Challenger ready for muscle car battle

  • 05-Dec-2008 03:30 EST
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The 2009 Dodge Challenger is available in three models and rides on a shortened version of the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 platform.

With an uncertain future ahead, Dodge has looked to its legendary past and revived a classic muscle car, the Challenger. The new car, although only expected to be a niche market player, has caused much interest with its bold retro styling and driver-tuned powertrain choices.

The Challenger is based on Chrysler’s LX and LD rear-wheel-drive platform, as used by the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, but shortened for the Challenger and renamed the LC.

“It was a great platform to work with; a very solid platform to work from,” said Kipp Owen, Director of Street and Racing Technology (SRT) Engineering. Removed were 4 in (102 mm) from just behind the rear seat, forward of the rear wheel waterfall. “It was just to get the proportions right for the design, and it just lent itself; it’s a two-door coupe and we didn’t need all the length,” said Owen.

While based on the L-platform, the LC chassis is tuned specifically for the Challenger. “The overall cradle and types of shocks, but not the valving in the shocks, the sway bars, but not necessarily the diameter, are all based on the 300 and Charger,” said Owen. “All the suspension architectures are virtually identical but for the tuning.”

Carrying over components from other shared architectures benefits not only the company but also the consumer.

“The customer really benefits from our complexity work because we put features in and made a lot of them standard,” said Chris Nowak, Challenger Lead Engineer. “A lot of the components that the customer doesn’t see are carryover components. We’re going from what’s used in the 300 and Charger and now throwing in additional volumes, so those are all competitive ways to keep costs down. That’s probably the biggest, most beneficial strategy we use to leverage our supply base, by offering them more volume that wasn’t planned because this car was new to market.”

The development team for the Challenger was pulled from a variety of places, and due to the nature of the project, worked hand-in-hand with SRT from the beginning. “First of all, we showed the car at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, the same time [Chevrolet] showed the Camaro. It was a business objective for us to get to market first; we wanted to show the business world that we’re nimble enough to come up with the product first,” said Nowak.

The decision to speed production of the initial cars led to discussions of what to build first. “We said ‘you know what, when you look at all the cars out there, this is a performance car. Why not do the SRT8 first?’ And then we started and it snowballed from there,” said Nowak. “The SRT was just a logical choice to make.”

Producing only the SRT model limited optional extras and thereby made the introduction in the plant as smooth as possible. “This was supposed to be the fourth car in the Brampton Assembly Plant, so complexity was important for us to control to do an SRT-only program,” said Nowak. “The 08-¾ has four options: sunroof, your choice of tires, nav-radio or not, and color,” said Nowak. “In retrospect, why would we do it any differently? If we would have come up with a V6 first, do you think we could have gotten $400,000 for that first car, and would it have been a collector’s [edition]?"

The decision to make the SRT model first led to some positive realizations about product development that have had a positive impact on the later R/T and SE models, as well as the dedication to performance from the SRT model. “I was brought from Advanced Engineering to lead, and we basically put a small collective team together and then complemented it with Kipp’s team on the SRT side,” said Nowak. “Actually, from a base vehicle and an SRT vehicle, this car benefited from the SRT being first. Typically, we would design a vehicle, and then SRT, somewhere during the development, would decide if they are going to do an SRT variation of it.”

“And that’s not a perfect relationship, I can tell you,” added Owen. “The base team will make a decision and then you’re working on the SRT that’s going to lag, say, six months to a year later. Sometimes some decisions don’t always line up and optimize everyone’s path to the end, so this was beautiful.”

“It was really nice,” followed Nowak. “By doing the SRT first and taking some of the specialized testing they did, we actually made the SE and the R/T that much better, so it was the right thing to do. I think it’s going to be the model for us in the future.”

Three engine options are available, depending on the model chosen. All are existing engines taken from other models but tuned for the Challenger. The SE comes with a 3.5-L V6, producing 250 hp (186 kW) and 250 ft·lb (339 N·m) connected to a four-speed automatic. The R/T model features a 5.7-L Hemi V8 developing 370 hp (276 kW) and 398 ft·lb (540 N·m) sent to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic. The optional Track Pack adds the new-for-2009 Tremec six-speed manual as well as an extra 5 hp (4 kW) and 6 ft·lb (8 N·m). The line-topping SRT8, the first of the Challengers to be released, packs a 6.1-L Hemi with 425 hp (317 kW) and 420 ft·lb (569 N·m) backed by either a five-speed automatic or the Tremec six-speed manual.

The styling of the new car, although similar looking to the concept, had some important changes made. “I suppose the other significant thing is the hardtop design versus the B-pillar,” said Nowak. “That was certainly a decision in the whole body design that had to be made.” Two issues arose over the design choices. A pillarless coupe has to have a reinforced body in other areas to make up for the structural rigidity that a B-pillar adds, and the side windows have to join together, which can be problematic.

“Glass-to-glass joints are notorious for wind noise issues and even water management issues, so that was part of the smart decision,” said Owen.

The final decision was to incorporate a B-pillar. “Obviously, put in a pillar and that’s really the most cost-efficient, weight-efficient way to manage things like side impact,” said Nowak. “We don’t really know what the new rollover requirements are going to be, but we wanted to make sure we had the design that was capable.”

Transitioning from four-door architecture on the L-platform to a two-door brought about additional safety considerations to incorporate. “We have boron steel tubes on the A-pillar, we also have boron steel in the door beam as well,” said Nowak. “We have pressure sensors inside the door that’s a new technology for us versus accelerometers that manage the side-impact and side-curtain bags, and our curtain bags are 100% in all the cars. Really, when you look at that, it was the right thing to do from the safety standpoint, and the industry was going there anyway, and it really helped us keep our complexity down too.”

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