Flash Dance: Late model Challengers and challenges

The Mopar Nationals is a big event, and is considered the granddaddy of them all for many enthusiasts. 2011 was no different. And between the drag races, the night-time cruising, the big fields of both judged and unjudged cars, and the vehicles for sale, one thing seems sure – late-models are here to stay.

And that is a great thing. After all, the new Charger and Challenger have revitalized the Mopar community like nothing we could have believed possible. Even the most diehard fans who have been cussing since Lee Iaccocoa put Charger badges on the 2.2 ‘Hemi’ were silenced when that SRT8 two-door arrived. Challenger has played its part of the limit – not a caricature like Camaro, nor a makeover like Mustang, Challenger is Mopar’s champion in the modern age. But there were long faces at the Nats this year when it comes to the latest 6.4L architecture.

That 392” package was greeted with admiration by all of us, and to date has lived up to its billing as a real ground-pounder. But we’re all still hot rodders at heart, and for aftermarket modifiers on the 2011 and up models, the answer to your speed-costs-money’ question is strictly ‘no can do, Dave!’ for the time being.

The engines in the Chrysler model line are all sporting new computer programming, encrypted well enough that even the mad scientists at places like DiabloSport and Modern Muscle haven't cracked it. There is opening level encryption that feeds into an even more complicated layout. Unless this is overcome, you cannot modify even the air cleaner without causing the engine to go into digital fits. We heard of one guy with a 2011 SRT8 that had a supercharger physically installed on his car and finally gave up after three months and had it put back to stock.

To flash tune the motor, you normally buy a handheld device and associated program that plugs into the car’s OBD-II or equivalent port, saves the OEM tune vua backup, and then installs a hotter version written specifically for your engine changes back into the system. This tells the computer that, yes, it is way lean, so add more fuel, or no, don’t apply the rev-limiter. Should you ever decide to remove those changes, you reinstall the OEM parts, plug the flash-tuner in, and reinstall the factory tune-up. Pretty simple, right? No more.

We asked around; nobody was on the record on this one, but the word is the Chrysler became very concerned about computer changes when Toyota’s notorious ‘unintended acceleration’ issues showed up a couple of years ago. A PR black eye of immense proportions, the factory folks reportedly told engineering they wanted the next-gen program to be one that nobody could break. As a result, you are not getting in there any longer, and if this remains the case, we will see the end of any sort of dealer-offered aftermarket blowers, car packages, etc., as well as speed parts for the latest-gen models.

There’s a little more going on, too, even if the program finally is cracked. In talking with a friend of mine who’s a Mr. Goodwrench mechanic at a local bowtie franchise, I found out that GM has changed up their stuff as well. Oh, you may still get into the computer, but if you break something and bring it back to the dealership, the computer download from the dealer’s service center goes straight to Detriot. It’s mandatory. And if you have flashed the computer, it will reinstall but under a different name; there’s no hiding it. The factory boys take a look, see the computer software has changed, and tells the dealer that wants that warranty block…’er, no can do, Dave!”

Brave new world stuff has become passé these days; it seems like no matter what you want to do, big brother is lurking just ahead, behind, above, and below. There's no doubt that the SRT8 is stout out of the box, and we have our doubts that this issue will actually dissuade anyone from making the purchase.

Just know this when you lay your money down – chances are you'll have to leave well enough alone.