It's been six years since the word "Hellcat" didn't mean anything to anybody except for being America's premier carrier-based fighter plane during WWII. Its spinning three-bladed Hamilton Standard prop-driven by a 2,000hp Pratt & Whitney 18-cylinder Double Wasp engine-was often the last thing Mitsubishi Zero pilots saw behind them before splashing the Pacific. It's no wonder Dodge's SRT division chose the name for its not-so-secret street weapon, the SRT Hellcat
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Like most red-blooded boys born in America during the 1960s, I had a thirst for all things military and performance. My room was festooned with all manner of model kits, posters, unreturned library books, and magazines, as if it had been dipped in Elmer's glue and subjected to a box of corn flakes being dumped in front of a huge, spinning fan. My thirst for performance could not be slaked, and upon reaching driving age in 1979 at the nadir of Yankee performance, all hope seemed lost.© Hot Rod Network Staff
Ultimately, that desire to taste real power-the kind that pushed you back in your seat like the hand of God-had been subverted by wanting to write for car magazines. With all the fabrication chops and engine-building skills of an 11-year-old, my life as merely an observer of all things cool seemed a done deal. Then came the fall of 2014, when news of the first SRT Hellcat arrived. My story-like many of yours-was about to change.
The calculus was brutally simple: For around $35 a day (a rough estimate that includes insurance and a few gallons of fuel every month), anybody with credit could own and drive a 707hp muscle car. No engine-building skill, no special welding gear, no crash course in chassis fabrication required. The fact that California even allowed me to drive one on the street without involving fines and jail time was surely a sign from God himself. "Boy, this is your big chance," He whispered into my ear one Saturday morning in April 2017.
That day, I chose a 2017 Hellcat Challenger, fully loaded and slathered in arrest-me Yellowjacket Yellow. You will get arrested, as I soon discovered, but the paint won't have anything to do with it. God's invisible hand apparently works in other ways besides pushing you back into the seat, so nearly three years hence, my insuranceless Hellcat sat in the garage, like a radioactive helicopter used to evacuate Chernobyl. I needed a ride to Tucson for Roadkill's Zip-Tie Drags-pretty much an event designed for cars the opposite of the Hellcat-and I didn't have a car.© Hot Rod Network Staff
Fortunately, I knew some folks who had one I could borrow. Satan wasn't using one of his hoopties on planet Earth that week, so FCA's PR machine dropped off a 2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat Widebody at the Hunkins resort in the remote California desert. I'd driven a couple of the new-for-2020 Widebody Charger Hellcats at Sonoma last fall, evoking a few Hail Marys while riding shotgun with SRT development engineer Jim Wilder. This particular example, with its Octane Red paint, dual silver stripes, and 20x11-inch Warp Speed wheels, cast a spell the moment it rolled up.
After grabbing a few photos with help from my wife, I loaded up and headed out. The trunk is huge and swallowed all my bags and photo gear with room to spare, but I missed having the push-button on the trunk that both the family Challengers have. Juggling junk piled high in my arms, I dug the remote out of my pocket to pop the trunk-something that customers with Challengers won't have to do.© Hot Rod Network Staff
Here's where I load up the musket and fire away at the Hellcat's Uconnect system, a feature I categorically loathe and the only really dark spot in an otherwise perfect machine. Disclaimer: I'm in the minority here, but this rant is the real deal. I didn't spend my kid's college fund on a Hellcat to be "connected." I got it to be disconnected-as much as is feasible these days. I would actually pay a premium for a Udisconnect option. (OK, I'd pay a dollar.) It's as if someone dropped a software engineering intern with failing grades into my dashboard and for some reason she's begging me to take her surfing in Santa Cruz. I don't need a constant stream of billboard-sized weather bulletins from hundreds of miles away, especially when it blocks both my GPS guidance and my meditation-channel playlist. If I wanna know the weather, I'll look out the windshield.
On a related subject, don't expect to plug your phone into the USB port just to charge it-no, that would be an obvious function of a USB port in a car. Doing so will render both the car's nav/infotainment system and your phone unusable until you agree to let a third-party app developer (who hired the same failing software engineering intern, I think) have access to your cellphone. Not cool. I had to dig the cigar-lighter USB charger out of my Hellcat Challenger and throw in the towel all over again. Rant over.© Hot Rod Network Staff
That beef was forgotten by the time I hit the I-10 on-ramp in Palm Springs. I still can't fully fathom that pushing down on the accelerator pedal-which has no mechanical connection to the throttle save the shared quantum state of its electrons-can unleash Hell's tempest like it does. Provided you revel in the whine of the intercooled IHI-sourced positive-displacement blower, the 370-cube Hemi with forged internals will paint a smile on your face, even if you forget to turn off the traction control.
"The word is, as long as there's liquid carbon in the ground, there will be loud Hemis for us to drive. "
Among Pentastar cognoscenti, there's the deeply held belief that Dodge and FCA plan to ride the muscle car wave to the very end. The word is, as long as there's liquid carbon in the ground, there will be loud Hemis for us to drive. If this is true, SRT isn't saying so, but the sentiment runs deep. If you ever attend the Spring Festival of Lx in Pomona, you'll see Dodge designers, SRT engineers, even FCA top brass milling about with fanboys as if it were a customer appreciation day at Area 51. (Still no sign of that idiot software-writing intern yet.) That's where-in March 2019-SRT showed up with a camoed prototype Widebody Hellcat Charger to tease in front of tens of thousands of fanatics at Spring Fest 14.© Hot Rod Network Staff
Headed to Tucson 10 months later, I found myself driving the very same production item and recalling a conversation I'd had with L.A.-based lifestyle writer Marcus Amick. We'd both agreed it looked as if FCA were going to stay with it to the bitter end, to which Marcus coined the phrase "ride that stuff out," and perhaps not in those exact words. Indeed, "RTSO" is becoming a comforting meme on the eve of a new era with self-driving electric cars, hyperloops, bicycle lanes, and high-speed rail. Some of us dinosaurs just like the old ways and the old days, and to us, the 2020 Widebody Hellcat Charger is the horse we're riding into battle.
"Some of us dinosaurs just like the old ways and the old days, and to us, the 2020 Widebody Hellcat Charger is the horse we're riding into battle. "
Palm Springs to Tucson is one of those undulating drives that reminds you of how great it is to live in America. The Hemi, reduced to a distant thrum by the well-isolated LC platform, settled into a solid 21 mpg. (We'll pause for a moment while you roll the cognitive dissonance of 707 hp and 21 mpg around in your head.) That meant just one fuel stop instead of the three it would've required with my almost equally powerful Wedge-motivated '68 Plymouth Valiant. The scenery was breathtaking as I passed by the Colorado River and into the Sonoran desert. By the time I reached the trademark snaggle-toothed peaks of Picacho Peak State Park, I had all but forgotten about the hungry horses that waited underhood. Other than a brief moment when I came upon a four-door 1966 Fairlane packed with fans headed to Zip-Tie, the throttle pedal pretty much stayed at Church Lady angle-that is, until it didn't.© Hot Rod Network Staff
For most of us, normal driving is the mode most often experienced with a Hellcat. And although there is a sinister arsenal of weaponry that awaits any driver who dares open that cabinet, just know that this is a car you can toss a parking valet or youngster the key fob to without worrying. I've noticed that Hellcats are smart in the sense that they readily learn how they're being driven and conform to that driver's style. If you're the Tasmanian Devil, it's going to feel insane behind the wheel most of the time, but if you're the Church Lady, then head out to Wednesday night bingo without fear. The real fun starts when you boot the Hellcat a few times in the arse, and it starts hanging in numerically lower gears (there are eight of them) at higher rpm for longer periods of time. That's where the hair-raising torque lives. Nailing the gas when the Hellcat is feeling frisky is exhilarating-just keep your head on a swivel in case there are gendarmes nearby.
It's crazy to read the harsh criticisms on the Web that the Widebody Hellcat Charger doesn't have a more powerful engine than the narrow-body version. In point of fact, the wider tire patch and overall increased track width is a huge advantage, and not just in the looks department, which is substantial and worthwhile on that basis alone. The added grip the 305-section tires provides versus the narrowbody's 275-size tires is noticeable from the first power-drunk tip of the throttle, and it continues into the first high-pucker turn. Grip is so good, in fact, that if you've ever driven the narrow version, you'll swear the Widebody you're driving is having an off day. If there's anything negative to say about the Widebody's performance, it's that it feels tamer than the narrowbody's. In reality, those big meats are giving you the extra driving talent (that you don't deserve) to go with that big engine, awesome chassis, and gigantic brake package. Just make sure to check your ego when you sit in that seat.© Hot Rod Network Staff
Waiting in line at Tucson Dragway, the Widebody stuck out like a sore thumb, which wouldn't normally be the case, except this was Roadkill's Zip-Tie Drags. Spit-polished 5-second Camaros with owners who overnight in $300 per night hotel suites, this was not. As I disgorged my gear from the trunk, the Widebody attracted a crowd of the curious. After all, this is a supercar that just happens to be (barely) affordable to the rank and file enthusiast. In most parts of the country, $35 a day is the same as a rent payment-a number people can easily wrap their heads around.
Sensible people might think a $1,000/month car payment on a Widebody Hellcat is insane, but what SRT has discovered-and not by accident-is that the Hellcat is not a transportation appliance so much as it is a portal to a certain time and a place-a lifestyle-that everybody thought was closed to them. But it's better than that. In a restive world where many Americans find themselves increasingly marginalized, the Widebody Hellcat is comfort that a few dedicated enthusiasts at FCA have our backs, even if it's more aspirational than practical. RTSO, baby!
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