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posted on July 4th, 2019

Keeping American muscle alive

If any adage defines the world of muscle cars, it’s this: there’s no replacement for displacement. That means no matter what a builder does to make a car faster — strip weight, sharpen handling, or add forced induction — having a big engine is key to the powerful, burly driving experience muscle cars are all about.

That’s not to say other improvements won’t help. Chassis, aerodynamic, or powertrain upgrades always take things further. That’s the approach adopted by SRT, the performance tuning brand that works on Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler vehicles. Any SRT-tuned model has the accoutrement which transforms simple muscle cars into genuinely sporty machines. Still, a high-displacement engine is always the focus, and SRT motors produce almost unbelievable amounts of power.

Detroit-based SRT is a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler America, the company that owns Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler. SRT, which stands for Street & Racing Technology, operates similarly to the performance tuning branches of European automakers: focused on making standard production vehicles powerful, aggressive, and great to drive. With roots dating back to 1989, SRT arose from “Team Viper,” the group of engineers formed to create — as the name implies — the legendary Viper.

Sabas’s 2009 Dodge Viper SRT-10 (San Antonio, TX)

The Viper is the ultimate incarnation of SRT’s spin on the no-replacement-for-displacement mantra. In its first generation it featured a massive 8-liter V10, among the largest-displacement engines ever created for a car. High revs were not its forte, but it produced power in a way only such a huge engine could. The Viper proved how SRT could transcend pure muscle and create a sports car rivaling the world’s best. Wrapped around the engine was a hardcore, lightweight chassis which omitted airbags in pursuit of weight savings, and traction control or ABS for maximum driver involvement. A six-speed manual was the only available gearbox.

Tarik’s 2018 Dodge Charger SRT 392 (Toronto, ON)

In later generations the Viper’s engine grew, and the chassis became more refined. Later Vipers had 8.3 then 8.4 liter V10s, along with advanced aerodynamics and carbon fiber body panels. While the final-gen Viper gained stability and traction control to make it somewhat livable, its exclusive transmission was a six-speed manual, a clear indication of its focus on driver involvement. In a twist, Dodge decided to install this gargantuan engine in a pickup truck, creating the low-riding, spoiler-equipped Ram SRT-10.

“Big” is a relative term, but in the context of cars made to drive every day, SRT installs indisputably huge engines in otherwise normal bodies. For example, the Chrysler 300 is a sedan that’s meant for comfortable, calm driving. The Dodge Magnum was a utilitarian five-door wagon based on the same platform as the 300. And the well-known Jeep Grand Cherokee does most of its work as a suburban family hauler. The SRT-8 versions of these cars feature either 6.1 or 6.4 liter V8s, producing 425 or 475 horsepower. Along with the requisite chassis and aero upgrades, SRT transforms everyday drivers into much faster, and more fun machines.

JJ’s 2018 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (Montebello, CA)
Joe’s 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat (Toronto, ON)

As if its naturally aspirated motors weren’t powerful enough, SRT added forced induction to a big engine with the infamous Hellcat. This mighty 6.2 liter V8 produces 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft, making it among the most powerful engines ever installed in a production car. Unleashed on the streets in Dodge Challenger, Charger, and Jeep Grand Cherokee bodies, Hellcats provide the best horsepower-per-dollar ratio on the market, and beat performance figures posted by supercars costing several times as much.

Ziad’s 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk (Las Vegas, NV)
Gagik’s 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat (Inglewood, CA)
Eli’s 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye (Los Angeles, CA)

For those obsessed with shaving hundredths off quarter mile times, SRT conjured the limited-edition Demon. This widebody Challenger packs a diabolical 808 horsepower version of the Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2, plus a slew of gear that readies it for ripping down a drag strip as quickly as possible. It’s a laughably powerful package that makes for one unholy monster.

Mokhtar’s 2018 Dodge Demon (Raleigh, NC)

Today’s sports cars represent an all-time high, showcasing technology and engineering which enables performance unimaginable only a few years ago. Conversely, SRT stays true to the tried-and-true formula of stuffing a gigantic engine inside normal cars. In a world where the fastest vehicles rely on computer assistance to go fast, SRT vehicles are a reminder of what can be accomplished with high displacement. After all, as the saying goes…

Alex has been a car fanatic for as long as he can remember. At 6'10," he might be the tallest auto writer in the world, and whether it's engine timing, exotic car design, or race strategy, there is no automotive topic beyond Alex's interest.