Images by Bruce Caldwell, Jerry Heasley, and Chrysler Corporation.
Remember the seventies? Remember the prices of Hemi Chargers, Hemi Challengers, and assorted other Hemi/high performance Mopars during the first gas crisis? How about unsold brand new Daytonas and Super Birds in 1971? If so, you’ve probably muttered something like “I shoulda bought one when they were cheap.”
Given perfect hindsight, there are many things we should have done, but the more important issue is what opportunities you’re missing today. They are selling brand new (and low mileage used) Hemi Challengers and Chargers today. Thanks to the Chrysler SRT team, there’s a wide array of incredible Mopars on the market right now.
We don’t think seventies giveaway prices will return, but even if you’re not looking for automotive investments, there are some hot cars you should experience. We’ve owned some great musclecars and sold them too soon, but our automotive version of Tennyson’s “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is “It’s better to have owned and sold than not enjoyed at all.”
The point is, now may be the zenith of automotive high performance as we know it. How long can these incredible cars keep coming before some real or manipulated crisis puts a mid-seventies halt to the fun?
Manufacturers worldwide are building spectacular cars, but this is a Mopar story so our focus is contemporary Chrysler Corporation products. Chrysler’s SRT team puts other manufacturers to shame. Their commitment to building a wide range of high quality, high performance vehicles is unmatched by any domestic automaker, and you have to climb pretty far up the price ladder to find comparable Europeans.
SRT stands for street and racing technology. The group was officially announced at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show. The SRT credo is: “Race inspired, street legal.” Judging from the great SRT cars and trucks, the SRT team has obviously succeeded.
Drivers or Investments
We’re confident that SRT vehicles will be frontrunners among future collectible cars. Just which ones will perform best financially and what their rate of return will be is hard to predict.
There are probably futurists with already-sealed-up, zero-mileage Vipers, Challengers and Chargers, but that takes the fun out of some very entertaining cars. Our advice is to buy an SRT, either new or used, enjoy it for a couple years, and then move on to another exhilarating SRT product. The current economic climate and timing (as far as vehicle age, mileage, price, etc.) is excellent.
Properly bought, it’s possible to find a low mileage, mint condition SRT vehicle and drive it for a year or two without losing much money. The reasons are that there is a good supply, and original owners have absorbed a big chunk of the dreaded new car depreciation. The cars are new enough that they shouldn’t need expensive repairs and/or they should still be under warranty.
Cars tend to hit various price plateaus, and we think many SRT models are at the point where they’ve hit that first big “drive it off the lot” depreciation drop. They’re still very popular, which buoys prices, but that also works to your advantage if you sell.
As the premier Chrysler products, SRT vehicles were at the top of each model’s price chart. When looking at price drops, you generally get more for your money on loaded cars than on bare bones cars without options. You benefit from the depreciation of expensive options.
Depending on local market conditions and your negotiating skills, it’s possible to save roughly ten thousand dollars on a low mileage, couple-year-old SRT, compared to the new price. That amount is the big initial “drive it off the lot depreciation” hit. If you take excellent care of the car and keep mileage as low as possible, you should be able to get a couple years of fun before the car drops to another significant plateau. A common plateau is 5 years old and/or 50,000 miles. If you’re thinking investment potential, keep the mileage as low as possible.
New or Used
There’s much to be said for buying a new SRT. The best reason is you can get precisely the car you want. You control the car’s care and mileage, which can be a big plus should you decide to keep it for a long time.
It’s a buyer’s market, so now is an excellent time to buy a new SRT from dealer inventory. If you plan to keep the car for several years, the price difference between a new SRT and a used one may only be a hundred dollars a month.
Since our main premise is to buy an SRT at an attractive price, drive it, enjoy it and move on, we think used is the way to go. Used can be either a private seller or a dealership. We generally favor private sellers, but a dealership may be better due to their financing capabilities. Dealerships also offer extended warranties.
Whichever way you go, be sure to invest in a vehicle history service. It’s critical to know where the car has been and if it was ever damaged.
Choosing the Right SRT
SRT vehicles have been produced in 4, 6, 8, and 10-cylinder variations. The drivetrain layouts have included rear wheel drive, front wheel drive, and all wheel drive. The engines have appeared in roadsters, convertibles, coupes, sedans, station wagons, regular pickups and crew cab pickups. New prices have ranged from just under $20,000 to pushing six figures.
There have been and are SRT versions of the Dodge Viper (roadster and coupe), Challenger, Charger, Magnum, Ram, Caliber and Neon. Chrysler versions include the 300C and the Crossfire in both coupe and convertible versions. Even Jeep has an SRT--the Grand Cherokee SRT8.
In spite of all the variety, there is a fair amount of commonality. The most universal platform is the Chrysler 300C, from which the Charger, Magnum, and Challenger are derived. The 425-horsepower 420-lb-ft of torque 6.1L new Hemi is the most used engine.
The 300C, Charger and Magnum are the most similar since they’re all front-engine rear-drive four-doors. It gets down to image and personal preferences. The Chrysler is more sophisticated, the Charger has more of a classic musclecar vibe, and the Magnum has added practicality.
There have been quite a few special/limited edition SRT vehicles, such as the 2004 Daytona Pace Truck Replicas; 2005 SRT Triple Crown Commemorative Edition Viper, Ram and Neon (all were white with blue stripes); the Viper ACR (American Club Racer) coupes; and the Dodge Charger Super Bees. The factory-produced limited editions should be worth more as collectibles if you can buy them at a fair price. Future collectibility varies with production totals.
There are also aftermarket limited editions such as the Hurst Challenger SRT8. The collectibility of these cars is unknown. Lately, it seems like every van conversion company or reality TV show host wants to get in the limited edition musclecar business. Famous names such as Hurst should do fine, but we wouldn’t pay a premium for one. If you buy a special model, be sure to get all the paperwork so you can establish the car’s provenance for future collectibility.
Colors and Options
Watch any collector car auction and you’ll quickly see how important colors and options can be. More red 1957 Bel Air convertibles exist today than were originally produced. It’s tough to beat “resale red” or solid black.
All SRT models had high content. Options were limited, but it never hurts to have every possible option.
SRT color choices have been sparse, often only three or four colors per model per year. The colors that have the best chance of being worth a premium later are the ones with historical significance. For example, the 2009 Challenger SRT8 was available in the legendary B5 Blue. The limited edition 2009 Charger SRT8 Super Bee was Hemi Orange. TorRed is another great color with ties to vintage Mopar musclecars.
Dodge Viper SRT10 (2003 to 2010)
The original SRT vehicle was the Dodge Viper. The all-new 2003 Viper SRT10 roadster started the SRT dynasty.
The Viper SRT10 coupe debuted in 2006. The 2008 Viper SRT10 got a slight displacement increase to 8.4-liters and a substantial horsepower jump to 600 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. There wasn’t a 2007 Viper, but the 2006 model year ran longer than usual.
There’s no doubt that Viper SRT10s will be future collectibles, but we don’t think they’re suitable for daily transportation. A Viper is a weekend fun car. They’re expensive, and many have lived hard lives. A fair number have been crashed, which is very easy to do. A Viper can get away from inexperienced or inattentive drivers. The torque is so incredible that launching one is like driving a drag racer. A Viper can hit 60 mph in under 4 seconds and it can do 0 to 100 to 0 in about 12 seconds – that’s legendary performance.
Dodge Neon SRT4 (2003 to 2005)
Dodge is definitely not afraid to mix things up, as they demonstrated with the second SRT offering – the 2003 Dodge Neon SRT4. Seemingly the polar opposite of the Viper, the compact Neon was a surprisingly nimble car that adapted well to SRT tuning.
The 2003 Neon SRT4 was priced at $19,995, making it a huge winner in the “bang for the buck” category. The 2.4L turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine produced 205 hp in 2003. Power jumped to an underrated 230 hp in 2004. A new limited slip differential helped the increased horsepower. The 5-speed manual transmission was well matched.
The 2003-2005 Neon SRT4 was great fun. You couldn’t help but drive it enthusiastically. It was also practical, with a real back seat and trunk. The problem with these cars is that many were driven very hard. Since they’re older and the least expensive SRT, they fall into the affordability range of younger drivers. Check any Neon SRT4 thoroughly (especially the turbocharger) before buying it.
Dodge Ram SRT10 (2004 to 2006)
The third SRT offering was a Viper-powered pickup (How cool is that?). It had a real aluminum 8.3L V-10 with 500 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque. The icing on the truck was a T-56 6-speed manual transmission with a Hurst shifter and 4.56 gears. Tire size was 305/40R22 with 22-inch rims and 15-inch and 14-inch (f/r) brake rotors. The Ram SRT10 hauled to 60 mph in about 5 seconds.
The super hot Ram collectible is one of the fifty 2004 blue and white Daytona Pace Truck Replicas. They were initially offered to current Viper owners. There is also the 2005 Commemorative Edition Ram SRT10 that matched similarly painted (white with blue stripes) Vipers and Neons.
A Quad Cab Ram SRT10 joined the regular cab in 2005. It was equipped with a 4-speed automatic transmission. It’s a more practical truck, but it lacks the raw excitement of the 6-speed Rams. We think 6-speed Ram SRT10s will be quite collectible.
Chrysler Crossfire SRT6 (2005 to 2006)
The only six-cylinder SRT is the 2005 Chrysler Crossfire SRT6. This unique, retro-styled coupe/roadster never really caught on with U.S. buyers. It was a Chrysler-Mercedes collaboration, which gave it excellent bones from the Mercedes SLK32 AMG.
The hand-built supercharged 3.2-liter V-6 engine was rated at 330 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (supposedly underrated so as not to upstage the more expensive SLK32). The Crossfire SRT6 was quick (0-60 in the low fives) and handled well. We drove a Crossfire SRT6, but didn’t like it as well as the SLK32 AMG. There’s no logical explanation, so maybe the odd styling put us off.
The Crossfire SRT6 (especially the coupe) could be a bargain SRT, but it could also be difficult to resell.
Chrysler 300C SRT8 (2006 to 2012)
The 2006 Chrysler 300C SRT8 was true to the heritage of the original 1955 Hemi-powered Chrysler C300 (the letter position changed in 1956). Both cars were designed as gentlemen’s hot rods.
The 2006 Chrysler 300C SRT8 improved on the already great looks of the regular 300C. The more aggressive components worked well, especially the 425-hp 6.1L Hemi. Performance figures of 13-second quarter mile times and 0-60 mph in approximately five seconds are not what most people expect from a luxury sedan.
The 300C SRT8 is still in production, and it offers a great alternative to German uber-sedans. We don’t think it will be as collectible as other SRT models, but it’s an exciting car to drive and enjoy.
Dodge Charger SRT8 (2006 to 2012)
The Charger SRT8 was also introduced in 2006. It’s essentially a $5,000-less expensive version of the Chrysler 300C SRT8. The Dodge Charger was a trendsetting musclecar in 1968-1970, so it was a natural SRT choice. Mechanically, Chargers are the same as other 6.1-L Hemi cars, but we were disappointed by its styling. Not everyone was crazy about the 1969 Charger Daytona styling either, and that hasn’t hurt current prices or collectibility.
The Charger SRT8 has been offered in Super Bee special editions. In 2007, it was Detonator Yellow; the 2008 Bee was Surf Blue; and the 2009 Super Bee is Hemi Orange. Only 425 Hemi Orange SRT8 Chargers will be built, and they should be very popular.
Dodge Magnum SRT8 (2006 to 2008)
For us, the 2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8 is the complete opposite (styling-wise) of the Charger. We think the low-roof station wagon is the best-looking SRT of them all. This car looks like an expensive custom, not a domestic production car.
Under the surface it has the same great parts as the 300C/Charger. The interior is spacious, with ample headroom and good outward visibility. A high cargo deck limits package height, but it’s still quite practical.
Magnums in general weren’t great sellers, which accounts for the Magnum SRT8 being dropped after 2008 (the 2008 Magnum SRT8 was restyled, which makes it unique). The Magnum SRT8 is an excellent choice for a high performance family car, but it could be a little soft as far as future collector value.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 (2006 to 2012)
SRTs saw a banner year in 2006. Chrysler’s Jeep Division got the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 – the highest performance Jeep ever built. It’s also the only SRT with full time four-wheel drive.
Under normal conditions, the specially-built transfer case puts 5-10% of the power to the front wheels, but under limited traction conditions it sends as much power as needed to maintain control. The four-wheel drive, combined with the 420-hp (5 less than other SRT8 models) 6.1-L Hemi make the Jeep an outstanding handler.
The 20-inch SRT wheels, low profile tires, and lowered stance make the Grand Cherokee SRT8 look better than any other Jeep. The Grand Cherokee is extremely comfortable and very practical with its station wagon cargo area.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is our overall favorite, because it’s the most versatile, best handling SRT, and it looks fantastic. We’re not so sure future collectors will be as enthusiastic, but it’s a super car to own now.
Dodge Challenger SRT8 (2008 to 2012)
As much as we think stylists missed on the Charger, they definitely nailed the 2008 Dodge Challenger’s looks. The car is a masterful blend of classic 1970 Challenger cues and contemporary components. If any SRT8 variant stands to be a future superstar, it’s the Challenger. Besides all the great SRT8 mechanical pluses, it has the original Challenger looks and history to bolster its appeal.
All 2008 Challengers (all were SRT8s) were equipped with a 5-speed Auto Stick automatic transmission, but a new Tremec TR-6060 6-speed manual is available for 2009. The manual transmission increases both fun and future collectibility. It also helps the Challenger SRT8 hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
Our only knock on the Challenger is the cramped, hard to access rear seat. It’s more of a storage area than a useable seat, but the same could be said about the 1970 Challenger. People who buy Challengers aren’t thinking about rear seat passengers; if they were, they’d buy a Charger.
The Challenger SRT8 is too new and too popular for any screaming deals on used ones. Your best bet is to shop aggressively for a new Challenger.
Dodge Caliber SRT4 (2008 to 2009)
A four-cylinder SRT returned in 2008 as the Dodge Caliber SRT4. Like the Neon SRT4, the Caliber SRT4 relies on a turbocharged 2.4L engine, but with 280 hp with 260 lb-ft of torque (2009 figures are 285 hp/265 torque). Instead of the Neon’s 5-speed, the Caliber has an excellent Getrag 6-speed. It rolls on 19-inch wheels, compared to the 17-inch Neon wheels.
The Caliber SRT4 is capable of sub-six second 0-60 times and is a solid value at under $25,000. It’s priced $15,000 to $20,000 less than other current SRT vehicles. The five-door hatchback body is more versatile than the earlier Neon.
The Caliber SRT4 is definitely fun to drive, but as a larger vehicle it’s not as exciting as the Neon. It doesn’t have the Neon’s zippy personality.
We don’t foresee much collector interest in the Caliber SRT4, but it’s a lot of performance at a very reasonable price.