Posts from ‘SRT’
Cool is a pretty ambiguous word. While some folks might think it’s cool to visit Denny’s daily during that chain’s Baconalia promotion, others might reserve the term for activities more akin to successfully scaling Mount Everest without gloves, or being stuck in an elevator with the surviving members of The Bangles.
Here, we’re leaning more toward the Mount Everest/Bangles thing. We’re using cool in same sort of emotive, “heck yeah!” sort of way that an eighth-grader might after finding a copy of last year’s swimsuit issue hidden away in his dad’s sock drawer.
To that end, the 10 vehicles we present here are the current American-brand rides that have us screaming “heck yeah!” There’s nothing especially nationalistic about our list, as we intend to follow this missive up with similar posts featuring the coolest European and Asian vehicles. Got a car in mind you think we should have included? Let’s hear it.
Chrysler’s Ralph Gilles is a busy guy these days. He is both the president and CEO of the SRT brand and Motorsports and the senior vice president of Product Design. Consumer Guide recently sat down with Ralph for a conversation about the relaunch of the Viper and the SRT brand in general.
Consumer Guide: It seems like the new Viper has moved upscale with this new generation. Is that where that market is going? Is there still a place for a raw, bare-bones sports car?
On a trip back to the airport at the conclusion of a recent Jeep press event, I overheard one of my cohorts describing his lap around the Circuit of the Americas racetrack with Ralph Gilles, head of Chrysler’s SRT brand, at the wheel. The fellow journalist was giving a play-by-play account while showing a video he had taken from the back seat. Much of it sounded familiar.
For those who don’t know, Ralph Gilles came up through Chrysler’s design department to become head of the new SRT performance brand in 2011. As a charismatic, confirmed car nut, Gilles was just the right person for the job.
Despite his lofty position and GQ appearance, Gilles comes across as a real grass-roots guy when he’s off the clock. As he was holding court at dinner one night, I began counting the number of words used in his colorful stories that I couldn’t repeat in this blog. I ran out of fingers before the entree arrived.
Most automakers have aftermarket parts divisions, but few put theirs as front-and-center as Chrysler does. At the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, Chrysler’s Mopar brand was out in force, with a separate section set aside and plenty of wares on display. For Dodge, SRT Viper, Fiat 500, and Jeep fans, it’s kid-in-a-candy-store time. Check out the pics below. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
From an early age, Ralph Gilles, Senior Vice President of Product Design at Chrysler, dreamed of becoming a car designer. “I’ve always loved cars,” he said. “I played with them. I didn’t have video games, we didn’t have iPhones, we didn’t have Macs. That was my thing. I would make model cars.”
Recently, Gilles recounted his life story at a Chrysler recruiting event at Northwestern University. During his speech to an assembly of students, he talked about his rise to the head of the SRT Brand and Motorsports department and to his post as Senior VP.
“I had big dreams,” he said. “I literally wrote a letter to Chrysler: I wanted to make cars. They were kind enough to say, ‘This is what you’ve got to do. There are four [car-design] schools in the U.S.’ The College for Creative Studies in Detroit was the closest one.”
Back in the ’90s, Chrysler was on a roll. Long known chiefly as a monotonous maker of minivans, the company suddenly blossomed with the 1993 introductions of the groundbreaking LH sedans (Dodge Intrepid and cousins Chrysler Concorde and Eagle Vision) and compact Dodge/Plymouth Neon, quickly followed by the game-changing ’94 Ram pickup, svelte ’95 midsize sedans (Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus/Plymouth Breeze) and accompanying coupes (Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger), and finally the ’97 Plymouth Prowler, a fanciful factory hot rod.
But it all started with the Viper. First shown as a concept car in 1989, the Viper was clearly a reincarnation of the famed Shelby Cobra of the ’60s—right down to its similarly snake-inspired name—with a huge engine powering a bulbous, minimalistic structure. It would have been shocking even if it hadn’t come from a company whose contemporary product line looked to be built from various-sized boxes, but of course, it was just some stylist’s far-fetched fantasy.
Then something happened. Contrary to a long history of colorful concept cars donating merely a few styling elements to subsequent showroom models, Chrysler announced that the Viper was going into production. Surely what was meant was that a car called a Viper was going into production, but in traditionally homogenized form.
It may look as cute as a trick-or-treater, but this car will give you the willies when you actually have to drive it. ForTwo needs 14.6 seconds to go from 0-60, which gives you just enough time to make out your will while merging onto the turnpike. (JK!) Actually, this car is solidly built (it has performed well in crash tests), but at 1,800-pounds it has the potential to be knocked around the highway like a pinball if whacked by an SUV. ForTwo is hard to keep composed at high speeds, and city drivers are cursed with a transmission that, according to Consumer Guide’s John Biel, “bogs down at every upshift as if it were a manual being driven by a beginner.”
Dodge Viper (pre-2013)
For the redesigned 2013 Viper, Chrysler’s SRT division added traction control and an antiskid system for the first time. Thank heavens, because the previous iterations were incorrigible monsters—meant for expert drivers who knew how to tame them. Our Viper test drivers prayed for dry weather; otherwise, it would have been a nightmare trying to keep this barely street-legal, 600-horsepower brute on the road. Even on dry, straight surfaces, Viper was no joy to drive. One CG editor said that the car “pitches and buckboards over every possible road surface imperfection,” while another warned that “the Viper coupe afflicts the comfortable with its tight, hot cabin; stiff clutch; and omnipresent din.”
A whole lot is new about the Dodge Viper, including its name. Chrysler now brands the ultra-high-performance car under the SRT badge. Here’s something else that’s new about Viper: You can now drive it without fear of dying! The formerly untamed beast now includes traction control and an antiskid system, and in general it’s a lot more drivable.
See what Consumer Guide Automotive has to say in its thorough review of the 2013 SRT Viper.