Initially this new column was supposed to be about an off-the-beaten path, high-tech issue-the first being an inside look at what's on the laptop computer of a Winston Cup crew chief. However, there was something more important. Since I don't always do what I'm told and figured I could get away with it, I took this opportunity to examine a concept car that will hopefully make it into production soon.
The designers at DaimlerChrysler had a stroke of brilliance, the result being a rear-wheel-drive, 325hp Dodge Charger R/T concept vehicle. If you've looked at a Motor Trend or Car and Driver lately, you've probably read about the Charger's supercharged 4.7L, 16-valve, compressed natural gas-powered (CNG) V-8; 20-inch wheels; carbon-fiber seats; and how the designers combined elements of the old designs with the new one. If not, I just told you. (The Feb. '99 Motor Trend has a first look at the Charger.) The car made waves at the Detroit Auto Show, and it has received a strong dose of media hoopla since then. DaimlerChrysler remains tight-lipped as to the possibility of production, but given the company's past with the Viper, Prowler, and PT Cruiser, coupled with Mercedes' respect for the virtues of rear-wheel-drive performance, the chances of a real American icon returning appear to be better than ever. I might as well throw this obvious one out on the plate, too-the Charger would make an excellent platform for Dodge to make a return to NASCAR. Did I hear an "I second that!" from the back row? I thought so. In fact, we've received plenty of letters from people who want just that. How many other carmakers can boast that people are begging them to race?
A Natural RacerThere's more than a lot of flash and nostalgia to this car; there are plenty of juicy high-performance components. It has a five-speed manual transmission coupled to a beefy Dana 44 rear differential and a final drive ratio of 3.9:1. The 325hp, supercharged V-8 produces 320 lb-ft of torque at 2,250 rpm, and the car weighs 3,375 pounds. The car is speculated to run 0-60 mph in less than five seconds. It's not a 426 Wedge, Hemi, or 440 Magnum engine, but the prototype CNG-powered engine certainly has the power to move this car and meet every clean-air law out there. The Charger rides on a four-wheel independent suspension and features unitized steel body construction. Stopping power is derived from the Viper, with four-wheel disc brakes, vented rotors, and four-piston floating calipers up front (single piston in the rear). The overall length measures 187 inches and its wheelbase is 113 inches.
The car's designers had originally intended for the Charger to be a two-door coupe. However, they changed their minds after considering that a four-door sedan is what the market really wants. (That's another clue that this car is being seriously considered for production.) Newly designed, compact, high-tech CNG tanks give the car a range of about 300 miles, according to Dodge. Bulky tanks and low driving ranges (about 150 miles) have been a major problem for natural gas-powered cars in the past, but new tanks developed by Johns Hopkins University save valuable space and weight-making it similar in size to a conventional gasoline tank. Natural gas does sound a bit inconvenient at first, but it might not be that bad. With natural gas, refueling at home is possible. I'd rather pay the natural gas company than pay a gas station that's made a habit of gouging its customers. Using CNG on long trips might be difficult, as it would require some careful planning. Sure, natural gas would be inconvenient in a street car, but I'd be willing to put up with it for this car.
Winston Cup Future?The Charger appears to be a true street brawler with the potential for a potent stock car. If it makes it into production, and then into racing, it would certainly carry an incredible presence in Winston Cup (minus the crazy CNG engine, of course). Could this be the platform for Dodge's return to big-time racing? It's hard to tell and still too early. However, Dodge already has a solid engine program with its
Mopar-powered NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams. Additionally, the body style of the Charger seems it would lend itself well to a Winston Cup car, although the Ford, Chevy, and Pontiac teams would probably be screaming aerodynamic bloody murder. It's a long shot, but certainly not an impossible dream. In recent years, Mopar has maintained that they intend to focus mainly on grassroots motorsports, in which racing programs benefit production models. Perhaps the new Charger would be reason enough for a racing program in Winston Cup. From what we've seen and heard, a Dodge in Winston Cup would be a real crowd pleaser.