SO we all know the deal – there will be no more locally-made rear-drive V8s in our market by the end of 2017. Yet Australians are snapping up more bent eight-motivated performance metal than ever before.
Ford’s Mustang GT, for example, caught the local FoMoCo arm napping big time when orders outgunned predicted volumes by a factor of three. Mercedes-AMG can’t get enough C63s of any flavour to slake the thirst for cubic inches sent en masse to rear tyres.
Meanwhile, Holden is selling more V8 Commodores than it’s done in years.
It stands to reason that if someone could import a range of rear-drive V8s, in both two-door and four-door form, and… oh, I dunno… link it to one of the most iconic and emotive automotive monikers in Australian motoring, it wouldn’t be a half-bad idea, right?
Well, it might’ve happened... And it still could.
Fiat Chrysler Automotive’s Dodge brand currently sells the Charger two-door and Charger four-door large rear-driver in left-hand drive markets. Even though Mitsubishi owns the rights to the Challenger name locally, it’s not too much of an issue; Fiat Chrysler Oz has had the Charger nameplate on the books since the early ’00s and there’s still a lot of currency in the Charger brand with Aussie muscle car fans.
While both the two- and four-door Dodges are made in in a variety of spec levels, the one that really gets the attention is the Hellcat version. Powered by a hand-built version of the brand’s 6.2-litre Hemi V8, this supercharged beauty is good for 527kW for a start. Then there’s 881Nm of torque. Oh, not to mention a 3.6-second 0-100km/h time for the Challenger.
Forget your HSV GTS, or your C63, or your M4, or pretty much anything else. If it lobs Down Under, the Hellcat-equipped Challenger goes straight to the top of the bad-ass pile.
For a while there, the pair were odds-on favourites to make the trip. Former boss of Fiat Chrysler Australia – and the former boss of Chrysler’s performance parts maker Mopar – Pat Dougherty told MOTOR late last year that the car was in a “go/no go” mode – meaning that clearance from head office was imminent.
“We want to bring the car to market, with the top of the range being the Hellcat, then having a regular SRT8 and then an ‘everyman’s’ Charger; something that is affordable for the buying public and not the full performance upgrade,” Dougherty said. “We want to bring it as a complete line-up.”
There were a couple of sizable obstacles standing in Dougherty’s way: the availability of the Hellcat-engined cars and unfavourable exchange rates.
This year in the States, Dodge was forced to boost production levels of the potent Hellcat twosome after demand outstripped supply to the point where the company had to instruct dealers to stop taking deposits on cars it couldn’t deliver.
Still, volumes of both variants will total less than 10,000 units this year; a mere drop in the ocean in the 20 million-a-year US new car market. It’s partly down to the Hellcat’s bespoke engine slowing the build process.
In a move that could resonate here, prices also jumped sharply for the MY16 model year – around USD$5000 (approx AUD$6500) per car – which will put even more pressure on an already delicate exchange rate equation. The Aussie dollar has fallen more than 15 per cent in the last 16 months, from a high of USD$0.91 to its present level of about USD$0.76, which makes pricing a US-sourced car a tricky balance.
Another factor to consider is that neither car is currently available in any market as a right-hand drive. Indeed, the 300 SRT is a special project just for the Australian and Middle East markets and not replicated anywhere else in the FCA world.
It’s worth noting that FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne is one of the world’s biggest proponents of the ‘one world, one car’ philosophy, so convincing him that a right-hand drive engineering program for the Charger/Challenger is a good idea won’t be easy.
Dougherty left Fiat Chrysler Australia in August this year after less than two years to – somewhat ironically – return to his roots as Mopar’s head man in the Pacific region. He handed the reins to long-time Jeep man Steve Zanlunghi, an Australian-raised FCA-lifer who most recently ran the FCA’s operation in the UK.
While no one from Fiat Chrysler Australia was talking, we do know that there’s a Hellcat-powered version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee on the table and if it’s made in right-hand-drive, Fiat Chrysler Oz will have its hand up like an annoying first grader to bring it Down Under.
As for the Charger? Well, it’s complicated. The due diligence has been done and there’s definitely a demand for the Charger Hellcat – not least because it should be priced keenly for the stupendous performance it offers.
If we were the betting type, we’d suggest that if the Dodge brand – currently represented by one poor-selling SUV model – survives locally, Australia is in the frame for a full range of Chargers… but not until the new one debuts in 2019. At the forefront of the marketing campaign to capture the hearts and minds of a performance-mad Aussie market? The Hellcat.
Hellcats in Oz – now
Of course, if you can’t live without a momentously powerful Mopar in your life, there are ways and means of acquiring one. Crossover Car Conversions in Melbourne, for example, would be more than happy to help you out with your predicament, offering a right-hand drive two-door Challenger Hellcat that’s ADR-compliant and ready to torch rear tyres for days, all for a slightly eye-watering sum of $190,000.
Converted cars score a bespoke firewall and dash, as well as the steering rack and exhaust system from the locally sold Chrysler 300 SRT, and are completely road-legal. Caveats? Well, you’ll have to wait at least five months for one.
Australia’s first taste of Hellcat power may well be under the bonnet of the Grand Cherokee. All but confirmed recently by global Jeep chief Mike Manley, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk could break cover later this year, complete with the barmy supercharged Hemi under its immense bonnet.
Jeep has form here, offering the naturally aspirated Grand Cherokee SRT. Fiat Chrysler Australia recently whipped the covers off a limited edition version called the SRT Night that previews the running changes to the 2017 SRT when it lobs at the end of the year. There’s still a couple of years left in the current cycle – and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see a bent-eight version in the next generation SUV, thanks, of course, to tightening emissions regulations.