How powerful is nostalgia? Consider this: The original Dodge Challenger was kind of a flop. It was born late to the pony car era. The Mustang and Camaro absolutely stomped it in sales. Launched for 1970, the Challenger was dead by the end of '74.
You don't catch that vibe from its modern counterpart. Today's Challenger debuted as a 2008, meaning it's been alive more than twice as long as the early-'70s coupe it mimics. It feels like it's been around forever. Think back to 2008: The Mustang still had a solid rear axle. The Camaro was still dead.
The Challenger has had one major refresh in all those years, new lights and grilles and a significantly improved interior, but the sheetmetal hasn't budged since before the bailout. That seems to be part of the allure. The other part is a freak parade of increasingly outrageous powerplants. Which is how we ended up here: With the 797-horsepower Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye. Because the only thing stronger than nostalgia is horsepower.
Maybe you're familiar with red-eye gravy, made with leftover coffee and served with ham and biscuits as a proper southern breakfast. It's one of those delicacies born of necessity: When you need to dress up your country ham, the joe at the bottom of the pot starts to look like a viable ingredient.
I don't think Dodge intentionally references coffee-ham gravy by calling this car "Redeye," but the use-what-you've-got concept fits. This is basically a Challenger Hellcat stuffed with last year's Demon drivetrain. That's not an oversimplification. As Chris Cowland, Director of Advanced and SRT Powertrain Engineering, explained to me at the launch event in Portland, Maine, the Redeye gets the exact same engine, supercharger, transmission and driveline bits that went into the limited-production Demon.
So why only 797 horses when the Demon made 808, jumping to 840 on race gas? Blame the hood. The new twin-snorkel design, exclusive to the supercharged Challengers for 2019, actually boosts the regular Hellcat's output by 10 horses, to 717. But compared to the Demon's storm-drain hood scoop, the vaguely pectoral dual inlets flow slightly less air. The Demon hood generates unacceptable front-end lift at the Redeye's 203-mph top speed, so the SRT team went with the twin-snorkel lid, and adjusted the engine calibration to its slightly-constricted airflow.
I know what you're wondering, and the answer is: No, you can't just plug in a Demon Crate ECU and get a Redeye with 840 horses. According to Cowland, every Demon race-gas ECU is VIN-locked to an individual car. Nor will swapping on a Demon hood magically get you more oomph. It's just not calibrated that way, okay?
Same engine, different purposes. The Demon was laser-aimed at quarter-mile dominance, and just about ignored any other type of driving. The Redeye packs nearly the same power in a vehicle that's as well-rounded as a regular Hellcat. You won't get a trans brake or drag-radial tires, but the Redeye's suspension tuning acknowledges the existence of corners. A widebody Redeye on sticky 305-width tires will cut a 10.8-second quarter-mile at 131 mph, a tenth of a second and four mph quicker than a 717-hp Hellcat on the same tires. I asked Jim Wilder, Vehicle Development Manager for SRT Challenger and Charger, what would happen if you slapped the Demon's lightweight wheels and Nitto drag radials on a Redeye. Answer: You'd shave three tenths of a second off your elapsed time, with no change in trap speed. Turns out the Demon's squishy Drag Mode suspension setting, which cranks all the weight onto the rear tires at launch, has a lot to do with its quarter-mile dominance.
For reasons unfathomable, you can also get a narrow-body Redeye on 275-width tires—proof that Dodge is in cahoots with the tire industry.
Dodge invited journalists to Club Motorsports, a new race track in eastern New Hampshire, to sample the Redeye. This course is the precise opposite of a drag strip: 2.5 miles, 15 turns, with 250 feet of elevation change that comes in sweeping downhills and steep climbs. That alone should tell you something about Dodge's intentions with the Redeye.
In widebody trim, the Redeye has impressive cornering grip. Select Track Mode, and the dampers and steering assist go full firm, the drivetrain clicks over to its snappiest mode, and you're ready to run some laps. Every Hellcat is nose-heavy—the supercharger and associated cooling equipment add about 200 lbs compared to a 392 Scat Pack. The Redeye, like the widebody Hellcat it's based on, has chassis tuning that rewards straight-line braking and patience as the weight rolls around. And of course, you have to treat the throttle like a hot bath, easing your toe in at every apex. The Redeye is only available with the eight-speed automatic, and the tiny paddle shifters seem to communicate with the gearbox via satellite delay. For the most part, you can leave them alone—in Track Mode, the transmission almost always picks the right gear by itself, holding upshifts until redline and downshifting aggressively to keep the engine on boil.
Look: This is a 4500-lb two-door sedan with a snout full of steel. A Club Motorsports instructor with plenty of professional racing experience compared the Redeye to a dirt-tracker—you're not so much balancing the weight as reacting to it. The lighter, naturally-aspirated Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody is more adjustable, happier to rotate under trail-braking or aggressive throttle, willing to dive toward the apex more energetically than its supercharged kin. But play the mass game right, and the Redeye will walk away from the Scat Pack. A Dodge engineer with road racing experience consistently lapped the Redeye around Club Motorsport a full second quicker than the naturally-aspirated Challenger. I bet he had a hoot doing it.
Out on the street, the Redeye does all the fun, rowdy things that make the regular Hellcat such a charmer. The exhaust is no-joke loud—not the synthetic hammer-blow of a German V8 or the brassy trill of an LS motor, just honest, blatty Hemi clamor. Unlike the Mustang or Camaro, you can't choose a quieter mode from the touchscreen. It's maybe 5 dB west of polite, with a drone around 2250 rpm that verges on headachey after five or 10 minutes. On the highway, that translates to around 85 mph, which, in this long-legged coupe, feels like about 50.
You never forget about the supercharger. Every dedicated prod of the gas pedal brings a slide-whistle whoop from the belt driving the 2.8-liter blower, the largest ever fitted to a modern production car engine. Whether you're in the driver's seat or standing in pit lane at Club Motorsport, a Redeye at full throttle emits supercharger wail like Satan's own band saw ripping through an infinite board.
This is the part where you ask me how much quicker the Redeye is. Surely 90 more horses have an appreciable impact, right? I wish I could say. Throughout hours of driving in New Hampshire and Maine, on rural two-lanes, small-town main streets, and interstate highway, I dipped into this ultra-Hellcat's 707 lb-ft of torque as often as I could, from dead stops, 40-rolls, and highway passes.
Maybe the seat of my pants isn't as finely calibrated as some. But in the kind of short-dose full-throttle snorts you can get away with on the street, the Redeye felt only slightly more energetic than a regular Hellcat. That's no knock on Dodge—having more than 700 horses under your right toe feels like a nuclear rodeo, no matter the SAE number. The factory backs me up on this: Dodge says both the Redeye and the lesser 717-hp Hellcat, in widebody trim on identical tires, take 3.4 seconds to hit 60. The Redeye is running away at the end of the quarter-mile, and I'm sure a half-mile or standing-mile race would see the ham-gravy 'cat pulling a decisive lead. But out on the street, where a roaring Hemi playing a blower-belt kazoo solo draws all kinds of glowers, it's damn near impossible to tap into the Redeye's reserves for more than a few seconds without risking life or license.
And honestly, in this car, speed is almost secondary. Dodge already proved it can build the quickest factory street-legal quarter-mile car on earth with the Demon. The Redeye lets that engine out on Rumspringa. Quibbling about tenths of a second has always felt like the purview of Shelby GT350 or ZL1 1LE owners, anyway.
The modern-day Challenger has always been a second chance for Dodge's pony car. Its timing is as right as the original Challenger's was wrong. That car debuted right ahead of the oil and emissions crises that hobbled the industry; this one was born to the era of skyrocketing production-car horsepower, a steady crescendo of performance that shows no signs of stopping. Today's muscle cars live on a different planet from the mid-century beasts that inspired them. The Redeye is the most brazen example of that.
But rock 'n' roll still needs guitars, and muscle cars still need to nod to the heyday. Even if those memories aren't 100-percent reliable. The Redeye is exactly as fast, as tire-punishing, as loud and sinister and aggressive and white-knuckle as foggy memory says the original Challenger 440 Six-Pack must have been. It's the kind of car your dad wanted to build in '71. Now he, or you, can buy it straight off the showroom floor.
Reliable memories rarely make good stories. It's fitting, then, that the Challenger Redeye is such a rosy retelling of that brief stretch of time between Apollo 13 and the oil embargo. Dodge says today's average Challenger buyer is 51 years old. That means born in '67—too late to experience the pony car years firsthand. Every muscle coupe Dodge sells is a ticket to the theme park. It's a hell of a ride.