At an event covering the finer details of the Demon's supercharged 6.2-liter V8, Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis and SRT Powertrain Director Chris Cowland spoke about the smoke and mirrors used to hide the Demon's development. Work on the car progressed for nearly two years before it was made public, with just a small team having full access to the project. Numbers were altered. Secret meetings were held. SRT engineers worked nights and weekends while parts suppliers were given as little information as possible to move progress forward.
Preliminary work on the Demon began in April of 2015, not long after the standard Hellcat hit the streets. The goal wasn't to create a faster Hellcat. Kuniskis said that would have been easy. They wanted a single-minded vehicle that could also be driven on the road. It's the same mindset that brought about the Dodge Viper ACR. Dodge wanted a car that could sell the brand to both enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. 840 horsepower is going to raise anyone's eyebrows, including the Camry owner parked down the street.
While preliminary work started in April, the final greenlight wasn't given until September. The project was originally going to revive the American Drag Racer, or ADR, name. When we saw the first hints of the Demon last fall, we labeled the spy photo above the Dodge Challenger ADR. It was set to have 10-percent more power and 20-percent more launch force than the already gut-punching Hellcat. It was also only going to have a quarter-mile time in the 10s, just slightly quicker than the Hellcat.
Somewhere along the line, the team realized that the ADR wasn't enough. It was just going to be a Hellcat plus, and that wasn't exciting. The main goal was changed: 9s with light. Translated, that means a 9-second quarter mile with light under the tires (read: a wheelie). From that point forward, everything about the Demon's development, from power to suspension to weight, would be done in pursuit of that goal. For his part, Sergio Marchionne thought it was a crazy idea. He's not totally wrong.
Every last dollar from the budget was funneled into performance. The car was originally supposed to have a new interior. That idea was dropped and the money was reallocated. A detachable swaybar was also in the early cards, but that too was dropped for a less costly solution.
The upgraded engine was codenamed Benny, a character from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Top Cat (implying it's better than the Hellcat). The block was even going to be painted a shade of blue similar to that of the character. Unfortunately, Chrysler doesn't have a blue paint that can be used for engines.
Getting more power out of the Hellcat engine is relatively easy. There are several tuners with Hellcats that are far more powerful than the Demon. Making the engine reliable and emissions compliant is a whole different matter.
Since the development was being done in secret, much of the work was done in simulations. Cowland said only about 10 people in total knew what was going on. Once the few SRT powertrain engineers figured out what they wanted, they would send the minimal amount information to a parts supplier. For example, the company that makes the supercharger was given just a single airflow number and nothing else. That way no one could piece together what the team was working on. Internal meetings were listed as "special edition" rather than Demon.
Once the power had been determined, the engine dynos at FCA were re-calibrated to read 707 horsepower instead of 808 or 840. At a glance, it would look just like any other Hellcat engine. Work was fairly straightforward. Introduce more fuel and more cool air. Things like the larger supercharger, Air Grabber hood, and the air chiller system were all put in place. Although SRT knew what it had, the final SAE horsepower certification didn't happen until just a week before the New York reveal.
While Cowland and Kuniskis managed to get most of their ideas passed, some things were non-starters for the lawyers. That was the inspiration for the $1 Demon crate, which is technically an aftermarket accessory. One of the big hangups was the second ECU that was tuned to run on high-octane fuel, though, once it's installed, there' not a real reason to take it out. It's still 50-state emissions compliant.
The lack of a roll cage was another no-go from the FCA legal team. This came as a bit of a surprise, especially after Dodge boasted that it was banned by the NHRA. Kuniskis said that, while Dodge and SRT aren't offering a cage, they have supplied cars to aftermarket suppliers so that a cage will be available.
As development reached the final stages, cars began to hit the streets. We ran a few spy photos, but there were more cars around that were hiding in plain sight. The widebody gave it away, so some of the cars ran with a number of tuner decals and California license plates, intending to pose as some West Coast tuner. We even saw a few of these running around near the Autoblog office.
The quarter-mile times were performed on a dragstrip in Gainesville, Florida. Track workers signed nondisclosure agreements, but even then the Demon was tested alongside a number of other cars. That way it looked like just another manufacturer test.
The ruse continued all the way up to the day of the reveal. The advance press materials gave us plenty of info, but listed "horsepower TBD, torque TBD, quarter-mile TBD seconds @ TBD mph." Those numbers were only revealed to the broader SRT team about an hour before the event. Once the final figures - 808 horsepower and 717 lb-ft of torque on premium, 840 horsepower and 770 lb-ft of torque on high-octane - were released, even the most jaded of enthusiasts were impressed. We're looking forward to a chance to get behind the wheel.