Red Means Go, Go, Go

May 3, 2019



Dodge ChallengerDetroit Free Press /Phoebe Wall Howard / May 1, 2019

(photos courtesy of FCA USA LLC)

No one will reveal how many red keys are out in the world.

It's sort of a secret.

But thousands of people have taken home red keys to their Dodge muscle cars that unleash more than 700 horsepower - power that Silicon Valley's Wired magazine called "an exercise in bat**** crazy engineering."

Val Saph, 34, of Armada uses only the red key. His wife, Victoria, too.

Loyd Overstreet, 58, of Shreveport, Louisiana, won't let his wife, Stacy, use a red key.

"My wife is only allowed the black key," he said. "She can't handle all that horsepower."

For the cautious driver, the frightened driver or the teen driver, the black key fob limits the drive to just 500 horsepower. (For context, that's 105 more horsepower than the 2019 Ram 1500 pickup with a Hemi V8, which can haul actual horses.)

From nurses to financial analysts to military veterans, the men and women driving these insane vehicles love engines so powerful they can run 0 to 60 mph in a little more than 3 seconds.

These cars "provide acceleration that will take your breath away," said John McElroy, longtime industry observer and "Autoline After Hours" host. "Most people who have never experienced it will gasp or shriek at how fast they are accelerating."

The models named Demon and Hellcat have inspired more than 5.2 million followers on Facebook. One muscle car group member evaluates potential romance by key color. Black? Boring. Red? Call me.

This is not your father's car - unless your father is Mario Andretti.

These hot red key fobs start the engines of only four vehicles:

  • Charger SRT Hellcat: 707 horsepower
  • Challenger SRT Hellcat: 717 horsepower
  • Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye: 797 horsepower
  • Challenger SRT Demon: 808 horsepower, and sold in 2018 only

'Worries go away'

"If you just want to relax and get away, you jump in the car and go for a rip. I call it red-key therapy," said Saph, 35, who owns a 2016 Challenger Hellcat. "All stresses in life are easily muted by that menacing exhaust note."

Over the past five years, since the first Dodge Challenger and Charger Hellcat models were set loose on the streets, they continue to deliver unprecedented performance.

The two keys allow someone to live two distinct personalities, said Jonathan Klinger, spokesman for Hagerty, the Traverse City-based collector car insurance and valuation company. "The black key allows you to exist peacefully on public roads. But the red key begs you to ... test your limits."

Patrick Rall, 40, of Milford and his wife, Amanda, 38, met through an online Dodge forum.

"The only time we use the black key is when the car goes to the dealership for warranty work," said Rall, a journalist who owns a Go Mango-orange 2017 Challenger Hellcat.

Christmas in April

Andrew Matika, 31, of Shelby Township said of his 2016 Charger Hellcat: "Black keys are for wintertime when you have the snow tires on. Red keys are for hurting feelings the rest of the year."

Todd Rogers, 57, of Washington, D.C., won't forget what happened after he bought his first Challenger Hellcat in January 2015.

"A Virginia trooper pulled me over. My immediate response when he approached my window was, 'This better be good.' He said 'I just wanna know, does this thing really come with two keys?' "

Rogers replied, "You pulled me over just to ask that question??

As it turns out, the law enforcement officer was a car enthusiast. In August 2016, Rogers bought a second Hellcat. Then in March 2018, he picked up his Demon. "I swap out cars based on my mood, but never carry the black key. It?s a waste of money spent by manufacturer."

Hugh Mullaney, 45, of Edmond, Oklahoma, is a former Navy SEAL who can't stop talking about his 2018 Challenger Hellcat Widebody.

TREMEC TR-6060 manual transmission"I was in awe. I couldn't believe it," he said. "You could just roll off the lot with a race car, basically. I drive it to relax. I have raced it. The red key and black key make me smile. When I see the red key, I get this feeling like a kid at Christmas."

Mullaney paused. "When you bring up the 707 horsepower, you feel the car change its stance. It gets a little bit louder. And it feels like you're going into battle."

And what else is in his garage?

"I do have a second car," he said. "It's unmentionable. It's just not cool."


Transmission: TREMEC six-speed manual TR-6060 with ZF-Sachs 258 mm twin-disc clutch

Availability Standard - Challenger SRT Hellcat
Description Triple cone (1st, 2nd) / double cone (3rd - 6th) synchronizer design; 1-4 skip shift and reverse inhibit solenoids; 5:1 remote shifter
Gear Ratios  
1st 2.26
2nd 1.58
3rd 1.19
4th 1.00
5th 0.77
6th 0.63
Reverse 2.90
Final Drive Ratio 3.70 - assymmetric limited-slip, performance tuned
Overall Top Gear 2.33


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