The yell came from somewhere in the crowd: "Hey Hellcat, push it!" We obliged with a jab of the throttle, and the 707 horses of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat roared to life. It went on like this. All weekend. It's one thing to attend the Woodward Dream Cruise, it's quite another to star in it.
We were definitely rock stars at the 20th edition of the Dream Cruise.
We were definitely rock stars at the 20th edition of the Dream Cruise, metro Detroit's annual summer car show that rolls up and down the area's iconic strip, Woodward Avenue. Chrysler tossed us the keys to its latest muscle coupe a few days before the cruise with the suggestion: "Have fun." Hmm, okay, think we can handle that. And with a vague game plan of burning as much fuel as possible, we hit the road.
Thursday night was a bit of a dry run – or so we thought. The idea was to get used to the Hellcat's heavy clutch in traffic, gun the engine a few times and head home. But the Dodge commanded immediate attention from the moment we pulled onto Woodward.
Related Gallery2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
It was a nice August night, which meant the windows stayed down, allowing for easy conversations. A cruiser in what looked to be a 1990s Chevy pulled alongside and asked, "Excuse me, is that the Hellcat?" We confirmed his suspicions. He clapped his hands. We punched the throttle and moved on.
It continued like that. Someone in another Challenger gave us the "rock out" sign. A dude in a BMW M5 serenaded "Hellll-cat" from the left lane. Two guys in a Jaguar F-Type caught up to us near the Detroit Zoo, and wanted to know how much the Hellcat cost. When told it was about $61,000 – about the starting price as his Jag – he immediately said he wanted to get one, even though he admitted, "I'll lose my license." The attention continued all weekend. On Friday night a guy gave us an "I am not worthy" bow, and we attracted stares at almost every stoplight.
A million enthusiasts show up to gawk at the sheetmetal and lap the avenue in every kind of car you can imagine.
Finally, Dream Cruise day arrived. We got up early (for a Saturday) to get the Hellcat out on the avenue for some actual cruising on the unseasonably cool and clear morning. It was a good time to stretch out the Hellcat, as traffic moved and we could take off with energy in the lower gears. The sounds the Hellcat made were intoxicating. It rumbles and growls. There's bass. A whine announced the supercharger's presence and then the V8 opens up to a flat-out howl. The exhaust cackles. Modern engines sound great, but the Hellcat has an old-school anger. Hear it for yourself in the Autoblog Short Cut video above, from Seyth Miersma's first drive in the Hellcat.
The emphasis is always on American iron, especially cars with tall fins and rippling muscles, but the Woodward Dream Cruise is truly an eclectic event: Everything from Teslas to Ferraris to Lotuses can be seen, not to mention custom cars, rat-rods and other oddities. One guy even drove up and down the strip in a car shaped like a skull.
And in this sea of rolling car pornography, the Hellcat still managed to stand out, even though our tester didn't say Hellcat anywhere on it. Yes, it had 20-inch matte black wheels, a big rear spoiler, a functional hood scoop and a menacing front splitter, all set against a brilliant shade of reddish-orange paint, yet there was nothing to really distinguish it from any other loaded-up Challenger. The test car that Chrysler gave us was so new it hadn't been fitted with the new Hellcat badge, which will replace the "supercharged" lettering on the front quarter panels that's being used on prototypes.
It didn't matter. People knew. CEO Tim Kuniskis said Dodge was the most searched auto brand on Google in July, and something tells us that Hellcat had something to do with it. People knew the name, and they knew what it meant. A Porsche 911 driver maneuvered along our right side, asked about our ride, and after a short, low-speed banter, concluded that his 911 "cost more, but that's [the Hellcat] got a bigger engine."
It's marketing through horsepower, and as enthusiasts, that's a strategy we can embrace.
There were some skeptics, naturally. A man in a souped-up Ford Mustang wanted to know, "is it really all that?" Judging by the number of Cobra badges on his car and other mods, Dodge wasn't going to win him over even if the thing had 2,000 hp.
On the other end of the spectrum, we talked to Chris Haney, owner of a 1969 Plymouth GTX that he salvaged out of a field in Pinckney, MI. He looked over the Hellcat and noted, "700 horses is good. Nothing wrong with 700 horses. It's a sharp-looking car, no doubt about it."
Obviously he's a Mopar loyalist, but Haney summed up the general feeling of the crowd. Bringing a roided-up Challenger to an event in Detroit where Chrysler employs thousands was going to get a bigger reception than say, Pebble Beach, but the Dream Cruise has become major event with national visibility. And all of those fawning fans couldn't have been Chrysler employees. Visibility is what the Hellcat is all about. Chrysler wants it to create a buzz, turn heads and make people talk about the Dodge brand. It's marketing through horsepower, and as enthusiasts, that's a strategy we can embrace.