Video: Hellcat, ZL1, GT500 – Let The Horsepower Wars Begin (Again)!

The horsepower wars, like we had in the late 1960s and early 1970s, quickly disappeared for a while. We were in a gas crisis that lasted seemingly forever, and dirty words like smog and emissions replaced our thirst for big horsepower. At first it was easy to get around the smog equipment – just take it off.

But emission controls got worse, and removing only some of the components didn’t really provide more power, it provided more headaches. When rules became even more strict towards emissions, most of us gave up on power and learned to live with what we were getting. While the big three gave us economy cars to get to and from work, the imports were taking over the horsepower wars with their multiple cams and turbochargers.

This was Mopar’s answer to the need for more horsepower. It wasn’t what we expected – or wanted.

In those days, turbocharged Mopars began making the scene and though we weren’t thrilled with Chargers and Daytonas being front wheel drive, they were making decent power for a four-banger. But, while Mopar went primarily FWD, we still had the likes of the Firebird, Mustang, and Camaro for pony cars that gave us V8 power – albeit wimpy V8 power. We didn’t embrace it, we merely accepted it because it was all we were getting at the time.

Then we started to see centrifugal superchargers on pony cars like the Mustang. If the manufacturer didn’t provide gearheads with enough power, then they went to places like Vortech, Paxton, and ProCharger to find more power. Superchargers and turbochargers were the typical power adder being installed on stock engines just the way we installed a bigger carburetor and headers back in the 1970s. Back then, adding a supercharger typically required a complete engine build to make big power. Even then, the car wasn’t very streetable with more than 500 horsepower, mostly because brakes and tires weren’t up to par with the kind of power those cars were delivering.

The real pony car wars brought us some very cool cars with brute power, and we felt every bit of it with every inch of our body. And it was good!

Though we began seeing superchargers on production vehicles in the early to mid 1990s, it wasn’t new and actually dates back to the early 1900s. They helped with power in the early part of the century, but horsepower increases were still in the double-digit range back then. We saw supercharged V6 engines from both Ford and GM in the 1990s, though many of these cars weren’t exactly performance cars. The horsepower wars still weren’t really happening in those days; the 1990s still seemed to be more about economy than gobs of power. Real horsepower through the 1980s and much of the 1990s was homebuilt – because the only production cars making big power were out of just about everyone’s price range.

The musclecars we got in the late 1970s were okay, the Mustang II missed the mark a little. But for a while we had to make our own kind of horsepower, because we weren't getting it from the manufacturers.

Horsepower Making A Comeback

In the past few years, though, horsepower has been making a huge comeback at the manufacturer level. When you think about how (un)impressed we were when the most powerful V8 engine in a Firebird, Camaro, or Mustang was a little over 200HP in the 1990s, it wasn’t much to write home about. But still, it was much better than what we saw the decade before when 150-165 was the typical horsepower range from a performance V8.

Yes, this is a Challenger. No, we didn’t want it.

During those ponycar wars, one component that was missing was Mopar. Sure, we saw a couple hundred horsepower from their turbocharged four-bangers, but musclecars were supposed to be rear wheel drive and eight cylinders. We missed the old Mopar that we fell in love with – the cars with the brute power and wild colors.

In 1992 we saw the Viper transition from concept to production in record time and it was a good thing, but it was a bittersweet taste of what was to come because few could afford to be in that club. The answer to that recurring question: “when is Mopar going to get back into the game?” was being answered a decade later when we saw the Magnum and the Charger. Though we weren’t thrilled that the Charger had “two” many doors, it was a RWD V8 so we took it with a little grumbing. Plus, this Charger was much better than the one we saw in the mid-1980s that was FWD.

550 horsepower on a stock 4.6L Mustang GT is pretty impressive. And there’s room for more.

We also started to see positive displacement type superchargers making a comeback – and they were intercooled and making great power on a stock powerplant. These modern superchargers came from companies like Whipple, Magnuson, and Kenne Bell, and they weren’t inexpensive but they made great power on fuel injected cars. We started to see 500+ horsepower on daily driven street cars and it was all good.

Still, the Mustang and the Camaro were already making power and they were two-door coupes, really not in the same class as the Charger, let alone the Magnum. By the time the Challenger hit the market in 2008, it had to prove itself – but only to the Mustang because the Camaro was sitting on a shelf, with no clue as to when it would return, and the Firebird was cooked. When people referred to the Hemi, they usually made comments like, “it’s not a real Hemi”, and they were basically right. The modern Hemi cylinder head design shares more with the old Polyspherical V8 cylinder heads than it does with the original 426 Hemi – the elephant.

Modern musclecars actually have muscle, and we were thrilled to have it back. The three original pony cars are back at it again, all is right in the world.

With the Challenger, Mopar lovers were pretty happy – some of those wild colors were coming back: B5 blue, sublime, plum crazy. When the horsepower wars started to make a comeback, so did the Camaro, and in 2010 we were back in business. The Firebird and ‘Cuda were gone, but we had a Camaro, a Mustang, and a Challenger again – our three favorite pony cars. But we still wanted more power because the carrot was being dangled in front of us. Chevrolet and Ford gave us superchargers, and we saw horsepower in factory cars hit 580 and 662, respectively. Dodge had some catching up to do, because the 470 horsepower SRT8 Challenger was under par. The car that boasted a 425 HP 426 Hemi in 1970 was alive again, but this time at the bottom of the heap with regards to horsepower.

The video below shows the three original pony cars racing, and their modern day replacements. Perhaps a rematch will be in order a couple of years from now when all the stars are aligned again. What do you think?

Enter the Hellcat

The ponycar horsepower wars were once again leaning away from Mopar, and all we heard was, “the Challenger is a pig”, and “it’s too heavy” and everyone made fun of the Challenger’s “wimpy, not-a-real Hemi”. But Mopar fans kept saying, “just you wait.” We began to hear rumors of a supercharged Hemi from camp Mopar, and we knew it was going to be impressive. It had to be, after all, Mopar was losing the horsepower wars to the Camaro and Mustang, and Mopar fans didn’t want a repeat of the 1980s or 1990s.

The Hellcat Challenger is sexy no matter how you look at it. It’s okay to hate it, but at least have a valid reason that isn’t supported by a lame meme you found on the internet.

This supercharged Hemi was to be called the Hellcat, and it was going to be big news – and big news it is. When the horsepower rating first came out, the magical 707 became the new figure to beat. Flip it over, and it was the LOL that Mopar was putting in the face of Ford and Chevrolet, showing them that the Hemi is back and in a very big way. When everyone was relishing in the fact that it is “the most horsepower in a musclecar, ever” (Tim Kuniskis) we started seeing memes of the Shelby Cobra Super Snake with it’s $39,000 performance boost to 850 horsepower, mocking the mere 707 in the supercharged Hellcat Challenger. Some folks didn’t quite get it that the Super Snake was not a production vehicle like the Hellcat is.

Then we saw the 10.8 second, NHRA-verified quarter mile run of the Challenger with street legal drag radials, and everyone started to cry foul. For the record, a 2013 Shelby GT500 did pull a 10.2 quarter mile timeslip, but it was modified and also ran on drag radials. The ZL1 Camaro is not even in the same ballpark with its 580 horsepower.

It seems the Mustang camp didn’t like that the Challenger ran the quarter with drag radials, claiming that the video was misleading because it wasn’t on street tires. Then they said that the 2015 GT500 has 750 horsepower and is faster than the Challenger. But the 2015 GT500 doesn’t exist as of this writing, so how does it have more power, and how is it faster than the Hellcat Challenger? Wishful thinking, but maybe it will happen.

We also heard that the Challenger is too heavy and doesn’t handle, more claims that haven’t been proved or disproved because the car is still in the hands of Chrysler engineers and, of course, Ralph Gilles. We have seen videos of the Challenger at speed, and it seems to do well, but we really won’t know until someone takes it out on a track and tests it for themselves.

Now we're talking, let's put the Hellcat Hemi in the Drag Pak Challenger, run it with the COPO Camaro and the Cobra Jet Mustang and have some fun!

With Chevrolet, we have the COPO Camaro, Ford has the Cobra Jet Mustang, and we’re wondering if we’ll see a Drag Pak Hellcat Challenger in the future. That would be a great battle for dominance of the 1320, when’s the last time we saw the big three go head-to-head at the dragstrip like this?

The next question that people started asking is the price. While we have heard figures in the mid- to high-$60,000 range, some still speculate the Hellcat Challenger will be upwards of the new Z/28’s price tag, or even higher. If you’re curious about some facts and figures, we did come across the image below. We can’t verify it, but after some research we decided to share it anyway, just for fun and to rile up the Ford and Chevy guys a little. It was on the internet, so…

This was on the internet, so it has to be true.

As for the road course that all the Ford and Chevy fans think the Challenger is too heavy for, let’s try them out there as well and see how each car does before we create another meme, mkay? We love all musclecars, and it doesn’t matter which one is in the top spot, there will always be competition, and that’s what makes ‘Muricah great. In the meantime, watch Sam posey in the video below, piloting his Trans Am Challenger take on a Camaro and a Mustang as they battle for first at Laguna Seca, and think back to happier days when horsepower was real horsepower – and all motor.

Will there be a 2015 Shelby GT500, and will it have more than 707 horsepower? How about the ZL1, is Chevy going to step up their game? Only time will tell, we’d like to see these horsepower wars continue. With the Hellcat Hemi being in its first run, is it at all possible that we could see even more next year? Let’s hope so, because these horsepower wars and the little battles that they create are fun. Camaro – you need to step up your game. And to both Ford and Chevy: Mopar has Ralph Gilles being a Rock Star and doing burnouts with the Hellcat, where are your guys? C’mon… make it interesting, will you?

The rock star from SRT, Ralph Gilles, treated Chryslers at Carlisle to a good, old-fashioned burnout. Time to step it up Ford and Chevy, where are your leaders when it's time to smoke the tires?

About the author

Michael Harding

Michael is a Power Automedia contributor and automotive enthusiast who doesn’t discriminate. Although Mopar is in his blood, he loves any car that looks great and drives even faster.
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