Dodge made history when it announced last month that the Challenger SRT's supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V-8 engine cranks out 707 hp. It is the highest horsepower engine ever for an American production car. Gregg Black, 52, chief engineer for the Hemi Hellcat engine, spoke recently with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
Q: A horsepower war is raging in the sports car segment. The 2014 Shelby GT500 has 662 hp, and the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 has 650. Was Dodge aiming for horsepower leadership when it developed the Hellcat?
A: I don't think that was the goal. The goal was to provide a powertrain that is really going to fit the character of the vehicle and make the potential customers for this thing giddy when they get in it.
Were the Challenger's brakes and chassis improved to handle the additional horsepower?
Absolutely. The entire vehicle is set up to deal with the kind of performance the engine makes. The new eight-speed transmission is an upgrade. It's the stoutest transmission we've been able to put under a hood thus far. The rear axle has been strengthened to deal with the higher output. We have stronger brakes all around. It was important to design the system from the ground up to be able to deal with the kind of performance you expect.
Zero to 60 mph in 3 seconds is now easily attainable in a variety of high-performance cars. How much speed does the average person need?
We have lots of different customers. We have customers whose main focus is fuel economy. Some customers, the people who would be interested in this package, are putting performance ahead of fuel economy. We want to put them in a car that just makes them smile.
What's it like to drive?
What I find most intriguing about the car is that it's really very controllable. The character of the car is that it is crazy fast when you want it to be. But if you don't trounce on the car, it drives beautifully. I've got all this performance, the ability to take this thing out on the track on any given Saturday that I want to, but I still have heated and cooled seats, a gorgeous interior, a really great sound system and a sunroof. It's really a combination of an amazing performance package but with a really nice car that you can drive wherever and whenever you want to.
Does the regular Challenger benefit from the engineering changes developed for the Hellcat engine?
We always learn. When you do a ground-up engineering effort, you always find weak points. So there has been quite a bit of cross-pollination.
Will the Hellcat engine be used in other vehicles, such as a performance version of the Ram pickup or the Dodge Viper?
At this point it is kind of a one-stop shop for Challenger. I am not sure where else we will put it.