I pop the clutch and slam the accelerator, and my dad’s cowboy hat flies off. His passenger seat leans back under the massive G-force and, briefly, I think he’s going to tumble into the back seat. Sorry, pop. The rear of the Dodge Challenger skews sideways, Pirelli tyres battling for grip and losing the good fight. Thick curlicue coils of tyre smoke erupt under the rear wheels.
And yet the Dodge muscle car is only crabbing forward, rear tires spinning so furiously that they seem to be scrubbing the road clean. I let off the power, ever so slightly, and the tyres get just enough traction to catch, and kablam! We’re off. My father looks over at me, smiling slightly. “Just where have I gone wrong, son?” he asks, clowning around.
Now we’re moving, fast, the full 881Nm of torque catapulting us down the road. “Hey!” His smile falters, then slides clean off. “Jason, stop it now. That’s enough.”
Of course, it isn’t. I’m fully into the gas now, and the car seems to be reverberating all around us, a thudding frequency most often heard from heavy farm machinery and M1 Abrams tanks. We hit a bump in the road, unsettling the chassis. I’m laughing, maniacally. His face turns red. My father doesn’t scare easily, but he’s never been in a car quite like the Hellcat.
I hit 97 km/h in first gear, then kick in the clutch and pull down the shifter into second. The road is sliding underneath us at an alarming pace, fence posts on either side clicking by like reels in an eight-millimetre film.
Then, the first yellow sign that reads, “Pavement ends.” I look over at dad, wonder if that’s his life flashing before his eyes. Then I haul on the brakes.
There is no conceivable need for the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. In some other form, I suppose, its 6.2-litre, supercharged Hemi V8 could be used to power a Navy destroyer, or open and shut the gates of the Hoover Dam, or just shove the San Andreas Fault back in the right direction.
But, no, instead Chrysler’s Dodge division decided it needed to outfit the special Challenger model with an oxygen-gurgling heart that produces 527kW. That’s more powerful than most exotic supercars. And then they gave it a starting price of about $60,000 (R660 939).
For whatever reason, muscle cars are very much still part of the conversation when it comes to American vehicles, efficiency and practicality be damned. And the Challenger, a big beefy slab of throwback Detroit metal, has long been eclipsed by Ford’s Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro. Its masters decided it was time to be heard. Enter the Hellcat.
(Only a killjoy would ask about its economy. OK, fine: 21l/100km in the city, 13.5l/100km on the highway. That’s still better than many a Rolls-Royce or Lamborghini.)
It should be noted that the 2015 Challenger can be had in all kinds of variants, including the base V6 that starts well short of $30,000 (R330 175) and gets a very sane 9.4l/100km. That car is more stylish than the Hellcat, with brightwork and details like the double grille that show attention to detail. It’s a very cool car indeed.
The first model-year Challenger was born in the 1970s and was reborn in 2008. This new generation has the same broad shoulders and swaying hips as the first models. But with only two doors and sheet metal that stretches on for days, it neither looks nor plays the part of a modern sports car, let alone a crowd-pleasing crossover or sensible sedan.
Backing up for a moment to me and my dad and the Hellcat: I’d flown to northern New Mexico, where my family lives, and where Dodge had managed to procure me a Hellcat. I could think of few other places on Earth where I could better exploit the powertrain with fewer constraints.
We caravaned out to the desert where prairie dogs outnumbered humans some thousands to none. There was nobody to complain or even observe all that noise and tyre smoke.
It was time to lay rubber.
One might think that, as an adult, we would outgrow the joy of a burnout. In fact, as a teenager, I don’t think I ever performed that act. (The spirit was willing but the equipment wanting. My first car was a Nissan Sentra.)
The Hellcat comes as a standard six-speed manual transmission or very slick eight-speed automatic. It’s equally easy to burn out in either. And it goes like this.
In sport mode, with traction control still fully on, slam on the gas. Hang on to the wheel and keep it pointed straight. Control the front wheels, which have suddenly gone light because the hood is lifting heavenward. Look in the rearview mirror; observe smoke. Let off the gas slightly. Proceed onward in orderly fashion, pretending that high-definition strips of rubber left on road are in no way related to your Challenger muscle car.
I gave rides to my entire family. My older cousin Tim (smile fixed, maybe terrified), my 20-something cousin Dustin (gleeful; he might have whooped). My stepdad Mark (His co- workers surrounded the car like hungry vultures.) And my grandmother, who had just celebrated her 97th birthday. (She thought the Challenger was “very pretty.”)
Fun was had by the whole family. And what more could any prodigal son ask for?
Engine: 6.2-litre supercharged V8
Transmission: Six-speed manual
0-100km/h: 2.9 seconds (Claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 21l/100km (City), 13.5l/100km (Highway)
Best feature: Wild, mad fun.
Worst feature: Trying not to access that wild, mad fun.
–Jason H. Harper is the motoring correspondent for Bloomberg News. There are no current plans to sell the Dodge Challenger in the South African market.