because the two-seater cannot meet new safety regulations which go into effect Sept. 1. FCA has been celebrating the Viper’s sunsetting production for more than a year.

Over the years, workers at Conner Avenue, many of whom transferred in from other FCA plants in the metro Detroit region, suffered frequent layoffs as Viper sales waxed and waned, but they chose to remain at the plant because of its special nature first within Chrysler and later within FCA. The plant operated as a bespoke car assembly facility in terms of the hand-assembly and painting process each Viper underwent.

By Automotive News Staff

Porsche 918, Viper ACR and McLaren P1 battle at The Thermal Club


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YouTube user and real estate money-maker Salomondrin got three of our favorite supercars out to The Thermal Club in California for a Pirelli Trofeo R shootout in his LTACY series of videos. The lucky bastard tested the Porsche 918 Spyder, the McLaren P1 and the Viper ACR, all on Pirelli’s stickiest street rubber.

We won’t spoil who wins, but obviously the comments section is full of possible issues and conspiracy theories. Salomondrin’s 344,000 subscribers are anything but meek, so this isn’t the conversation to end all conversations. But any day we can see these supercars under the control of a race car driver — the boys fittingly used Pirelli World Challenge driver Alec Udell — is a good day indeed. Place your bets!

Dodge just sold 28 Vipers in 40 minutes


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Remember the special edition end-of-the-line Dodge Vipers? Well, Dodge sold all 206 of them … in five days. Considering that Dodge managed to sell only 47 Vipers in May and 241 Vipers over the first five months of 2016, slinging 206 of these beasts in a week is almost mind-bending.

Dodge ran out of the 28 1:28 Edition ACR Vipers in 40 Minutes. The VooDoo II Edition was next to go, selling all 31 models in only two hours. Add that up and you’ll see that these two special editions totaled 59 Vipers in 120 minutes. Selling at a slightly slower pace, the 100 GTS-R Commemorative Edition ACR Vipers were gone in two days, as were all 25 of the Snakeskin GTC Vipers. It took five days to unload the 22 Dealer Edition ACR Vipers, which is still faster than most Viper sales.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR i1

2016 Dodge Viper ACR first drive

What is it?The 2016 Dodge Viper ACR is the pinnacle of the Viper line, differentiating itself from lesser snakes with a new 10-way, double-adjustable suspension setup, 15.4-inch carbon …

Head of Dodge passenger cars Tim Kuniskis remarked, “From just 40 minutes to five days, the 25th Anniversary special edition Dodge Vipers sold out incredibly fast, insuring their future collectability.”

Responding to the success, Dodge is creating another final edition — dubbed the Snakeskin ACR, which is a callback to the 2010 model of the same name. Only 31 Snakeskin green ACR Vipers will be made, and they’ll become available mid-July. If the other special editions are any indication, you should probably get started on trying to get one of these final 31 no-seriously-for-real-this-time Snakeskin ACR Vipers as soon as possible.

Dodge Viper axed, but will not go gently


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Celebrating 25 years of its soon-to-be discontinued all-American bruiser, Dodge will build five different special editions of the SRT Viper. With the sports car approaching its final year of production in 2017, four of the five limited edition Vipers are slated to be American Club Racing models, with one less-aerodynamically assisted GTC model rounding out the pack. The five special editions are: the 1:28 edition ACR, the GTS-R Commemorative edition, the VooDoo two edition ACR, the Snakeskin Edition GTC and a special Dodge Dealer edition ACR. While the 1:28 Edition ACR celebrates Dodge’s standing single lap record time of Laguna Seca and the Dodge Dealer edition ACR is only available through select Dodge franchises (Tomball Dodge of Tomball, Texas and Roanoke Dodge of Roanoke, Illinois), the other Vipers are nods to previous limited runs of Dodge’s halo car.

Underneath the hood of both the “extreme aero” equipped Viper ACRs and the single GTC model is the 8.4-liter all-aluminum V10 spitting out a fiery 645 hp and 600 lb-ft of twist. Responsible for sending that power to the rear wheels is a stout Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission. The main difference between the ACR models and the GTC models is the former’s “extreme aero” package, which consists of a massive rear wing, front splitter and carbon ceramic brakes.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR i1

2016 Dodge Viper ACR first drive

What is it?The 2016 Dodge Viper ACR is the pinnacle of the Viper line, differentiating itself from lesser snakes with a new 10-way, double-adjustable suspension setup, 15.4-inch carbon …

No word on how much these are going to cost over the normal Viper ACR’s $120K-plus going rate. Despite being the highest volume, the GTS-R ACR will likely be the most expensive, due to the addition of the carbon exterior package. If you don’t want one of these special edition Vipers, but just want your own personalized final-run V10-powered sports car — you can do that, too.

The special editions and the 2017 model-year regular Vipers go on sale June 24, 2016.

We go to Bondurant Racing School


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Editor’s Note: We’re visiting the top driving schools in the country to get a feel for what each has to offer the enthusiast driver; our hope is to encourage more owners to understand driving at the limit and have fun doing it. Look for more write-ups in the coming months, and check out our complete listing of U.S. high-performance driving schools.

Performance driving schools are often overlooked by parents in favor of mall-headquartered driving academies — after all, they sound dangerous — and at first glance it’s easy to get the impression that Challengers, Chargers and Vipers are for those who aspire to race or drive getaway cars for a living. With a name like Bondurant Racing School, you’d assume you’d need letters of reference from at least three IndyCar or NASCAR drivers, a passing score on NASA’s centrifuge test and the ability to handle a 12-speed semi-truck manual transmission to get in.

But in reality, all you need is a driver’s license and a mastery of the Slush-o-Matic transmission to get an acceptance letter, making the racing school just as approachable for car-friendly millennials who want to learn car control as for experienced drivers who want to sharpen their skills in Viper ACRs. All the ingredients for both types of drivers and everyone in between are here, in the desert in Chandler, Arizona.

Bob Bondurant

Bob Bondurant himself greets the class and advises students throughout the day. Photo by Autoweek

Upon our arrival at the school, we are met by our stern headmaster for the day, Bob Bondurant, who had just turned 83, and his wife and president of the school Pat Bondurant, who is a racer herself. Both introduce us to our instructors and the cars; Bondurant Racing School has just forged a partnership with SRT, fielding dozens of Challengers and Chargers of the 392 Hemi R/T and Hellcat variety, in addition to Viper GTs and ACR models. And we’d get to drive all of them during our one-day crash course, hopefully without crashing.

“The class will start off with the ground school, then people will be broken up into teams and they’re going to rotate between the skid car, accident-avoidance simulator, they’re going to do the autocross, lead and follow on the track, and then hot laps,” chief instructor Mike McGovern tells us.

First up is the skid pad, featuring Chargers fitted with dolly wheels to simulate traction akin to a skating rink. This exercise is part of the teen driving program, and even though it’s the slowest of the exercises, speed-wise, it is by far the most educational when it comes to car control.

Dodge Charger at Bondurant racing school

Drivers start off with spin recovery on the skid pad. Photo by Autoweek

Here we once again hear the “look where you want to go” mantra — a performance driving mantra for a reason — and learn to avoid target fixation. The Chargers slide around with predictable ease, like in a 1970s cop show minus the gumball beacon on the roof, but doing figure-eights with finesse is not as easy as it looks. Truth be told, we could have spent a day on the skid pad, the same way golfers will spend hours on the practice greens and in the greenside rough developing a touch for the greens. The skid pad rewards a measured approach, instantly doling out punishment just when everyone thinks, “Yeah, I’ve got this.”

Next up is the accident-avoidance exercise involving acceleration, lane choice and emergency braking in response to stoplight changes. It helps that the Chargers are wearing performance brake pads, which get plenty of exercise as we accelerate down the straight and are forced to make a split-second choice in response to a changing light, controlled by the instructors. They’re eager to give us curveballs with the lights, and after just a couple of runs it becomes obvious why this part of the program is useful for teen drivers.

Dodge Chargers at the track

Lead-and-follow exercises on the track are the culmination of the day. Photo by Autoweek

As we move on to autocross exercises, this is the first part of the program that lets us combine the skills we hopefully learned on the skid pad and in the accident-avoidance drills. Our instructors let us open up the cars a little bit, and this is also where we really get a feel for just how modern cars keep us out of trouble as we try to keep it together and avoid knocking over cones. Pushing the Challenger harder and harder through the curves, the electronic nannies manage to keep us out of real trouble as we try not as much to test the limits of grip, but to find it.

Our day concludes with lead-and-follow exercises on one of the main tracks as a gaggle of Vipers is introduced into our mix of Challengers and Chargers. The instructors in the lead cars take it easy on us for a couple of laps to let us get a feel for the track, but it’s not long before we decide to put things into track mode to keep up with the lead car and the pressure. This is when we realize that for racetrack first-timers, the Charger and Challenger may be perfect cars for learning track driving and car control — they’re wide and stable enough to keep us out of trouble while giving us the generous footprint of a family sedan. But they also have more than enough power on tap to keep things interesting and let us explore our limits.

Mike McGovern

Chief instructor Mike McGovern advises the class before the start of track laps. Photo by Autoweek

Mopar and Dodge BRAKES driving school gets four locations

Pretty soon we’re flying over chicanes and desperately trying to remember the racing lines we saw used on the “Top Gear” U.K. test track and the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” segments, recalling how The Stig did it. Those bits of “knowledge,” along with memories of F1 racing footage from the early 1990s, flood back unexpectedly as we keep up with the lead car in this exercise.

We ask McGovern, what lies beyond the one-day program that SRT offers all Hellcat buyers? 

“What people are doing now, they call up the school and they ask questions about it, and then the sales staff are offering them an opportunity to step up to a two-day high-performance driving or four-day Grand Prix road-racing class. Just depending on — again each customer is a little bit different — but they have that option,” McGovern says. “And the school is giving them a thousand dollar voucher to go toward those different classes, which is a great deal.” 

“When they get into the individual classes, that student-to-instructor ratio is three-to-one; each student gets their own vehicle for the time that they’re going through that program, and then there’s that personal attention that they get from that instructor. We’ve had a lot of people do that, a lot of people have gone from that to like the four-day Grand Prix road-racing class, so first three days are in Viper and then fourth day is in the Formula Mazda — real big step up.”

Dodge Charger at Bondurant racing school

The program offers plenty of track time — at the end of the day, of course. Photo by Autoweek

Skip Barber high performance driving school Heres what to expect

We finish out the day behind the wheel of the Viper in the same lead-and-follow exercises, but now without the ventilated seats — just like real racing drivers. The real racing drivers then give us a whirl around the same track, making us realize that we were “Driving Miss Daisy” the whole time.

Price: $1,225 for one-day high-performance driving, $2,450 for two days, $3,999 for three days.

Dates/Locations: Various dates available, all in the Phoenix, AZ, area.

Contact:, (480) 403-7600.

Pros: Various levels offered, cars are comfortable, long and varied track.

Cons: Pricey, one day is probably not enough for the skid pad and accident-avoidance exercises.

Things to know:
– Dress to cope with the heat if you sign up for spring, summer or fall classes. This is Arizona.
– Proper footwear helps.
– Don’t need your own helmet — one will be provided — but bring glasses that will work well with a snugly fitting helmet without being uncomfortable.
– The day will be over before you know it.
– Remember to consume water and snacks regularly, or your energy level can drop at an inopportune time.
– NASA centrifuge test not required to sign up.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR first drive


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What is it?

The 2016 Dodge Viper ACR is the pinnacle of the Viper line, differentiating itself from lesser snakes with a new 10-way, double-adjustable suspension setup, 15.4-inch carbon ceramic brakes, Kuhmo extreme-performance tires (that are somehow stickier than those on the last ACR) and a rear spoiler big enough to land a spaceship on. Dodge lovingly calls that carbon fiber spoiler the X-Wing. It goes well with the cheeky nod to Princess Leia in the dash.

ACR stands for American Club Racer in Dodge parlance, and it could easily be seen in stock form on a racetrack near you. It’s not a street car that works on the track; it a legitimate race car that’s barely legal on the road. In fact, we stuck to the track when testing, with Dodge promising that “it’s totally livable,” to and from your nearest track.

Its 8.4-liter dinosaur-fueled V10 lays down 645 hp at 6,200 rpm and 600 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. If you’re thinking about oil changes, you better buy the barrel. This sucker holds 11 quarts of the stuff, and 4 gallons of coolant to boot.

The ACR falls under Dodge’s “1 of 1” program, which means you can specify a taupe interior with beluga whale accents and a mauve metallic paint job, as long as no one else has done it first. Don’t get that one though — we called it, it’s ours. Production begins in the third quarter of this year.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR i2

The 2016 Dodge Viper ACR interior is loud, but less spartan than you’d expect. Photo by Dodge

What’s it like to drive?

We strapped ourselves into Dodge’s latest world beater at Virginia International Raceway on its full, 24-turn, 4.1-mile Grand Course. Its technical corners, blind curves and elevation changes made it the perfect spot to bring the ACR to its traction limit. We never actually reached that point, but we did make some headway.

The Viper has a reputation that says it’s scary, it’s a killer, it’ll bite you if you’re not paying attention. That’s not entirely true. We found that you really have to do a lot of wrong things in a row to get into trouble in the ACR. As mentioned, the Kumho Ecsta V720 tires, 295/25-19 front, 355/30-19 rear, are grippier than the near-slicks on the last ACR, and only feature a few obligatory tread lines to make them street legal. The standard carbon ceramic matrix brakes, a first for the brand, were surely borrowed from the space shuttle Endeavor.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR i3

Dodge didn’t skimp in the corners. Photo by Dodge

We took a few reconnaissance laps before gradually upping our speed on VIR’s esses and famous corners. Our car was equipped with the Extreme Aero Package ($6,000), which Dodge says “makes 1,200 pounds of downforce at 150 mph” and a good bit more at its top speed of 177 mph. We didn’t quite hit that velocity, but thanks to the aero and Bilstein suspension we easily raised our corner speeds 40 mph by the end of the day. Not so scary after all.

The 10-way, aluminum-bodied, bound-and-rebound suspension setup can be tuned differently for different tracks with a few cranks under the hood and in the trunk. Dodge surely has a list somewhere of the best track setups it’s found. Those coilovers can also raise the car 3 inches. Camber and corner weight are also tunable, according to Dodge.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR i4

The shocks can be adjusted from under the hood and in the trunk. Photo by Dodge

A quick note here: The ACR is prepped for a six-point racing harness, and Dodge had one for us to use, but it can’t sell the car to the public like that. Just another case of The Man keeping us down. If you get one upgrade post-sale, make it that. Your knees and elbows will thank you for a lifetime of not having to brace your bodyweight in 1.5 g corners.

The V10 roars down the straights, and at a steady speed, and when slowing down. It pretty much roars everywhere; Dodge says all of the sound deadening material was yanked out for the sake of weight, and we could tell immediately. Acceleration is eye watering everywhere in the naturally aspirated rev range and vibration is harsh at high rpm. The pedal box is narrow as well, but used properly, you won’t have a lot of time to rest your left foot, anyway. While we’re complaining for a second, we’ll add that the stroke on the clutch is a little too long, and the catch point a little too high. Adjustment helped; the whole setup can be moved up and down with a button on the steering wheel.

Viper buyers know what they’re getting with the ACR. They’re getting a lap-record breaking, bravery improving, ear-splitting race car that can legally be driven to the track. We’ll forgive Dodge if it’s not the most sophisticated sports car in the bunch. It does have air conditioning, which we ran for most of the 85-degree, muggy day without problems.

Track rat's snake: Second-generation Viper ACR takes "race 'n' ride" to a new level

Do I want it?

The 2016 Viper ACR will start at $122,490, including destination and gas-guzzler tax. That’s a good bit of change, but it’s in a sort-of supercar no-man’s land. The Corvette Z06 is still cheaper (but not by much when you add a few options), and the Porsche 911 Turbo is significantly more expensive.

If you want what is probably the most capable, factory-built track car on the planet, then yes, you do want it. There’s nothing to be afraid of, except on road trips. The whole Viper line gets five-way traction control anyway, but it probably doesn’t matter because if you’re not an experienced race car driver, you may never even hit the limiter.

On Sale: Fourth quarter 2015

Base Price: $122,490

Drivetrain: 8.4-liter OHV V10

Output: 645 hp @ 6,200 rpm; 600 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,392 pounds

0-60 MPH: 3.5 seconds (est.)

Options: Extreme Aero Package ($6,000)

Pros: Can be driven to the track legally

Cons: Seats need more bolster around extreme-g turns

SRT Tomahawk Vision Gran Turismo concept is a little bit Viper, a lot of high-G insanity


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In its most extreme form, the SRT Tomahawk X Vision Gran Turismo packs a 2,168-hp, 7.0-liter aluminum-block V10 in a shallow 144-degree configuration. The front wheels are driven by a pneumatic system, so the car can put a staggering total of 2,590 hp to the ground, despite a curb weight of just 1,658 pounds. Top speed is something north of 400 mph.

A pneumatic front-drive setup is, to say the least, exotic, but the benefit of running an air-powered hybrid system is that you can also use it to activate aero panels and pressurize the suspension the driver’s full-body anti-g suit. Which is a must-have when you’re dealing with a car capable of pulling something in the neighborhood of 10 gs of acceleration during handling maneuvers on the track.

SRT Tomahawk Vision Gran Turismo anti-g-suit driver outfit rendering

When you think about it, these anti-g-suits aren’t really any scarier than old Top Fuel dragster masks. Photo by Sony

Even without any context, it should be pretty clear that the SRT Tomahawk is a car that couldn’t exist in the real world — at least not in the real world circa 2015. But that’s fine with SRT designers and engineers, who were looking ahead to what, if we’re lucky, will be possible in 2035. Created as part of the Vision Gran Turismo program, it will be available to millions of enthusiasts as downloadable content for the popular “Gran Turismo 6” video game/driving simulator later this summer.

But you could mistake it for a real thing when you hear Ralph Giles talk about driving it (in “Gran Turismo” universe, naturally). Or how Mark Shinedling, SRT advanced concepts manager, fretted about the most extreme Tomahawk — the Tomahawk X — being inaccessible to casual gamers.

So more approachable versions, the Tomahawk GTS-R and the Tomahawk S, were created. Together, the trio represents one part of SRT’s street-racing-technology ethos. Each car has a highly detailed spec sheet. It’s cute. (Read them all below.)

SRT Tomahawk Vision Gran Turismo S GTS-R X lineup

SRT created three versions of the Tomahawk concept to suit different drivers: The road-oriented “S” (top), the extreme “X” (middle) and the balanced GTS-R (bottom). Photo by Sony

Starting in late 2013, SRT personnel used nights and weekends to create what would become the Tomahawk. A contest was held to select a design. It “just about shut down” the product design division for a few weeks, jokes Gilles.

Eventually, Paul Hoste’s lithe, midengined, aluminum-spined single-seater won out. On the surface, there’s nothing implausible about his car, christened “Tomahawk” as a tribute to the wild V10 Dodge Tomahawk motorcycle introduced in 2003. With hints of the Viper scattered here and there, it seems like something SRT could actually build, given an infinite budget.

You’ll have to suspend your disbelief should you dive below the Tomahawk’s skin, which is, by the way, some sort of featherweight graphene nano-carbon-wundermaterial. And don’t pay too much attention to its massive 325/25 R21 front and 425/20 R23 tires, made of some as-of-yet undeveloped compound capable of transmitting the Tomahawk’s massive horsepower to tarmac without liquefying (much like the innards of a non-g-suited driver). It’s more fun to pretend that the SRT Tomahawk is real. Or that it could be real.

SRT Tomahawk Vision Gran Turismo X active aerodynamics in-game

While driving the SRT Tomahawk in Gran Turismo 6, the movement of the car’s active aero is intricate, organic — and distracting. Photo by Sony

We drove the Tomahawk GTS-R and Tomahawk X on a Playstation-based driving simulator rig, and despite having never played GT6 before, we managed one or two complete laps without completely stuffing the thing (we won’t discuss the other half-dozen laps). Our performance was nothing impressive, mind you: watching Tomahawk X’s wild active aero pieces flail about organically distracted us enough to miss all the braking points at virtual Laguna Seca. Other drivers were nailing sub-45-second laps — far faster than any car that’s ever taken to the real circuit.

We were happy to just find an open patch of pavement to do digital donuts. Sadly, we couldn’t trick the car into doing a burnout. So there’s at least one reason to put down the Thrustmaster and hop into a real driving seat, gamers.

Unlike other Vision Gran Turismo concepts, it’s unlikely that the SRT Tomahawk will ever exist in the real world in any form. “A video game car touches millions of people,” explains Gilles, versus the relatively small crowds who can actually see an auto show concept in person.

If you own a copy of “Gran Turismo 6,” you can get your virtual Tomahawk later this summer. If you don’t, keep a close eye on future SRT products for bits and pieces of the Tomahawk (if not its drivetrain); it would be a shame if all the energy and excitement that brought the Tomahawk concept into being remained trapped in the digital realm until 2035.

SRT Tomahawk Vision Gran Turismo concept: Full specifications

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Graham Kozak

Graham Kozak – Graham Kozak drove a 1951 Packard 200 sedan in high school because he wanted something that would be easy to find in a parking lot. He thinks all the things they’re doing with fuel injection and seatbelts these days are pretty nifty too. Read more »
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2016 Dodge Viper ACR pricing announced — here’s what it will cost


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Call your homeowner’s association and lock up your pets because Dodge has opened up ordering for the sure to be insane 2016 Dodge Viper ACR.

The V10-powered, 645-hp go-kart with fangs will start at $117,895 according to a Chrysler press release. This price does not include any repairs resulting from it inevitably being driven into a lake or the 90 sets of tires you will go through in the first week of ownership.

This ACR will come with “minimal 3-speaker audio” and “manual seats,” which places the interior of the ACR just this side of a few lawn chairs and an iHome speaker. We doubt comfort and sound quality mean anything when liquefying tires and other cars on the track.

Later in the production cycle, Dodge will offer the “ACR Extreme Aero Package,” which includes an enormous wing that delivers up to 1 ton of downforce and makes the Viper look like the SRT engineers combined a Cessna with a robot snake from hell.

In addition to the big ol’ wing that is affixed to the ACR, Dodge is letting buyers customize paint colors as part of its “1 of 1” program, so you can make your Viper ACR any color you feel is most likely to frighten teens in souped-up Honda Civics at stop lights. Do you want a color that will melt your lawn the second you pull into your driveway? Dodge will let you order that color.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR

Dodge Viper ACR is back

Dodge isn’t sitting on its laurels with the two Hellcats in its stable. In fact, the brand is doubling down on speed with the 2016 Viper ACR. ACR stands for American Club Racing, and it means …

The Viper ACR’s $118K price tag puts it within a few thousand dollars of the slightly less insane Nissan GT-R; it will be interesting to see how they compete on the track.

According to Chrysler, Viper ACR production will begin in the third quarter of 2015 at the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit meaning that you will have your ACR just in time to ruin Christmas.

By Alex Hevesy

Dodge Viper ACR is back


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Dodge isn’t sitting on its laurels with the two Hellcats in its stable. In fact, the brand is doubling down on speed with the 2016 Viper ACR. ACR stands for American Club Racing, and it means the most extreme Viper built for public roads is slithering our way.

The ACR is powered by the same 8.4-liter V10 that it used last year, with the same output of 645 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. But where the ACR makes its money, where it takes its checkered flags, is in the rest of the details, starting with aero.

The 2016 Viper ACR will generate a ton of downforce. Literally a ton — 2,000 pounds, at 177 mph. That’s not enough to drive upside down, but it ain’t far off. The package comes with a 74-inch adjustable dual-element rear wing, rear carbon fiber diffuser, unique SRT hood with removable louvers, detachable extension for the front splitter and four dive planes. The total (optional) package makes three times the downforce of the Viper TA.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR interior

A new, ACR-exclusive Alcantara wrapped high-grip steering wheel with color racing stripe and unique badging sets the ACR apart from other production models. Photo by Dodge

The big rear wing isn’t the only adjustable aero part. The carbon fiber diffuser features six removable strakes that aid in straight line stability. The hood louvers can be removed for less pressure in the front wheel wells and the front splitter extension is removable.

Speed is bled off by six-piston Brembo calipers in front and four-pots in the back with Brembo Carbon Ceramic Matrix pads all around. The discs measure 15.4 inches in front and 14.2-inches in back. That makes for the largest brake pad area ever on a Viper. More area means better heat dissipation, which means better performance. The ACR also gets detachable brake ducts, which can be used on the track for even more cooling.

The Kuhmo tire company got the nod for the Viper’s rubber. The ACR is fitted with Ecsta V720s with unique tread patterns for the front and rear. Front tires are 295/25-19 and the rears are 355/30-19. Dodge says those rears provide the largest combined tire patch available on any production car. To make use of that rubber, the electronic stability control system has five settings: full on, sport, track, rain and full off.

'We just did it': The story of the Viper

‘We just did it’: The story of the Viper

With the public debut of the 2013 SRT Viper scheduled for the New York auto show, we’ve scoured the Autoweek archives to bring you some classic Viper stories from our past. For exclusive Viper Week …

Bilstien was tapped for the shocks, which have 10-way rebound and compression adjustments and 3 inches of ride height adjustment. Dodge says the front springs are rated at 600 pounds per inch while the rear springs are 1,300 pounds per inch. That’s more than double the stiffness of the Viper TA, which seems to be the common comparison here.

“This car is not a 1-3 lap track special. You can run the car at the track all day, and the performance doesn’t fall off,” said Tim Kuniskis, president and chief executive officer-Dodge Brand and SRT Brand, FCA North America.

Dodge hasn’t priced the ACR yet, but the base SRT is $87,095 — about $90K with gas guzzler and destination. The GT starts at roughly $100K and the GTS goes for $113K. The 2010 ACR package added about $13,000 onto the base price of the snake, so take that into account when you’re estimating this one.

Production begins on 1-of-1 Dodge Vipers


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Dodge has just launched its new custom Viper configurator online at The site will let prospective buyers customize their snake with literally millions of options and color combos. Mostly color combos.

Back in January, Dodge told us about its plans to offer the Viper GT Custom. Options include 8,000 hand-painted colors, 24,000 hand-painted racing stripes, 11 wheel options, 16 interior trims, seven aero packages, three brake packages, four suspension setups and a handful of standalone options. Dodge says that brings the number of total combinations to more than 25 million.

Site visitors can sit virtually inside their new cars, exploring interior options and designing their personalized instrument panel badge with the customers’ chosen name.

Viper configurator

Users can share their designs on social media, while a PDF of the image, as well as technical information, can be downloaded. Buyers even get a 1:18-scale model of their personal Viper.

The offer is only for customers, not for dealers, and Dodge will only build one of each combination. Of course, with 25 million or so to choose from, a simple hue change would probably be enough.

The noncustomizable 2015 Viper starts at $84,995, while the GTC starts at $94,995. Dealers are taking orders now; production has just begun at the company’s Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit.

Dodge Viper gets exclusive with ‘1 of 1’ program


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From now on, every Dodge Viper you see, except for the basic SRT model, will be one of a kind. Each new snake will be designed, colored and upholstered by each individual customer.

You want Knicks blue and orange with Sidewinder wheels and the TA spoiler? Sorry, Bill from Brooklyn already has that. How about you take the 10-spokes?

Consider this a response to the major marketing missteps Dodge made when it first introduced the latest Viper: It didn’t really tout that fact that each car is handmade in Detroit, with all carbon fiber hand-laid — that the 645-hp V10 is built by humans, one screw at a time. Now that’s changing.

Viper unveiled a documentary/sales-y video on Thursday showing the painstaking process of building one of America’s great supercars. Check it out at

“We want people to see the value under the skin,” said Tim Kuniskis, president and CEO of Dodge and SRT. “We want customers to know why it costs what it costs.”

The problem Dodge had (and, we’d say, still has) is that the Viper is hard to place in this market. It’s a little too brutish to be a full-on supercar, yet it’s a little too expensive to be a muscle car (though people cross-shopped it like it was one) — and down on horsepower compared to some forced-induction offerings.

Lowering the price positioned it much better to compete with the Corvettes, Hellcats and GT500s of the world. And now there’s the option of customization.

Coughing up $94,995 will get buyers into the new GTC model — as in GT Custom. Each customer will get their very own Viper concierge who will bring them through every step of the building and customizing process. They’ll end up with their own serial plaque to install on the dash or hide in a drawer.

GTC buyers get a choice of 8,000 colors, 24,000 hand-painted stripes, 10 wheel options, 16 interior trims, six aero packages and another handful of standalone options. Each one produced will literally be 1 of 1. Like we said, if you like those Knicks colors, you’ll have to choose a different interior from Bill in Brooklyn.

2013 SRT Viper drive review: America's V10 sports car is sharper, more comfortable

Your personal concierge will help you pick your options and keep you in constant contact with your car. Dodge showed us examples of emails with pictures with subject likes like, “Your Viper engine is complete” or “Chassis work has begun!” (Of course, Dodge would like you to share your build socially — it’s free advertising.)

You can pick up your 1 of 1 at the dealership like any other schmuck, or you can get delivered to your doorstep it on a “hot truck,” right after it leaves the plant. Alternately, you can pick your car up at that plant. Hot truck delivery costs extra; otherwise, destination and delivery its $2,000.

Soon Dodge will have its new configurator up and running at That one you can just play with — you don’t have to buy the Viper you configure online.

Dealers will start taking orders for the 1 of 1s in February. Production at the Conner Assembly Plant will start in the second quarter of 2015.

2015.5 Dodge Viper offers TA 2.0 package for ‘sold orders’


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The 2015.5 Dodge Viper is on sale now with a good amount of upgrades in addition to that lower ($84,995) sale price. GTS and the new TA 2.0 models will be offered for customer “sold orders,” too. That means that dealers can place a customer order (“sold” order) rather than order them to stock on their lots.

Sales of the Viper are up 26 percent year-to-date since the price decrease. Even the TA 2.0 stops at $101,995, while the GTS goes for $107,995 with standard leather, Alcantara and a Harman Kardon 18-speaker sound system. Dodge says the new base price is actually less than the 1992 model in today’s dollars.

“The jump in Viper’s September sales after we announced the new $84,995 starting price showed that the overall repositioning to competitively price Viper with the first 1992 model was on target. But that was just the start,” said Tim Kuniskis, president and CEO, Dodge and SRT. “Today, we’re expanding the Viper lineup by offering the track-ready Viper TA 2.0 and GTS models with even more content. This limited-production, hand-built supercar is the flagship of the Dodge brand, and we will continue to show our commitment to its future.”

Mopar will bring Dodge Viper ACR Challenger T A concepts to SEMA

The Viper’s massive 8.4-liter V10 makes 645 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque only when paired with a six-speed Tremec manual transmission. In the base model, it comes with Brembo brakes, 18-/19-inch Rattler wheels, HID headlights and LED daytime running lights. Inside, buyers get a 7-inch reconfigurable driver information display, 8.4-inch Uconnect Touch multimedia center with Parkview rear backup camera, 3-D navigation with Sirius XM and Travel Link, SRT Performance Pages, launch control, 12-Speaker Harman Kardon audio system, three-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel, Keyless Enter ‘N Go, push-button start and power adjustable pedals.

Upgrading to the GT model nets you Napa leather, Viper-badged aluminum sill plates, a two-mode sport suspension, five-mode ESC system, better brakes and power seats.

The new TA 2.0 Special Edition comes with even more goodies, including a high-performance aero package, competition rear spoiler and front lower dive planes for increased downforce and improved handling on the track, two-piece Brembo rotors, 18-/19-inch Sidewinder wheels, Pirelli P Zero Corsa Tires, carbon-fiber structural X-Brace, rear carbon-fiber applique, TA front splitter, TA aero wing assembly kit, TA front decal, TA sill decal, interior accent stitching and car cover.

Finally, there’s the GTS. The top Viper gets unique wheels and badging, Napa leather and the good sound system. The Ceramic Blue Edition differentiates the car even more with blue paint, black stripes, orange brake calipers and a rear carbon-fiber appliqué.

The 2015.5 Viper will start arriving in dealerships in the first quarter of 2015.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat review notes


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ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It’s hard to not have had the 707-hp rating of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat pounded into your head. It’s been advertised everywhere. It’s an alarming amount of power in a street car. It is well above the 640 ponies that the V10 in the Viper churns out, which is a terrifying car if you don’t respect it. Then again, we’re talking about the large and hefty Challenger. The Hellcat with a manual transmission weighs 4,449 pounds. Maybe it does need over 700 ponies to get moving really quick…

Unlike the Viper, which is really close to being a street-legal race car, the Challenger is definitely well suited to cruise the streets in comfort and be low key — unless it’s painted Sublime green pearl like our test car. In silver, white, black or gray it doesn’t look too different from an SRT8 392. If you can resist mashing the gas pedal to the floor from every stop, the Hellcat behaves like a docile pet. Roll gingerly onto the throttle and the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 isn’t obnoxiously loud and won’t draw attention. The clutch isn’t overly heavy and it’s easy to operate smoothly. The six-speed shifter has longish throws, but slots into gears slick enough. Steering has a satisfying amount of weight tuned into it. And the brakes are massively strong and get this hunk of metal slowed in a hurry (more on those later).

Being such a big car, the back seat can actually accommodate two adults in decent comfort, and the trunk is gigantic.

The refreshed interior looks much more inviting with central controls that are angled towards the driver. Materials are better with accent stitching, and the knurled trim pieces look nice. Seats feature large side bolsters and can easily hold larger-framed folks.

Overall exterior appearance is still more or less the same as it’s always been, and remains old-school cool, in my opinion. The new rear light treatments do look good, though.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat review notes

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat review notes

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I see the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat has two key fobs. The red one opens the gates of, um, hell; the black one kills the horsepower, while Valet mode locks out first gear, …

Eventually, you’ll give in to temptation and pin the gas pedal (when you find a nice, straight patch of pavement, that is). It’s a grin-inducing experience. The Hellcat leaps forward with the wheels spinning wildly through the first few gears (not shockingly, it will do a wicked burnout, too). As I experienced with the Viper, launch control doesn’t seem to yield the best launches, allowing way too much tire spin and smoke. I had my best luck getting out and away away modulating the throttle myself. I’m definitely no John Force, but I think I got out of the box respectably.

Our office drag-racing expert was able to cover the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds at 125.4 mph, which as always are uncorrected, really-did-happen results. He hit 60 mph with our manual test car in 4.2 seconds. Those results are OK, I suppose.

What were really shocking were our braking results from 60 mph. According to our Vbox test unit, the Hellcat stopped from 60 in 102.3 feet. Another run returned 105.2 feet.

Through the slalom, the Hellcat felt like a battleship. It really just looked comical–it was so out of its element there. Around the skidpad, it wasn’t so great, either.

I’m normally a road-course guy, and I appreciate cars that handle well, but I respect the heck out of Dodge and SRT for building the Hellcat. It’s insane, but very cool that they stuffed over 700 ponies under the hood. You can’t help but have a lot of fun with something like this. And the fact that it’s really comfortable and offers a fair amount of practicality from a cargo and people carrying ability standpoint scores it some points.

Just be ready to pony up for gas (the best fuel reading I got on a tank was 14.1 mpg) and rear tires ($497 each from Tire Rack).                         

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: This thing is hilarious. You can short shift into second gear around a corner, and then just stomp the gas pedal to send up plumes of smoke to whoever is behind you. It’s laugh-out-loud fun, even on a Monday morning.

Unfortunately, it rained half the weekend I had it, so I couldn’t enjoy this car as much as I really wanted to. Like the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, the rear will just step out, at any rpm, on wet roads. I’d actually be a little nervous if I had to floor it on the expressway in the rain.

As for complaints, all I have is a few little ones. The armrest doesn’t reach far enough to hold your elbow when you’re in the odd gears; it just rests on the cupholder hole. The trunk and spoiler feel a little flimsy, and it does drone on the expressway at 80 mph, which could get annoying after a few hours, or years.

Otherwise, for $60K, you can’t have any more fun than this. It’s more drivable on the street than the Mustang GT500, but probably not as drivable as the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Still, it would demolish that Camaro in drag a race. If you want a drivable, high-output ponycar, and don’t have a non-Mopar brand preference, this is probably the one.

Power comes on like a waterfall, and doesn’t give up until the driver runs out of heart, or balls. Do you need 700-plus horsepower? Of course not. Is it freakin’ awesome? Hell yes.

I still think the Challenger is the best-looking of the three ponycars, but I just never loved it because it was so portly. This Hellcat takes the visual aggressiveness up a notch. The big front splitter is cool, the hood looks insane and the black wheels and big brakes make it look like a straight drag racer. I would black out the windows on this one. Ah, imagine black on black on black, that’s how I would spec this car out.

The Hellcat doesn’t feel super heavy like its lower-powered stable mates. I’m sure that’s a function of the stiffer suspension and 225 or so extra horsepower. It does feel heavy sometimes, though, like when the aforementioned tail is swinging out, yanking the front along with it. Direction-change feel is well beyond the SRT and basic models.

If the choice was between this, the ZL1 and GT500 for a daily driver….I’d have to take this. Lots of space in both the front and back seats, and I tossed a set of golf clubs in the trunk from 10 feet away. You have to cut your clubs in half to fit them in the Camaro. Of course, if I was looking for track work, it would be the GT500, power, weight and all that.

I’d love for each of the Big Three to drop a new, uber-ponycar model at the same time, and then let the sales numbers do the talking.


2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat review notes burn rubber

You can’t help but have fun in a car like the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Photo by Jonathan Wong

ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: We’ve been over the Hellcat before. It’s an impressive, unnecessary, impressively unnecessary beast. You’ll get the nod from those in the know wherever you drive. It’s the sort of car that transcends brand loyalties (at least until other automakers release competitors).

Up to this point, I’ve not been trusted me with anything other than the eight-speed automatic-equipped versions. That transmission is very good, and not really philosophically unacceptable given this car’s drag racing intent. But if you’re contemplating a Hellcat, you owe it to yourself to drive both the auto and manual versions — the six-speed here substantially alters the driving experience.

I won’t say that the manual is better or worse (though it’s certainly not as comfortable in stop-and-go as the eight-speed), but it does make the already-intense car feel even more visceral, somehow. The supercharger whine seemed louder. The shifts, harder (all right, that was probably my fault). The stakes, higher. You do have to put more thought into driving this one than the auto version. Downshift into second before taking a 90-degree corner? Sure — if you like excessive wheelspin.

Beyond that, you’ll enjoy the Hellcat’s ride refinement and improved interior quality — both superior to what’s found in a regular Challenger, as a night in an R/T Shaker demonstrated. This car wallows far less, and you can actually push it into a corner if you dare. The interior looks and feels nicer.

We could easily say this about any exotic car we get in the fleet, but you really owe it to yourself to take a spin in a Hellcat if you have the chance. It’s intoxicating, stress-relieving, hair-raising, ludicrously overpowered and shockingly drivable, all at once. 

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat engine

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is equipped with a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 cranking out 707 hp with 650 lb-ft of torque. Photo by Josh Scott

ASSOCIATE WESTCOAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: The last vehicle America bestowed with the name “Hellcat” was the Grumman F6F Hellcat, the rugged Navy fighter that dominated the Pacific theater and destroyed more Mitsubishi products than the Eclipse’s thrust bearings. There was also a tank destroyer, and before both was Mary Todd Lincoln, so the Dodge Challenger Hellcat finds itself in thoroughly admirable company.

That’s good. Because there are two narratives with the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, and we only hear one: it is a handful, it has more power than God, it is a Motley Crue concert on wheels, and if you mess up it will destroy your life. Why else would it be called “Hellcat”? I mean, what would you expect from 707 hp? What would you expect from a car company that once made a product called the “Demon”? Only, the Hellcat narrative that I experienced flies in the face of the other narrative — my time suggests that the Hellcat is a perfectly tractable car, André the Giant clutching a newborn kitten. The Hellcat is possibly the most polarizing car on sale today, and it certainly deserves it. 

2014 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe review notes

2014 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe review notes

ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Hats off to whoever designed the traction control system on this 2014 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 coupe. You’re an American hero. In the absolutely drenched roads I …

Don’t let anyone tell you the Hellcat isn’t an adept canyon carver — pitch it too fast into a corner, stab the throttle, and feel the rear end slide perfectly through the hairpin, and away you go. It feels like steering a BMW M4 from the roof. Keep the revs down and the throttle light, and the Hellcat is as easy to drive as anything built in this century. First gear is so tall that you could conceivably drive across the country at any posted speed limit, spinning at the same rpm as a Mazda MX-5 Miata in sixth. Oops, something smells funny, better shift to second — it revs so fast that the entire gauge cluster blinks red, as if saying, “YOU’RE GONNA DIE! DON’T DIE! ” “I want to live,” you shout, and you grab a fistful of shifter — rubbery and light, not springy at all, surprisingly unlike the proverbial bolt-action rifle, more like a tuned trigger on an AR-15. We hear the eight-speed is excellent, but the long-armed manual shifter invites an eight-ball knob. The clutch is heavy, but grabs evenly. Whoever engineered the brakes deserves a Nobel Prize in Physics.

And then, press its throttle all the way down, go on, you know you want to, and the Hellcat becomes a rampaging beast that it is, its full 707 hp on tap…it invites overblown hyperbole. Turning the traction control off probably puts you on an NSA watchlist. “Launch Control” should really be renamed “Burnout Control.”  This car is your buddy who keeps yelling at you, “DON’T BE A WUSS!”

Yes, you can be a gentle giant in the Hellcat. You can go a lifetime without ever taking it above 4,000 rpm and you can go a full 10, 20 seconds without being warned by a Klaxon to shift. It’s just more fun — easy, simpleminded, etc — to be seduced by the first narrative and embrace the idea that you have to trounce the throttle at every stoplight, the idea that you’ll go too fast into a corner with the traction control off and nearly sideswipe a guardrail, then go to happy hour at Chili’s with your buddies and telling them how “I drove a Hellcat and I survived!” The Hellcat, by its very name, invites all of this. Otherwise, they would’ve called this the Challenger GT, or something equally uninspiring. 

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat interior two

The interior of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat has plenty of room to accommodate four adults comfortably. Photo by Josh Scott

By Autoweek editors

Base Price: $60,990

As Tested Price: $62,080

Drivetrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V8; RWD, six-speed manual

Output: 707 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 650 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Curb Weight: 4,449 lb

Fuel Economy: 13/21/16 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Observed Fuel Economy: 11.6 mpg

Options: Uconnect 8.4AN AM/FM/SXM/HD/BT/NAV, GPS navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM traffic including 5-year service, SiriusXM travel link including 5-year subscription ($695); 275/40 ZR20 summer performance tires ($395)

Chrysler previews concept cars ahead of SEMA Show


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We’re just a few weeks away from the opening of the SEMA show in Las Vegas, the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association’s tuning extravaganza, and Chrysler has has just released a few previews of its show cars from all the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brands. That means Mopars will be rubbing shoulders with Abarths, and commercial vehicles won’t be overlooked either.

Chrysler will have a total of 11 cars on display, from Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, SRT, and Fiat brands. Concept cars will include a Chrysler 200S, Fiat 500 by Abarth, a Fiat 500L, two Jeep Renegades, a Ram Promaster van, a Ram 2500 truck, a Dodge Dart, a Dodge Challenger T/A, a Dodge Charger, and an SRT Viper. Chrysler has not released any further details about the cars that’ll be on display, but there will be plenty of other tuners using Chrysler cars as showcases for their respective wares.

This year’s SEMA show is scheduled to run from November 4 through 7 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Stay tuned to for the latest from the show.

First Challenger SRT Hellcat sells for $825,000


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The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat VIN0001 sold for $825,000 at the Las Vegas Barrett-Jackson Auction on Saturday night. To the surprise of no one, Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and serial VIN0001-buyer, bought the 707-hp collectable.

The sale benefitted Opportunity Village, a non-profit charity that serves people with intellectual disabilities in the Las Vegas area. The Engelstadt Family Foundation matched the auction price, bringing the donation to $1.65 million.

Hendrick already owns the first 2015 Chevy Corvette Z06, the first Corvette Stingray and the first Camaro ZL1. That’s a pretty good collection for anyone not named Leno. Feel free to speculate on what else is in his garage.

“The $1.65 million raised by auctioning this one-of-one Dodge Challenger Hellcat at this year’s Barrett-Jackson auction means the most powerful muscle car ever will also have a very powerful impact on the people who benefit from the services of Opportunity Village,” said Tim Kuniskis, President and CEO, Dodge and SRT Brands, Chrysler Group LLC. “The VIN0001 muscle car was not only one of the hottest cars that rolled through the Barrett-Jackson auction lanes, it is also the ultimate collectible 2015 Dodge Challenger as Dodge is ensuring there will never be another one like it.”

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat first drive

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat first drive

It was comical, really. A bunch of journalists, lined up on the drag strip at Portland International Raceway, waiting to take their turn in the 707-hp 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, one after the …

VIN0001 gets a special coat of stryker red paint, a color normally reserved for the Dodge Viper. It also includes special Hellcat badges on the instrument panel and supercharger, specific VIN documentation and some extra memorabilia. Hendrick gets a Hemi orange presentation box with an electronic build book of 0001 along with a video documentary of the build on an iPad mini. The iPad has a special Hellcat case and a Hellcat lithograph.

“We are so unbelievably thankful for the support of Dodge and Barrett-Jackson,” Linda Smith, Associate Executive Director, Opportunity Village, stated. “We are touched by their amazing generosity and support of our mission here to support individuals with disabilities by giving them the chance to lead independent and fulfilling lives.”

Check out our drive review of the tire-slaying SRT Hellcat here.

Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat gets official EPA numbers


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The sinister 707-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat will return 22 miles per gallon on long expressway jaunts if you manage to keep your foot off the throttle. Also, that number is the official EPA figure only with the company’s new eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. If you get the manual, it’s 21 mpg.

City driving will net you about 13 mpg with either transmission. We’d guess most drivers will probably hit that number in combined driving, considering the Hellcat is in its prime when the throttle is pinned to the floor.

“The new 2015 Dodge Challenger is the perfect street/ strip muscle car,” said Tim Kuniskis, president and CEO, Dodge and SRT brands. “The Challenger Hellcat can run 10-second ETs at the track, and then get 22 miles per gallon on the drive home. With a starting price of $59,995, there’s nothing else that even comes close.”

He’s mostly right. The 700-hp Lamborghini Aventador roadster gets 18 mpg; the 583-hp Mercedes SLS AMG gets 19 mpg; and the 664-hp Ford Mustang GT500, at 24 mpg, only rates two clicks higher than the Hellcat. Of course, these are all highway figures.

Dodge also notes that the Hellcat is designed for durability, which is something we’ve been thinking about lately, especially after having the car in our fleet for a few days. To wit, the Challenger has a forged-steel crankshaft, heat-treated cylinder heads, integral charge coolers and two air/coolant heat exchangers. On the manual, the gearbox gets an internal cooling pump, external oil cooler and a 258-mm heavy-duty clutch.

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat goes on sale in the first quarter of next year.

Watch the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat destroy its tires

2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat burnout

News and pricing on the 707-hp 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat broke yesterday ahead of the company’s July 22 embargo. That means we can talk about everything but the driving experience, which …

Challenger Hellcat dealer ordering open, with a twist


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Dodge will open dealer ordering for its new 707-hp 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat today, but the brand is changing its normal allocation methods to make sure the high-powered coupe gets into the hands of waiting enthusiasts.
Dodge will base Hellcat dealer allocation on the total number of Dodge vehicles a dealer has sold within the last 180 days, including everything from Dart to Durango to Viper, brand head Tim Kuniskis said.

In December, a second allocation calculation will be made based on the previous 90-days’ sales performance, as well as a traditional 30-day inventory turn.

The dealer allocation for the Challenger Hellcat rewards the dealers “that are selling the Dodge brand,” Kuniskis said. “You sell a lot of Darts for me, Journeys for me, Durangos for me, I’m going to give you the rights to this one, too, because this is a halo of the brand.”

After the initial allocation, Dodge will also begin to measure the Hellcat’s days-on-lot and use it as a factor to determine the number of Challenger SRT Hellcats a dealer will get, Kuniskis said.

The longer a Hellcat sits without being sold — as it might if it were to have a $10,000 or $20,000 market adjustment on it — relative to those on other dealer lots, the fewer future Hellcat vehicles a dealer will receive, the Dodge brand boss explained.

“It’s going to be a nightmare, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” Kuniskis said, adding that he has no issue with market pricing, and said dealers have a right to do so.

Watch the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat destroy its tires

2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat burnout

News and pricing on the 707-hp 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat broke yesterday ahead of the company’s July 22 embargo. That means we can talk about everything but the driving experience, which …

Most powerful

The 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat is due in Chrysler dealerships in the third quarter. The supercharged V-8 is the most powerful production car ever built by Chrysler, and has 7 more horsepower than the $400,000 Lamborghini Aventador.

“If you want to market-adjust the car, that’s your right. But if your days-on-lot goes above what the other guys that are selling them at MSRP is, they will end up earning the allocation because their days-on-lot will be lower. They’re turning the inventory,” Kuniskis said. “Some dealers are going to have heartburn with that.”

But, he said, “I want this car out in the marketplace so that somebody is sharing it with 50 of their friends and elevating the brand. That’s what I want; not sitting in your showroom with a rope around it. I want people driving these cars, talking about them, revving the engine and having everybody go ‘I want one of those.’ That’s why you build a halo car.”

Kuniskis said Dodge “worked hard” to price the Challenger SRT Hellcat at what he called an attainable $60,990, including shipping, “but that all goes out the window if this car ends up with $20,000 market adjustments on it.”

By Larry P. Vellequette