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by Daniel Stern
2010 was a do-or-die year for Mopar at SEMA, what with the uncertainty about the future of Mopar Performance under the Italian command of Fiat. It looks as though we needn't have worried; a load of hot new cars and concepts were revealed, and top personnel spoke passionately about what's here now and what's in the pipeline.
Mopar CEO and President Pietro Gorlier enthusiastically presided over the new-vehicle launch, with substantial help from Dodge CEO and Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles. Gilles is on record saying cars must adapt to evolving technology while retaining aesthetic and cosmetic appeal, and the ability to add more technology will be crucial to sales success. "Technology is going to be the trump card -- absolutely, without question ... making the active interface the reason people buy a car in the future," he said, adding that he expects car design to change in the next decade as designers adapt to hybrids and electric cars, and challenged the design community to "dig deep and really try to freak each other out a bit."
Regarding the current crop of new vehicles, Gilles said “We created an amazing cast of Mopar image vehicles for SEMA; as all of our new vehicles arrive in dealerships this year, we want to inspire customization and personalization. Our Mopar image vehicles will definitely turn heads.”
And then came the "show" part of his show-and-tell; he revealed the new Challengers. First on stage was the 2011 SRT-8 with a new 392 (…yes! That's 6.4 litres, but call it a 392 like it says on the valve covers unless you're looking to get whupped) HEMI™ producing 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque—that's 90 more lb·ft from 20 fewer cubic inches compared to last year's 6.1. There'll be 1492 of these Inaugural Edition SRT8 392s built, with either white-striped blue or blue-striped white paint; 392 have been assigned for sale in Canada. The announcement featured a special model with silver-and-blue paint—the particular shade is a vigorous nod to yesterday's popular B5 blue—and custom bodywork conceived and applied by Rich Evans.
Gilles said “We consciously tuned the 392 for a lot more torque, as that is what truly creates the thrust that sets you back in the seat and keeps you there. We can’t wait to see our customers’ reactions when they get behind the wheel and put their foot on the throttle; it is so responsive and a blast to drive.”
The new 392 has variable cam timing and an active intake manifold, amidst other high technology. Zero-to-60 time in the high 4-second range is claimed, and quarter-mile ETs in the high 12s. Top speed of the 6-speed manual model is 180 mph, a blistering pace made possible in part by a new, more aerodynamically-advanced front air dam and lip spoiler. Versions with the five-speed automatic get the MDS technology that runs the engine on four cylinders to save fuel when the driver's not demanding power. There's also a new deeper-throated exhaust system, a redesigned interior with new three-spoke steering wheel, new seats with power lumbar support—the driver’s one has positional memory—and an easier-to-reach seatback latch to make it easier to get in and out of the back seat.
Finishing touches include special Mopar quad exhaust tips and 20" SRT wheels. There are pearl white leather-trimmed seats and twin blue stripes with blue stitching, with an embroidered "392" on the head restraints. A special “Inaugural Edition 392 HEMI” plaque showing the sequence number of the car will also be conspicuously applied to the dashboard.
Handling has also been sharpened with a new suspension dial-in and new power steering calibration for quicker steering and better cornering—0.93 Gs on the skidpad—all without sacrificing a comfortable ride.
The 392 SRT8 isn't quite the top of the Challenger line, though; there's a hairier, wilder version for a handful of people who want to go racing very, very fast. The Challenger V10 Drag Pack, the world's first factory-built V10 drag car, comes equipped with a 2-speed transmission, full roll cage, stripped interior, fuel cell, and full-race gauge package, amongst other equipment. It is not even remotely street-legal, and only seven will be built.
From there it was on to the Charger Red Line—the public début of the 2011 Charger range. There's refined front and rear styling, Xenon headlights, and on the Red Line, 20" wheels, a blackout roof, LED taillights, and Mopar Performance intake, headers, and exhaust. The tuned suspension lowers the car by an inch. Power comes from a 5.7-liter HEMI® engine under a unique aluminum hood. There's a side scoop that reminds the faithful of that on the '70 Charger R/T. A Mopar strut tower brace stiffens the car for better handling.
Inside, everything's red and black, with chrome bezels and reveals. Mopar Katzkin performance seats are trimmed in Radar Red nappa leather with bright red stitching, and an SRT steering wheel contains prototype paddle shift controls.
Then there's the Durango Citadel "Black & Tan", built up with 22″ wheels and a black and tan exterior-interior color scheme that reminds of some very fast cars (not to mention some very good beers). The black exterior houses an all-new interior created by the new Chrysler interior studio tasked to set new standards in American build quality and vehicle occupant comfort. The design features premium materials and three rows of seats upholstered in rich tan nappa leather.
New 2011 models weren't the only hot cars shown off by the Mopar brigade, though; there was also blues guitarist-singer-songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s 1964 Dodge 330 with a gen-3 426 Hemi making gobs of green power. Green? Yep; it's got fuel injection and catalytic converters and its breath is sweet enough to keep up with modern cars. It was a cooperative effort between Mopar and Kenny; Mopar will be logging data as Kenny drives it.
All these cars were the work of a crack talent dream team called The Mopar Underground—a skunkworks group in the spirit of the Ramchargers of the past. The cars originated in the Chrysler Group Product Design office and were led by Mark Allen, Chief Designer – Head of Jeep Design Studio, and Jeff Gale, Advance Studio Design Lead. In addition to image vehicles, other vehicles for the show were developed under the direction of Brian Rogos, Head of Accessories and Performance Parts, and Pat Muldoon, Head of Mopar Product Development.
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