Dodge resurrects Demon and lust for more power – Detroit Free Press
Dodge is about to conjure a powerful Demon and wants it to help bolster sales and enhance its reputation as a badass automaker.
“That’s one hell of a car,” Pete Toundas, president of Championship Auto Shows, said of the new 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, set to be unveiled Tuesday at the New York International Auto Show. “You just wonder how much longer the EPA is going to allow car companies to build these street-driven cars.”
In the past few years, Dodge — which is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and sells the Challenger, Charger, and Viper — has been recasting its image as a brawny American performance brand, distinguishing itself from auto companies touting efforts to develop electric, hybrid, and self-driving vehicle technologies.
A resurrection of the Demon name from the 1970s plays right into a renewed horsepower war.
Two years ago, Dodge offered the Hellcat version of the Challenger with 707 horsepower to top Ford’s Mustang Shelby GT500, which was pushing more than 660 horsepower. When talk surfaced at this year’s Detroit auto show on whether Ford would return fire with a more powerful Mustang, an FCA executive hinted at the Demon.
There’s been speculation the Demon could exceed 800 horsepower.
Anticipation for the Demon has been so intense that it has set off a frenzy. Potential buyers have never seen the car, much less driven it. They are in the dark about how much it will cost. They just know they want it. They have taken to the Internet to find every scrap of info about it. They are flooding Dodge dealerships — some hundreds of miles away from home — to get on buyer waiting lists.
“I would buy it,” Toundas of Auburn Hills said, adding that the Demon will be an investment for some buyers. “It’s not something, certainly, you’d want to drive every day. Everybody says there’s no such thing as the collector-car market anymore. But, I think these cars will increase in value. It will be highly sought after.”
An enduring part of American culture, muscle cars tended to be smaller vehicles with bigger engines. There’s no set definition for what makes a muscle car, but they were built to be street driven and be affordable to the middle class. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the original sticker price for a base-model 1971 Demon was $2,721. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $16,366 now. The new, high-performance versions of the vehicles are now more sophisticated and expensive.
“The muscle car was the perfect example of the right car with the right target demographic,” said Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford museum, which has 260 cars in its collection. “You had a lot of young people at that time coming into some money buying cars of their own, looking for something they could, if not race in, pretend to race in.”
Many consider the mid-1960s to the mid-’70s the height of the movement. Automakers — including defunct nameplates AMC, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Pontiac — competed to pack the most into their engines, pushing horsepower limits to 450 and beyond. Models sold by the tens of thousands.
By the mid-’70s, rising insurance rates, high gas prices, and environmental regulations led to their decline.
Yet, Americans love for muscle cars never went away, and the past few years, there has been a revival of nameplates and retro styling.
“There really have had a kind of renaissance in the last 10 years or so,” Anderson said. “Some of that is because the people who bought them as teenagers all those years ago are now adults who can afford to buy these cars, not for daily driving, but fun. The technology also is so phenomenal, far beyond what could have been achieved 40, 50 years ago.”
Ford retooled its 2005 Mustang to give it a look that was a nod to the past and enhanced its engine. The automaker sold nearly 105,932 Mustangs in 2016, according to information firm Autodata Corp. Dodge revived the Charger in 2006 and the Challenger in 2008, respectively selling 95,437 and 64,433 of them last year. And Chevrolet brought back the Camaro in 2009, selling 72,205 of them last year.
Base models for many of the new muscle cars are still affordable, starting at about $20,000-plus. But the high-performance versions, such as the Demon, are built in limited numbers of a few hundred or thousand and sell for more than three times that much.
In addition, the classic muscle car versions are unexpectedly commanding more at auctions than they were a few years ago.
A wicked ride
For about three months, Dodge has been running a countdown clock to the car’s unveiling. Every week it has released new online teaser videos that give glimpses of the vehicle. However, the Auburn Hills automaker has kept most details of the specialized street-legal drag racing Demon under wraps, including its horsepower, top speed, and sales price.
As a result, the Internet is ablaze with rumors and speculation about the car. Demon devotees — most of whom are men — have been analyzing every tidbit out there, down to deciphering the vehicle’s engineering from the engine’s throaty roar to the meaning of the unusual license plate numbers on the cars featured in the videos.
“One thing that Dodge has been very smart about and is fully aware of is the amount of equity that the Challenger nameplate carries,” said Karl Brauer, the executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, Calif. “There’s a huge fan base for that car, and every time they build a specialized version of the modern Challenger, they get a great response from the fan base. The Demon is the most extreme one yet.”
So far, here’s what Demon fans know:
The Demon is bewitching young enthusiasts who may not be able to afford the price tag and may not even be old enough to drive yet, but wish they could. It also is tempting older car buyers, some in their 60s and 70s, who now have the money to purchase a Demon and are nostalgic for the muscle cars of their youth.
Dodge is betting that the Demon will fuel sales growth and it’s looking to its experience with the Hellcat as evidence.
In 2015, the Hellcat exceeded sales expectations. The gas-guzzling, earth-shaking, $60,000-plus car sold out even before Dodge began airing commercials advertising them. In 2016, Dodge doubled Hellcat production. The Demon — if all the Internet hype is true — will cost more than the Hellcat and be an even more diabolical car.
Brauer summed it up: “They basically haven’t found a ceiling — a limit — to the hunger for these specialized, focused versions.”
The Demon you know
The first Demon rolled out in 1971 as a part of the Dodge Dart lineup.
Tim Costello, a photographer for Mopar Collectors Guide, wasn’t quite born yet then, but something about the Demon, when he became old enough to drive, captured his soul.
“I’ve always wanted one,” Costello, 45, of Shelby Township, said. “They were little and fun and fast — and reasonably priced.”
Later Demon models shared a body with the Plymouth Duster. But the Demon, a two-door coupe with a V8 engine, had its own grille and rear taillight assembly. The logo was wicked, too. It included the word Demon in yellow, with a cartoonish devil and fork that made the M. Some religious groups objected to the name. By 1973, the car was renamed the Dart Sport.
Costello is restoring a bright red 1972 Demon that he bought in Hot Springs, Ark., and hauled back to Michigan.
The new Demon, he said, is a “really, really incredible street machine.”
“I don’t think I can afford a new one, myself, to be honest,” he said. “But, there is a clientele — guys like me and older — who look at the older Demons and say: ‘I don’t want to work on cars anymore. I want to go to the dealership and buy a new car that has a warranty and have fun with it.’ Old guys like them because they have air-conditioning, power steering, power brakes and all the bells and whistles.”
Still, not every muscle car enthusiast has been seduced by the Demon’s power.
Robert Eppler, 61, has been driving a Demon for nearly 40 years. The car came out when he was a teen, and, he said, he wanted one because he liked how the front end of the Dart looked. He’s now an automotive service and repair teacher at Jefferson High School in Monroe and would like to take a look at the new Demon.
He is concerned about just how many horses will be under the hood.
“I think the Hellcat — to use 707 horsepower on a street car — is pretty insane,” he said, wondering how safe it will be to have an even more powerful car. “A novice driver — even a good driver — is going to get behind the wheel of one of those and it’s going to go sideways at 100 m.p.h. and you’re not going to be able to catch it.”
Consider this: In the early morning hours Friday, a man who reportedly bought a Hellcat and wanted to show his passenger just how fast it could go, was arrested after racing it down a 70-m.p.h. stretch of interstate in Indiana. Police said it was clocked twice: the first time at 158 m.p.h., the second at 151 m.p.h. Police said it took a couple miles for officers to catch up with it.
A Demon may lead to even more temptations to test how fast it can go.
Moreover, some gearheads — especially in Detroit — are just too devoted to the automakers they’ve driven for a lifetime.
“I’m brand loyal,” said Chad Sadler, of Detroit Performance Center in Clinton Township. He loves muscle cars. He street-races his 1981 Malibu. But, he’s a Chevy guy and no amount of horsepower can convince him to buy another nameplate. “Is it cool they are coming out with a new Dodge Demon? Yes. Would I buy one? No.”
Managing the mania
Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge have long battled for performance car bragging rights.
In addition to giving Dodge dealers a boost, the Demon’s debut — combined with an administration that may be rolling back environmental regulations, including fuel economy standards — is likely to intensify the competition among the carmakers to tout that they have the most powerful cars.
Earlier this month, Texas-based Hennessey Performance Engineering announced a 1,000-horsepower Camaro ZL1, dubbed the Exorcist. It is a super muscle car that some have gone so far as to call Demon-killer. It has a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. It costs upward of $115,000. Only 100 of them will be made. They are available from Hennessey, a company that modifies high-performance vehicles, or can be ordered from Chevy dealers.
“It’s all about power,” said Royal Oak Ford salesman Michael Long, who added that muscle car lovers should expect to see increasingly more powerful engines. “The people who buy these specialized Mustangs, they pay in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 over the sticker price because the cars are so few and far between.”
In Florida, a dealership not far from the Daytona International Speedway said it already has had so much interest from potential customers it had to limit who it would put on the waiting list for the car. Even so, with a list of just more than 20 buyers, many of them still may not be able to get a Demon.
“It’s a mad scramble,” said Randy Dye, the owner of Daytona Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram, who got his start selling cars when his father worked at a dealership in Pennsylvania and plans to be at Tuesday’s unveiling in New York. “If I could somehow beg for a favor, I’d love to say maybe we can get 10?”
The potential buyers are car lovers and collectors, he said. They are doctors, lawyer, and other professionals. They range in age from their 20s to early 70s — and many are eager to be the first in their neighborhoods to be seen driving the Demon around. No women, he said, are on his waiting list, “but they’ve given permission for their husbands to be.”
Dye said he’s not marking up the price beyond what’s on the sticker.
Other dealerships, Dye said, probably can — and will — charge more than what the manufacturer is suggesting considering the high demand for the car.
“I’ve got a lifetime in this business, and never have I seen so many people get so jacked up over something they really don’t know the whole story about yet,” Dye, 57, said. “It’s just absolutely insane the fever that has been created from a social media marketing campaign.”
Dye added many of the folks who want to by a Demon missed out on the muscle car era of the ’60s and late ’70s that’s now coming back.
“They read about it, they heard about it, they watched stuff on TV,” he said. “Now, they can experience it.”
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org