It's always a good idea for readers to approach any story like this with a healthy dose of skepticism. Over the years magazines have embarrassed themselves with bad predictions and readers have been assaulted by goofy drawings, but we've done our best not to cry wolf; our past predictions about both the '06 Dodge Charger and the '10 Camaro were pretty good forecasts, if not necessarily perfect line-for-line. Having said that, we are ready to come forward with our prediction for the '15 SRT 'Cuda-a collection of speculations that started as apparently random Internet rumors, and progressed to what we'll simply refer to as "tacit affirmation" by the very people who would know. Heck, there's even a reference to the '15 'Cuda on Wikipedia-so it must be true, right?
Our certainty over the imminent reappearance of one of the most respected muscle cars in history is tempered by one fact: Chrysler’s relationship with Fiat has largely gone untested when it comes to the Italians trusting Chrysler with home niche markets. And although we’re quite certain the ’Cuda’s design, engineering, and testing have all been finalized at this point, there’s still a lot that can go wrong politically (both internally and nationally) that can kill the baby in its bassinet. So in spite of even the best of intentions, the plan for a production ’Cuda can come off the rails.
First, the name. We're 95 percent sure SRT's new hot rod will be called 'Cuda and not Barracuda. The distinction is important because the Barracuda designation is more closely identified with the earlier '64-69 A-Body, while the 'Cuda moniker was exclusive to the later '70-74 E-Body version. Some web rumors and renderings have the new car with older A-Body styling cues, but the economics of platform engineering pretty much dictate that Chrysler use the current Challenger production line to build the 'Cuda, so it will necessarily be close in shape to the Challenger, itself an homage to the '70-74 E-Body of the same name.
Without a Plymouth brand to slide the ’Cuda under, it begs the question—why build a ’Cuda in the first place? Wouldn’t it compete with the Challenger? We got our answer last spring when Chrysler announced that SRT would become an autonomous brand, just like Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and yes, like Plymouth used to be. (Factoid: Chrysler applied for trademark protection for the ’Cuda name in late 2010.)
SRT, previously a small group within Chrysler that survived off of table scrap resources from the Chrysler, Dodge, and Ram brands, will be fielding its own line of vehicles with its own engineering resources, its own brand strategy, and its own capital. Simply put, SRT will answer to no one at Dodge. To make a go of an independent brand capable of sustaining a group of freestanding dealerships, SRT needs to create a portfolio of products, and fast. The new '13 SRT Viper (sans Dodge badge) is the first of the SRT cars, but what do you slot in the lineup just under this rare halo car? If you're thinking "'Cuda," you're on the right track.
The ’Cuda is the perfect project for SRT. With SRT as its own brand, the Dodge name will be gone from its products, which opens the door for a lot more good stuff. In the past, SRT vehicles needed vetting by the parent brand, and SRT was essentially in competition for meager design, engineering, and brand resources. What does this mean for ’Cuda? It means SRT can now put cars like the Ford Shelby GT500 and the Chevy Camaro ZL1 in its crosshairs. By extension, that means big performance in the form of a standard supercharged 6.2L Hemi with nothing less than 600 hp, and possibly as much as 700 hp. The rumors have been whipping around the Internet for a year about a blown 6.2 Hemi, and even Chrysler employees talk around it openly at shows.
After seeing the Mr. Norm's "Super Cuda"—a rebadged Dodge Challenger R/T with a '71 'Cuda-
All the evidence points to a supercharged 6.2L Hemi for power. First of all, the SRT 'Cuda
Chrysler has been big on retro styling cues in recent years—the Challenger and Charger are
A three-stage pearlescent gold paintjob on this version brings out the high-end ambitions
The SRT-badged Challenger will probably go away, although we'd expect the naturally aspirated 6.2L Hemi to stay around as a high-end upgrade for the Challenger R/T. (Factoid: Chevy has already proven that with the right engineering upgrades in the form of direct injection and variable valve timing, fuel economy can improve enough for the 6.2L to become standard. Are you listening Dodge boys?) We don't think a 6.2L Challenger R/T would conflict with the SRT 'Cuda, because the 'Cuda will be far more upscale, with premium content on par with a high-end European luxury car. That includes a unique dash, console, and instrument panel. The price tag will also be a lot more exotic; look for the SRT 'Cuda to have a starting price around $60,000, right in the wheelhouse of the Shelby GT500 and Camaro ZL1. That leaves plenty of room for a naturally aspirated 6.2L Challenger in the $40,000 to $50,000 range (where the SRT8 Challenger was), while making the limited-production SRT 'Cuda look like a downright bargain when parked next to the $100K Viper. Marketing genius we say.
One area where we’re a little sketchy on is the platform. The Dodge Challenger is currently made on the LY architecture—an evolution of the Daimler-era rear-drive LX platform. At one point rumors led us to believe that Fiat would develop a global rear-drive “LA” platform (anyone else find that ironic?) that would satisfy the rear-drive needs corporately for both Fiat and Chrysler. With LA, the wheelbase and track would both shrink, and weight would come down. Those plans appear to have been pushed back or postponed for now, leaving the ’Cuda (and the next Challenger) to be built on the current LY platform. That said, there is still room for the wheelbase to shrink, but not by much, given that the proportions are somewhat dictated by the cowl height. In any event, look for the Challenger’s class-leading independent suspension to undergo further refinement in the SRT ’Cuda. We’re also predicting that the blown Hemi will be backed with a new six-speed automatic with paddle shifters or an optional seven-speed manual—both the cost of entry into that segment now that Chevy has raised the bar with the ’14 Corvette.
The Mopar faithful would cry foul without at least one throwback graphic scheme. Here's th
The timing of the SRT 'Cuda most likely puts it in the 2015 model year. Much of that will depend on how quickly the fuel-efficient Fiat products can be brought to the U.S. market. Right now, the Fiat 500 is underperforming the sales expectations, and that would need to improve to justify another fuel-thirsty vehicle. (Stricter EPA standards are just around the corner.) If things go according to plan, we could see Chrysler pull the wraps off the SRT 'Cuda as early as 2014. That's still a long way off, and a lot can happen in that time.
We took all of our qualified rumors and intel to artist Kris Horton, and told him to come up with a ’Cuda design based heavily off the current Challenger. We made that decision based on the fact that Chrysler has been pretty conservative with its recent redesigns of the SRT Viper, Chrysler 300, and Dodge Charger. Also, when the ’08 Challenger arrived, it was a near carbon copy of the ’70 model. Combined with the fact that Mopar enthusiasts are obsessively passionate about historical designs, and you see that all the arrows point to a retro-themed ’Cuda. We doubt that SRT will toy too much with the near-perfect design aesthetics of the original, but how much it might blend the E-Body ’Cuda with the more plebeian Plymouth Valiant/Barracuda is impossible to say.
All the evidence points to an SRT-branded 'Cuda coming for the 2015 model year. We contact
Since we've not seen anything except camouflaged test cars, we're taking a bit of a risk rolling out our version of the '15 SRT 'Cuda ahead of the official product launch, but one thing we can say is that based on spy photos, it will have a "quad" headlight theme. For this reason, we chose to base our fictional 'Cuda off the '71 rather than the '70 or '72-74, all of which had single headlights. As it so happens, the current Challenger uses a quad-style headlight arrangement, and that makes the '15 'Cuda an easy leap to the '71 grille. In fact, it's such an obvious move that several other web artists have beaten us to the punch. One aftermarket company, Mr. Norm's Garage (www.mrnormsgarage.com, 815-636-2784) even offers a very convincing '71 'Cuda grille ($599) and tailpanel ($299) to convert existing Challengers to look very similar to our rendering. Notwithstanding, the '71 Cuda has long since supplanted the '70 as the quintessential 'Cuda, so we instructed Horton to pretty much lift that version's grille, side body line, and tailpanel. It's what you'd want SRT to do, so we did it. There's also a good chance that somewhere there's a Chrysler design guy staring at this, mumbling that it looks nothing like the real thing. We'll find out soon enough-because it's coming before we know it!