During the course of a wide-ranging, more than two-hour long conversation, we asked racing legend, aftermarket impresario and SMS namesake Steve Saleen what's the single most important thing he wants Autoblog readers to know about not only his new 700-horsepower 570X, but about SMS as a whole. Without missing a beat, Mr. Saleen cocked his head to one side and said, "That we're not a tuning shop. SMS is an Original Equipment Manufacturer."
Normally, when the head of a company that takes existing cars and modifies them says something like that, you nod politely and draw your own conclusions. But in the case of Steve Saleen, you err on the side of trust. For one thing, he's been at this for 25 years – in fact, a 1984 Saleen Mustang just sold for $80,000. Compare that price to other 1984 Mustangs. For another, he's the man behind the Saleen S7, a totally bespoke beast of a machine that's one of the most dominant supercar-based race cars ever.
Still, looking at the all-new SMS 570X, it's very hard not to see an aftermarket Dodge Challenger, albeit a heavily modified one. But keep on staring and you'll notice that not only are most of the body panels new, they're actually well constructed. More importantly, they fit together properly. And SMS cars come with actual warranties (three year/36,000 mile for the 570, one year/12,000 for the 570X) and have countless thousands of hours of R&D behind them. But really, it's only once the 570X's hood gets popped that you suddenly realize this ain't no backyard tuner.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
The Devil's in the Engine's Details
Staring back at you from the 570X's engine bay is one of the best looking supercharged V8 mills in existence. Starting with Dodge's 5.7-liter Hemi, SMS bores and strokes it out to 6.4-liters (though SMS just informed us that they'll be going down to 6.2-liters by the time you read this). They don't start with the larger 6.1-liter in the Challenger SRT8 because it's already been bored/stroked to different dimensions. Plus, the 5.7-liter motor comes standard in the Challenger R/T, which is SMS's starting point. Now you can get a non-fettled motor hooked up to a supercharger and that will net you around 500 ponies. This car is called simply SMS 570.
Please trust us – you want the 570X.
Because with the 570X you get the bigger motor coupled to their proprietary SMS 296 Supercharger, which is one big mama-jama of a blower. But because it's so large, and because SMS's patent pending Six-Pack micro-finned intercooler technology is so efficient, the screw-type supercharger has to put out just 5.5 PSI to achieve 700 horsepower. Did we mention the 725 lb-ft of torque? You know you want that.
But numbers are exactly that – anyone can make huge numbers, but can they make them well? We believe the answer to that last question is going to separate SMS from the chaff. With the exception of the anodized fuel rail connectors, everything in the engine bay looks straight from a factory. Put another way, the engine and blower look as if they've been designed, rather than just attached. To the eccentric eye, the belt driven, auto-tensioned shaft driving the supercharger's screws might resemble the shaft powering the hydraulics on a Citroen SM, only ninety-times more stout. Also, the cold air intake pipe is bigger than a baritone saxophone.
Seeing as how the intake pipe connects to the manifold right above and between your knees, the dominant sound in the cabin is also baritone sax, albeit one plugged into a pair of Mesa/Boogie half stacks. We're sure other noises are taking place as you dip your right foot deep into the throttle's long travel, but you can't hear 'em. And that's just fine because you really ought to be concentrating on what's barreling towards you at a rapid rate. 725 pound-feet of torque is an insane amount of forward thrust to deal with, and 700 horsepower means that you won't be slowing down anytime soon.
The Other Details are Almost as Important
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who are smitten with the looks of the new Dodge Challenger, and those who shrug their shoulders and say, "meh." Without tipping our hand too much as to which camp we belong, we will say that SMS did a bang up job on the 570X's exterior. The front splitter helps to not only lower the Challenger's overall stance, but looks less blobular. The real magic happens out back where a rear diffuser performs an optical illusion that greatly cuts the bulk of the Challenger's portly backside.
The coolest party trick is saved for the three red butterfly valves on either side the hood – they're functional! Meaning that when you goose the throttle, all six open up to allow in much needed air. Totally necessary? No, but a very cool trick that we think signifies just how serious SMS is about their products. They take that extra step. The sharp-eyed amongst will also notice the three-rectangle pattern of the induction butterflies are visually repeated throughout the 570X, most noticeably in the three box grille. In a nice touch of cubism, the three box pattern is set off by a two box pattern. Note the two gray hash marks on either side of the hood.
This theme is also repeated inside the 570X's cabin, most notably on the seats where you sit on three boxes, but recline against two. There's also some tasty pinstriping, which helps spruce up the joint. As far as the rest of the cabin goes, we appreciate the new shifter. And that's about it. Hey, contemporary Chryslers don't make very good starting points when it comes to cabins. Let's just leave it at that.
Not Your Gearhead Father's Muscle Car
Let's get this part out of the way: the SMS 570X is hugely quick. Ridiculously so. We'd just finished drifting around Irwindale with Tanner Foust and his 650-ish-hp stock car-motored Scion TC and the 570X still felt scary fast. The first time SMS design guru Phil Frank dropped the proverbial hammer (er, in this case, sledge hammer) we were pinned to our seat harder than any mega-roller coaster we've ever ridden. Just a stunning amount of power and velocity. But with that much power on tap, the results were predictable, while still impressive.
We don't want to imply that this 700-horsepower Dodge Challenger-based car is a caricature of a muscle car. As in fast in a straight line only, but hopeless everywhere else. Having now switched seats with Mr. Frank, one stomp of the custom 14-inch, six-piston front calipers and the 570X stops surprisingly well, especially for something as big and heavy as the donor car. Likewise when it comes to handling, the 570X is not just a throwback to the days of $0.29 per gallon gas. We went in expecting the 570X to wallow and root about like a hog, but because of a full SMS suspension pack, it simply doesn't.
That's not to say the Challenger's two-ton starting weight helps the 570X out any. Pounding the car (within reason) on some choice Orange County twisty roads, the 570X is a handful, albeit a delightful one. More than once the big bruiser got a little out of sorts when exiting a choppy corner. And when the supercharger is spooled up, you'd better have a firm grip on the wheel, otherwise you'll wind up in the weeds faster than a Top Chef contestant making pastries. Still, compared to a stock Challenger, the handling and composure (and ride quality) is otherworldly.
But let's not overlook the obvious. The SMS 570X is fun in the same way a mutant orange Lamborghini convertible is fun. Both are simply berserk. Wild, unrestrained, silly cars that don't make that much sense – and thank God for that! You can buy yourself a Camry 'til the cows come home but we can assure you that a year spent in four-door appliance-ville will never be half as joy-inducing as 60 minutes in the 570X. Sadly, we know this from experience. The larger point is, like any extroverted car worth its low MPG figures, we leave it realizing the world is a better place for it having existed.
In the End, We Must Conclude
We hope we surprise no one when we tell you that this particular SMS car is not a Porsche Cayman. But then again, the people in the market for more-than-potent muscle cars aren't cross shopping darty little Germans against American Iron. With this in mind, you realize that SMS might have just built the ultimate in modern muscle. You're rarely (if not never) going to lose at a stop light, the looks are stunning in that I'm-gonna-beat-you-to-death thug stance one expects from a proper muscle car and the price is much less than any other 700-horsepower car we can think of – about $85,000.
Perhaps you're not a Mopar guy, perhaps you want a bit more handling (and a lot less weight) than is on offer in the 570X. No worries, as SMS has two other modern throwbacks up its sleeve. The first is the Ford Mustang-based 460 and 460X, which will be available in either January or February 2010. The next is the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro-based 620 and 620X, which should come online sometime in third quarter of 2010.
As you can see, SMS names their cars based on the donor vehicle's engine displacement – 570 = 5.7 liters, 460 = 4.6 liters, 620 = 6.2 liters. The really impressive part is that the SMS supercharger is designed to work on all three motors with a minimum of unique parts. Obviously, the LS3-based 620X is going to be an absolute power monster. 800 horsepower isn't a bad guess. But for our money, we're most interested in the 460X, as the current Mustang GT is so good as is. 600 or so horses ought to make it divine. Whichever SMS car you choose, you'd better be prepared for one thing: Giggling like a teenager every time you hit the gas.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.