It may come as no surprise to you, but I love cars. I like guys who love cars. I especially like guys who love Mopars. Most of all, I like guys who love SRT Challengers. This is precisely why I like Kenneth Muñoz and his 2012 SRT8 Challenger.
I first met Kenneth when he joined my Challenger club, Challengers Unlimited, at the end of 2015. I immediately realized that Kenneth and I had a lot in common when I examined his car for the first time at a club event, as his car and mine were identical in model year, and nearly so regarding colors and options.
Our similarities diverged when it came to our cars’ intended purpose, though. I wanted to create a sleeper by limiting my modifications to things under hood, leaving my car’s aesthetics bone stock. Kenneth, on the other hand, had a very different idea in mind.
Kenneth’s backstory reads like an American dream story. He was born in Gardena, California and was one of six children of immigrant parents who both hailed from Capilla de Guadalupe, Mexico.
“My grandmother on my father’s side was born in San Jose, California, which gave my father U.S. citizenship, but by circumstance, he grew up in Mexico and then came here in the 1970s,” Kenneth says.
“We were pretty much dirt poor growing up. There were eight of us living in a two bedroom apartment in Inglewood, which wasn’t the best neighborhood in the world.”
Kenneth’s father embraced the entrepreneurial spirit in America and did whatever he could, ranging from washing dishes at a hotel restaurant and selling popcorn in movie theaters, to transporting pencils and erasers from the U.S. to Sonora.
Saving all his pennies, Kenneth’s father and four of his brothers began investing in apartment buildings in their neighborhood. They invested some earnings which led to Kenneth’s family opening a trio of Mexican restaurants called La Capilla, first in Torrance in 1983, then subsequently in La Palma, and finally in Huntington Beach.
These successes enabled the family to move to Anaheim Hills, where as a teen, Kenneth caught the automotive bug in a big way. “I’ve always loved cars as long as I can remember. It started with RC cars, which were a big deal then. I learned to take them apart, modify the engine and suspension to make them go faster, and I would race the other kids in the neighborhood.”
Kenneth shared he also learned a lot about cars from his dad and his uncle, as they would work on their matching ’65 Impalas in the driveway.
When it came time for his first real car, Kenneth says he made “the dumbest move” of his entire life. “My dad gave me a choice between two cars: my brother’s hand-me-down Toyota pickup and a 1979 6.6-liter Bandit Trans Am. The Trans Am was black and gold with T-tops just like in the movie. But I chose the pickup…”
“Kids would raise them or lower them and do all kinds of cool mods. To this day, my dad taunts me about passing up that Trans Am. He sold it to the gardener who still owns it to this day.”
Happy with his choice at the time, Kenneth put an air suspension system in the Toyota and a top-notch sound system.
Kenneth’s love for muscle cars developed a few years later in the nineties. He had fallen in love with the contemporary Chevy Camaro SS and test-drove one with his dad, who balked on buying it owing to the car’s power and speed. He offered to buy Ken a V6 model instead, and Ken quickly accepted.
“It had that paint that changed color from blue to purple under different light, and I put a nitrous system in it. I turned it into a fast car,” remembers Kenneth.
A couple of Corvettes, including a Z06, came and went, but Kenneth’s first real muscle car didn’t come until 2011.
“I had seen the new Challenger on the road for a few years and liked the body style. When the SRT8 392 was released in 2011 I knew I had to have one,” Kenneth said. “I went online and saw a black one with silver stripes and said ‘that’s it.’ I went to Orange Coast Dodge in Costa Mesa and saw that exact match being brought in on a transporter. I pulled the trigger on it.”
The car Kenneth bought was a 2012 Challenger SRT8 392 with a five-speed automatic, sunroof, heated seats and steering wheel, with a navigation system.
Kenneth didn’t initially have a plan for modifying the car and had bought an extended warranty. “Once I started seeing all the amazing parts you could get, I called and canceled that warranty. I knew what I was gonna wouldn’t be covered,” Kenneth says with a laugh. Shortly after, Kenneth made contact with someone who worked at Hennessey Performance (HPE).
At the time, none of the aftermarket manufacturers had released a supercharger kit for the 392, as the cars’ PCM was encrypted from the factory and hadn’t been cracked yet, to allow for tuning. Kenneth’s friend had been informed that the crack was coming and that Hennessey was looking for a car to use as a test mule. Kenneth jumped on the chance.
“It’s where the madness all started,” jokes Kenneth.
A 2.3-liter Magnuson TVS2300 supercharger was installed along with an HPE cold air induction kit, a custom HPE pulley system, a high flow fuel injector upgrade and performance fuel pump, an HPE thermostat, an Arrington throttle body, stainless steel long tube headers with high flow catalytic converters, and a custom 91 octane DiabloSport tune, along with various Hennessey branded aesthetic add-ons.
On the dyno, the car put out 560 horsepower at the rear wheels, a somewhat conservative bump considering a stock 392 could put down 430 hp. As the test mule, the car is registered as the number one Hennessey Challenger SRT8 392.
Kenneth was initially pleased with the upgrade but soon found himself wanting more. “For the money I spent, I just felt that it wasn’t enough,” he recalls.
A year and a half later, after joining the Challengers Unlimited club, Kenneth learned about a speed shop called Spankin’ Time Motorsports in San Bernardino, California from another member of the club. Seeking out further information on Spankin’ Time from various online resources such as the ChallengerTalk forum, Kenneth decided to bring his car there to take things to the next level.
Kenneth consulted Adam Montague at Spankin’ Time, who suggested there was a whole lot more performance that could be had from the car. Adam proposed a laundry list of modifications, and to prove his abilities, returned the car with the existing Hennessey set-up, but bumped the yield up to 680 horsepower at the rear. Kenneth was duly impressed and gave Adam the green light for a build.
In went an aggressive crankshaft, CP-Carillo forged pistons, Molnar forged rods Manley valves, FiveOMotorSport injectors, and Thitek heads. Ken also added a Corsa Sport exhaust and 22-inch Vossen wheels. Once complete and on the dyno, the car ran 780 horsepower.
Kenneth drove the car in this configuration for the better part of a year. He began racing it at local dragstrips and refined his driving technique. “I loved how it drove and felt, but after a while, the mod bug and my power addiction came back in full force. I had a dilemma though…”
Kenneth’s predicament came after consulting Adam Montague again for more power. Adam told him that to achieve a satisfyingly higher output it would require removing a lot of hardware from the initial Hennessy build, most notably, that Magnussen supercharger.
“On the one hand, I knew I wanted even more power than I had,” says Kenneth, “but on the other hand, I had spent a good deal of money on the Hennessy build, and wasn’t happy about getting rid of all that relatively new hardware.” He added that he also had issues with diluting the provenance of the number one Hennessey Challenger 392.
Kenneth went back and forth, debating the pros and cons of each side of the equation, but decided that more power is what he wanted most.
Kenneth’s car went back to Spankin’ Time. The Magnussen was replaced by a 4.2-liter Kenne-Bell screw, and the engine received a new Comp cam, bigger FiveO injectors, a new Fore fuel system with a double pump, a 132mm throttle body, a custom pulley and belt system designed by Montague, an SHR Viking Nag-1 5-speed automatic transmission, and a two-piece aluminum driveshaft from The Driveshaft Shop. Kenneth went back to the OEM SRT aluminum wheels, as the Vossens were more for show than go at this level.
The PCM was returned and the dyno rated the power output at 1016 horsepower on E85 fuel.
Kenneth qualified for his NHRA license at Fontana and raced the car at several drag strips in the Southern California area. His best quarter mile time was 9.8-seconds. After some time, Kenneth wanted to up the ante again. He had decided to go beyond street legal with his Challenger and go full-on race car.
Spankin’ Time swapped out the factory 392 block for a 6.2-liter Hellcat Hemi. New parts included a 4.9-Liter Kenne Bell supercharger with a new intercooler, a custom Callies crank, Crower cam, new Manley rods, an ATI lower pulley, 2000-lb. FiveO injectors, dual 106mm throttle bodies, an SHR War Viking NAG-1 tranny, a Pro Meth water/meth injection system, DSS axles, 15-inch Wilwood brakes, a Carlin ten-point roll cage, six-point safety belts, a DJ Safety parachute system and Weld Beadlock wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson 275/60 R15 rears and M&H 4.50/28.0-17 front tires.
Currently the car is being tuned, though Adam Montague is shooting for roughly 1250 horsepower utilizing E93 fuel.
At that level, Kenneth is hoping to achieve low nine-second runs. After that, he is thinking of adding a fire system and a nitrous system.
When Kenneth hits the track again, his list of sponsors will include Jose Cuervo 1800 Tequilla, Coca-Cola, DJ Safety, By the Sea Realty, Spankin’ Time Motorsports, Salisbury Group, and of course, La Capilla Mexican restaurants.
When asked what he has come away with from this odyssey, one might expect Kenneth to wax technical, weighing the pros and cons of various manufacturers and so forth. Instead, his answer is more grounded and heartwarming.
“When I was a kid, my dad used to take me for rides in a ’79 Corvette that he had. He’d open it up a little bit for me, and I’d go nuts. I loved the sound, the smell, all of it. Those are some great memories. Now, I do the same for my son. He won’t let me take ‘The Black Car’ without him. He comes with me to all the tracks, and he gets some seat time with me in the parking lot. His eyes go wide when I stomp on it a bit, and that just takes me back. It’s like watching me with my dad all those years ago. It’s all about family for me.”
Kenneth and his car can be viewed on Instagram at Kenneth_Munoz1.