Dan Scanlan checks out the ’23 DODGE CHALLENGER SRT HEMI BLACK GHOST that channels the legendary 1970s Woodward Avenue Street racer!
Back in 1970s, a legendary Dodge Challenger R/T SE roamed Woodward Avenue, seeking out and often winning street races.
It came and went so stealthily; it earned the name Black Ghost. It carried distinctive options – black gator skin-like vinyl top, bumblebee tail stripe, hood pins and twin hood scoops. And it was piloted by Detroit cop Godfrey Qualls. Dodge’s tribute to that street racer carries an lengthy model designation: 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody Black Ghost!
But as a farewell to possibly the most outrageous modern muscle car of all, Dodge paid homage to Qualls’ car as part of its final “Last Call” series of Challengers with black paint, “gator skin” roof graphics, twin scoops, hood pins, white tail stripes and classic Challenger script badges instead of Hellcat. Inside, there’s a “Black Ghost” badge on an air vent. So here we have one of only 300 Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody Black Ghost Editions ever.
The supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V-8 makes 807 horsepower and 707 pound-feet of torque, one pony less than the Demon. Its 2.7-liter twin-screw supercharger almost hides the HEMI powerplant, breathing through real hood scoops and those inner headlights – DRL rings around carbon fiber tubes illuminated with the Hellcat logo inside.
Our 2,000-mile-old ’23 DODGE CHALLENGER SRT HEMI BLACK GHOST coupe’s HEMI coughs to life with a booming burp, then rumbles eagerly. We snatch the TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters, ready to spin those deep-dish Warp Speed Satin Carbon wheels. Then we check the drive modes.
Track mode – firmest suspension and steering feel, no traction control, super-quick shifts and paddle shifters engaged for all 807 horses. Sport mode – knocks that super-firm suspension and steering feel back a notch, transmission quick shifting with some traction/stability control. Custom – you pick settings, including a more sensible 500-horsepower, plus suspension/shift/steering and full traction control – just enough to play with, and not vaporize rubber. Eco and Valet modes turn off paddle shifters for less fun.
There’s also Line Lock, which engages front brakes so you can warm up rear rubber for a stickier launch. You track it all on the SRT Performance Pages, a full set of engine, power, torque, G-force, Line Lock, track and dragstrip times, even a dyno on the main touchscreen. And there is launch assist, with wheel sensors detecting high-speed wheelspin or hop to reduce torque and maximize traction for better launches.
In Custom, we set the handling, steering feel and shifting to Sport, and our 2,000-mile-old test car launched quickly to 60 mph with a somewhat subdued supercharger whine in a quick 4.8 seconds – it even got 15 mpg and used only 42 horsepower of its 807 horsepower to maintain 70 mph on I-95.
In Sport mode, the rear Pirellis went up in smoke, dialed-back traction control not keeping them in check as the Widebody’s rear wandered. So, the best ETs need launch assist.
Launch rpm set at 1,800-rpm, left-foot-brake as I pinned throttle, and the gauge screen told me to go – 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, and 100 mph in 8.5. It was barely contained mayhem as the rear tires fought for traction, then grabbed and smoked as it screamed and roared at warp speed. And the noise – a full supercharger scream and twin pipe bellow, each decisive shift accompanied by an exhaust “VRRRUMPP.”
Then I set the drive mode to Track – all the power, suspension stiffness and steering feel with no safety nannies – and the Pirellis donated more rubber to heaven – wow! For comparison, a ’20 Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody I tested with a 392 HEMI V-8 and 485 horsepower did 60 mph in 4.8 seconds in Sport, and 4.4 seconds in launch control, with 100 mph in 9.4 seconds. A 2016 Hellcat with 707 horsepower saw it scream to 60-mph in 3.6 seconds. And the797 horsepower ’21 Widebody Charger Hellcat clocked 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and 100 in 9, while launch control saw it hit 60 mph in 4 seconds, and 100 mph in 8.2.
The Black Ghost gives the independent short/long-arm front/five-link independent rear suspension some adaptive damping tuned to shift as much weight as possible on rear tires at launch for maximum traction. Wider Pirellis and three-mode damping gave us a firmly sprung but buffered ride in Auto, quickly absorbing bumps with a quick-yet-supple edge to the rebound. Sport mode gave us a taut-yet-forgiving ride that saw me tense for potholes that got whumped without much fuss. Track was a bit jittery, very tightly controlled over bumps, but not a jaw breaker.
Those flared fenders add 3.5 inches to fit Pirellis, each 1.5-inches wider – more contact patch and it shows. In Custom mode, with traction at Street setting and 500 horsepower, this Hellcat easily carried speed around corners, flat, stable and sure-footed on fairly fresh rubber. Steering feel in Sport was firm and very direct, letting me place the wider car easily enough and have more power to carefully play. Push a bit of power into a turn and it stayed fairly neutral, yet I could goose the rear out a bit with just a hair more, catchable with throttle and quick counter-steer.
The Widebody did not feel too nose-heavy, despite a 55/45 front/rear bias. In tight corners, its dated platform felt its weight, but carried it well enough. Add too much throttle – just a tad – and it’s easy to power the rears out. Push too much – again very easy – and its donuts for everyone and smoke enough to cloud a state road. Track is raw and only suited for a race course or dragstrip, too much power for the street with this heritage chassis, despite rubber and suspension. A skidpad is the place to let it all hang.
To stop the ’23 DODGE CHALLENGER SRT HEMI BLACK GHOST, six-piston front/four-piston rear Brembo Performance Brakes, massive 15.4-inches each. The brake pedal is bit high and with great control, a firm push resulting in fairly quick stops with no drama or fade after hard use, including back-to-back-to-back 100 mph hits. Our onboard G-force meter showed .92Gs on launch, an impressive 1.18Gs on braking, and .92Gs in turns to prove it has the handling chops despite a platform with Mercedes-Benz suspension dating from the 2000s.
The basic looks are as the Challenger premiered in 2008, thankfully true to its 1970’s ancestor with long nose, nice fender hips, neat rear shoulder line and simple tail with slit lights. The slim inset gloss black grill is joined by a wide lower intake with intercooler inside, and a ground-hugging air dam. Those hood pins are super retro-cool. That air dam wraps into wide flared fenders that rightly frame massive rubber. There’s a retro chrome gas cap on the driver’s side. The short tail’s stripe and high-angle spoiler join twin exhaust tips allowing the whole neighborhood to hear me!
The Challenger’s interior also looks pretty much the same, all black with silver accents, well executed in function despite being unchanged for a while. Highly bolstered Alcantara/Laguna leather seats get Hellcat SRT embossing. The meaty stitched suede-clad steering wheel gets a backlit red SRT hub logo, small alloy paddle shifters in back. The gauge package is framed in real carbon fiber, with analog 220-mph speedometer and 7,000-rpm tach flanking a color screen with audio, navigation, performance and other info.
The center 8.4-inch touchscreen has a navigation map with dated graphics, a much-loved Performance Page screen taking a while to load. And we loved the solid 506-watt, 9-speaker Alpine audio system with thundering bass at the head of the carbon fibered center console. It’s near the Drive Mode control. There’s no place to park a cellphone, but we had Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A base Dodge Challenger SXT with V-6 starts at $30,940. And if you can find one, our ‘23 Black Ghost starts at $99,315 with all seen here. You will never see another like it, a shape that pays homage to a really cool street racer as well as a great ancestor. Yes, it’s dated, with too much power to play in civilized traffic, but who cares!
The gang at Hagerty tracked that highly original black ‘70 Challenger R/T SE down for a story, accompanied by an Historic Vehicle Association video with Associate Producer cred going to a friend, Nick Williams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd0io1zktqI
Watch the Black Ghost’s 20-inch Pirelli P-ZEROS go up in smoke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiGYgGVNc4w
Check out the ’23 DODGE CHALLENGER SRT HEMI BLACK GHOST and latest Dodge performance vehicles @ https://www.dodge.com/dodge-muscle.html