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The craziest car in America

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Excess is back—and more excessive than ever.

The car business has had some humble moments, such as the years following the 2009 bankruptcies and federal bailouts of General Motors (GM) and Chrysler. Modesty became fashionable. Automakers boasted of the high-mileage cars they were building. They advertised bland family sedans during the Super Bowl.

These days, small is out. Modesty is passé. And Dodge is introducing a car so powerful it could tow a Prius and still lap a Tesla (TSLA).

Fastest car in production

The Dodge Challenger Demon, just introduced at the New York auto show, will feature a supercharged, 840-horsepower V-8 engine that rockets from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.3 seconds, which is half a second faster than a Porsche 911 turbo. Dodge says it will be the fastest production car ever when it goes on sale in the fall, and is worthy of other superlatives, as well. The force on the rear wheels, at maximum acceleration, is so great the car does a wheelie, with the front tires rising nearly three feet off the pavement. Here’s a promotional demo, although we’re still waiting for one with the Demon in full-wheelie:

Dodge achieves this performance with some muscular engineering—and an axe. To lighten the car and improve acceleration, Dodge removed all the seats except for the driver’s, although you can order them as an option for $1 apiece. Also gone: 16 audio speakers ordinarily featured on the top-tier Challenger, along with rear floor mats, trunk carpeting and a few other superfluities. The tires are optimized for drag racing, though they’re also street-legal. For some reason, there’s an “eco” mode.

Nobody needs a car like this, obviously. But gearheads are salivating, which is why automakers build such vehicles—to get car buffs excited. Actually, Dodge is the only mainstream automaker building cars like this. It launched the 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat in 2014, prompting wonder at car shows and a few wild crashes. The Demon radicalizes the Challenger brand even more. The most powerful Corvette, by comparison, features a wimpy 650 horsepower.

Revving up a weak brand

The Demon may have another role: to disguise the fact that Dodge is a thin and generally weak brand. Its lineup consists of several muscle cars, a couple of SUVs and a minivan. Parent Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) has carved the Ram pickup, once a Dodge, into its own brand, indicating, perhaps, a questionable future for Dodge. Its lineup includes no family sedan, a la the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, and the company no longer builds the Dart compact. Hybrids? Pfft.

Dodge hasn’t yet announced the price of the Demon, but there aren’t expected to be a lot of buyers; the company will produce just 3,300 of them. But that may be all it takes to wow the motoring public, since the sight of a hot rod doing a wheelie is something not quickly forgotten.

Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman