The EPA may not classify it as such, but Steve Saleen says his new SMS 570 Challenger -- displayed at the 2010 Detroit auto show in vivid plum paint -- is a hybrid.
“It burns gas and rubber,” he says with a grin.
Saleen jests, of course. He respects the efficiency war that major manufactures are playing: It's maximizing the bang he can extract out of each cubic inch at his SMS Supercars. (On the name change: SMS is currently involved in a lawsuit with Saleen's former company over his name. "Compared to what GM is going through,” he says, “it's nothing.”)
At SMS' three-building campus in Corona, California, Saleen's team tears down each car and rebuilds them along an assembly line, making a plethora of changes you wouldn’t notice without the aid of either a microscope or Saleen’s trained eye. He points to the purple Challenger's OEM-looking rear flank, "It's 2 inches longer than the one over there," he says, motioning to a Challenger in Chrysler's booth. The difference is imperceptible.
The extension is a result of wind tunnel testing, which Saleen has used to fine-tune his cars. This isn't small-time tuner stuff. SMS Supercars' cars are sold on dealer lots as new vehicles, and they meet crash requirements and emissions testing. Doing so isn't cheap -- the entry cost for his 500-hp cars range from $65,000 to $70,000, while 700-hp models can total $80,000 to $85,000. Then again, he says his 700-hp Challenger runs on California's 91-octane fuel and passes emissions tests in all 50 states.
"Where can you get a [50-state legal] 700-hp car for 80 grand?" Saleen asks? The almighty Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 can't make that claim.
Saleen has two Challengers on hand at the Detroit auto show: the 500-hp SMS 570 and the 700-hp SMS 570X. A vibrant red Saleen S7 -- a throwback to his previous firm -- keeps the Dodges company, but its presence isn’t a sign that SMS will revive production. Instead, Saleen is starting production on the SMS Mustangs, which will debut next month. The SMS Camaro, which Saleen announced last week, will be available this summer.