Update: We’ve redacted a sentence from this editorial. You can find an explanation here.
Jay-Z and Beyonce got nothing on the marketing people from Dodge. The last low-volume vehicle to get this kind of publicity and raise this kind of ruckus was probably the LaFerrari, which was definitely not based on a $29.99/day rental car. (Trust me, I’ve driven the LaFerrari.) It will also toss, by my back-of-envelope estimation, somewhere between $100m and $200m into the company coffers, even if you don’t take into account all the lower-spec Challengers — even Hellcats — the Demon will sell just by drawing traffic into dealers.
The media response to the Demon has been half predictable and half rather refreshing.
The predictable part is the Motor Trend-style cheerleading, which in this case has spread far beyond MT because — let’s face it — anybody can get excited over a nine-second street car. (By contrast, it takes a seasoned hack, erm, a real pro to get excited about the Bolt.) The refreshing half of the commentary has come from the half of the media that likes to style itself as an un-elected and un-appointed fiscal watchdog of the industry. These are the people who whine a certain car “won’t sell” or “doesn’t make money” as if they are major shareholders of GM instead of underwater-basketweaving-degree-holders sitting in rent-controlled apartments on a mountain of student debt.
Normally, these people would be up in arms that an automaker has taken time off from the critical business of building suppository-shaped RX300 clones to briefly indulge in a bout of misguided enthusiasm about automobiles. In this case, however, the Demon is so obviously going to be wildly profitable that they’ve been forced to shut up and/or join the chorus of approbation. Except, that is, for one crusty old relic of the legacy media who’s found a new tune to play.
“For FCA to build a car like this, one that can be legally driven off the dealer’s lot, is nothing short of irresponsible. It’s an act of desperation by a company whose cars are getting really old. Consider that the Challenger itself is 8 years old, and the platform it rides on is from well into the last century.” That’s Richard Truett’s opinion, anyway.
Mr. Truett won’t be immediately familiar to most “car guys,” but those of us who dabble in automotive journo-world from time to time know him as a reliably troll-able creepy old man who can be provoked into deranged Facebook rants that often abandon any pretense of rationality whatsoever well before the last incoherent sentence dribbles from his quivering lips. He really is what the kids call “Facebook Grandpa,” although I don’t think he’s in his 60s yet.
We could pick that first paragraph of Truett’s apart pretty easily — what does the age of the Challenger’s platform matter, really? — but right after ol’ Dickie hits you with the left jab of silliness, he smacks you with the right cross of stupidity: “I grew up in an era when more horsepower was always better. General Motors’ 455-cubic-inch performance V-8s from the early ’70s, Chrysler’s 426 Hemi and Ford’s 427, 428 and 429 V-8s were highly coveted. Before increasingly strict emissions standards choked off power and expensive gasoline dried up buyers’ thirst for more, the highest horsepower engines topped out at a sane and manageable 425 or so.”
Just from that last sentence, you can tell that this guy has no practical experience driving fast. I guarantee you that a stock Demon is much easier to drive than a Chevelle LS6 on bias-plys would have been. Add a little bit of rain or traffic to the equation and things get even sillier. Have you looked at the brakes on those old musclecars?
The Challenger Hellcat is an easy car to drive. The Demon shouldn’t be much worse, particularly with the street-compatible front tires installed. It has traction control. It has big brakes. It has ESC. The only way you can hurt yourself in it is to turn all those systems off and floor the throttle in the immediate vicinity and direction of a concrete wall. It’s not an AC 427 Cobra and no amount of rhetoric on Mr. Truett’s part will make it so.
Luckily for all of us, Dickie has a proposal: “There’s a reason drag-centric cars such as this from other automakers or specialty equipment manufacturers aren’t given a vehicle identification number: They present a clear and present danger to not only their drivers, but to the motoring public. That FCA is able to skirt those regulations with the Demon says to me that the rules should be significantly tightened.”
Uh-huh: he wants to make the Demon illegal and change the law to make fast cars harder to get.
The irony here is the Demon isn’t even the fastest car you can buy. Most of the supercars out there will reliably trap 137-141 in private hands, meaning that they will match a Demon at the end of the quarter-mile and steam away afterwards due to the smaller holes they punch in the air. Add motorcycles to the mix and things get downright silly. My Kawasaki ZX-14R will beat the Demon to the quarter-mile mark handily, with a trap speed 22 mph greater — and this is a vehicle that has no seatbelts or stability control whatsoever. While the ZX-14R is the current King of the Streets, threatened only by the supercharged H2 also sold by Kawasaki, the number of ways you can trap 145 mph or better for $15,000 or less is pretty long. The old FZ1 I bought for $1,800 can trap 139 with bolt-ons. That thing doesn’t even have anti-lock brakes.
Any law that made the Dodge Demon illegal would either be easily circumvented (if written loosely) or a nightmare of unintended consequences (if written with teeth). Would you set a elapsed-time limit? A trap speed limit? Who’d do the testing? Or would we just go back to a Claybrook-and-Carter era where speedometers would be limited to 85mph and advertising wouldn’t be able to quote performance figures? How would you make that stick in the Internet age?
It could be there is something more predictable, more ancient, at work here. In an angry response to reader criticism, Truett claims, “I’ve owned close to 50 sports cars. Drove to work today in a Honda S2000. My first car was a ’70 Pontiac GTO with a 455 4-speed. The first car I restored was a 1967 Ford Mustang GTA with a 390 cubic inch engine.” Perhaps this is just another example of a phenomenon that is uncomfortably familiar to young people since time immemorial: the creepy grandpa who doesn’t want the kids to have the same kind of fun he had. Nothing new about that, trust me. Perhaps the truly irresponsible action isn’t the release of an 840-horsepower drag special; perhaps it’s the attempt to crush the joyful modern age of automotive enthusiasm, coming from a bitter old nobody who just can’t release his withered grip on the media microphone so the new generation can have its own rightful day in the sun.