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Demon comes to life

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The Dodge Demon gets some heat in its standard-issue Nitto Drag Radials. Photos by author.

There was a time, not so long ago, that it seemed unthinkable that a major auto manufacturer would even commit resources to creating a drag-race dedicated vehicle, but then came Cobra Jet Mustangs, Drag Pak Challengers and COPO Camaros. Factory race cars, just like back in the golden age of performance. What could be better?

Well, how about a factory race car that you could hang a license plate on and drive to work? That’s essentially what Dodge has brought forth in its new Challenger SRT Demon. The folks at FCA did a masterful job of baiting the rest of us for months, with rumors and teaser videos to whet the appetite, and yet, when the car was finally revealed during the New York International Auto Show this past spring, there were no disappointments.

Dodge Demon

And so we learned that the Demon was a fully street- and smog-legal road car that was capable of turning 9-second quarter mile times on the Nitto Drag Radials it would roll out of the factory with. While plenty of us were still marveling at the Hellcat’s 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, the Demon was boasting 808 hp and 717 lb-ft of torque, and that would be on pump gas; swap out the engine management unit for the Direct Connection version offered with the car and fill the tank with 100-octane race fuel and the Demon would provide 840 hp and 770 lb-ft.

Dodge told the world that its new creation was certified to run a 9.65-second quarter mile, and that it could pull its front wheels during launch if piloted correctly. It would be the first production car to run a 9-second quarter-mile time, the first to be capable of a “wheelie” and the highest horsepower production car ever offered.

Dodge Demon

A few of the bits changed from the Hellcat to the Demon.

Astounding stuff, but what would it really be like in actual use? A group of motoring journalists were able to find out last week as Dodge hosted a closed event to demonstrate the Demon and, somewhat incredibly, to allow us all to pilot the cars down the famed drag strip at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.

Before any passes were made, however, a presentation of the car’s numerous facets and features was made by the team who actually developed it. The engine in the Demon is significantly different than that of the Hellcat, with more than half of its components somehow altered and/or upgraded. One of the larger items is the supercharger itself, which moves from a 2.4-liter unit to one rated at 2.7-liters, raising maximum boost to 14.5 psi (the Hellcat engine makes 11.6 psi). To handle the engine boost, the crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons are all upgraded over Hellcat specs. The valvetrain is also improved to handle the new and higher 6,500-rpm maximum engine speed.

Dodge Demon

The heart of the beast – the Demon’s 840-horsepower supercharged V-8.

Part of what enables the Demon to produce the launch torque required to turn a 9-second quarter is a feature that uses a device Dodge calls a Power Chiller, which uses the air conditioning system to re-route refrigerant through a small heat exchanger that cools the liquid that is pumped through the heat exchangers in the supercharger to cool the intake charge. The Power Chiller is only operational in Drag Mode, and can work in conjunction with the Torque Reserve Launch System feature that closes the supercharger’s bypass valves as it adjusts spark timing and fuel curves to yield maximum off-the-line thrust for launch.

Which brings us to another Demon feature: the trans brake. This is a feature drag racers have long been familiar with, but it’s never been offered on a production car before. It essentially locks the transmission (all Demons are automatic) so that the engine can be loaded in place. When the trans brake is released, the car launches, and hard.

Dodge Demon

As we experienced first-hand when we finally got behind the wheel. After a ride-along pass, we were able to strap in and try the Demon out for a few passes. The car also has a line-lock feature that makes the burnout a breeze, allowing for heating of the Nitto 315/40R-18 tires. Get up to the line, pull both steering wheel paddles and the trans brake procedure is initiated. Left-foot the brake, bring rpm to between 1,500 and 2,000 rpm, let go of one paddle, then the brake pedal, and then, when it’s time, let go of the second pedal and hold on.

We’re told the Demon can generate 1.8g on launch, and the sensation is indeed something that the uninitiated will need to get accustomed to. And it’s not just the out-of-the-hole tire hit, either—Demon pulls incredibly hard for the first few gears—the engineers explained that launch torque is what allows the 4,250-lb car to run those 9-second quarters, and it makes for a quite awesome ride.

Dodge Demon

There were no timeslips on our test day, nor were the clocks running, which was probably for the best. The Dodge folks tell us that the Demon is not a “point-and-shoot” track weapon—like any race car, drive technique must be perfected for maximum results. Still, those of us sampling the hardware on that day were certainly running in the 10s. Yet, in spite of the near 90-degree heat and back-to-back runs for a couple hours, not one mechanical incident occurred. The fleet of four Demons just kept launching and running consistently.

There’s far too many interesting details to cover here, but we will delve deeper into the Demon in an upcoming piece in the pages of Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine in the October issue.