Before there was the modern-day Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300 Series sedans, Dodge was testing the waters for its return to rear-wheel-drive and HEMI power with the 2001 Dodge Super8 HEMI Concept. The concept featured a very bold design that took cues from 1950s Americana design and gave it a modern twist. The car made its debut at the 2001 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, and hinted at the future LX-based (Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum, and Dodge Charger) vehicles that were in the pipeline.
“The Dodge Super8 HEMI embodies the culture and essence of American optimism,” said Freeman Thomas, then Vice President – Advanced Design Strategy, of then DaimlerChrysler Corporation. “The concept’s bold, in-your-face design shows our ability to embrace our love for the sedan and meld it with invigorating execution and technological advancement,” added Thomas, who oversaw the design for the Dodge Super8 HEMI. “With its distinctive tall stance, HEMI powertrain and telematics applications throughout, the Super8 symbolize everything we loved about sedans then, plus everything we need now.”
The car featured a prototype 5.7-liter (353 cubic-inch) pushrod V8 engine featuring hemispherical combustion chambers and two spark plugs per cylinder powers the Dodge Super8 HEMI concept. Dodge estimated that the engine produced 353 horsepower (263 kW) and 395 lb.- ft. (536 Nm) of torque which of course was delivered to the rear wheels via a four-speed AutoStick manumatic transmission. This allowed the vehicle to reach 60 mph (97 kph) in less than six seconds and hit a top speed of 154 mph (248 kph).
Designed with family in mind, American sedans up until that point focused primarily on their spaciousness and passenger comfort. It wasn’t until around the debut of the Super8 HEMI Concept that more attention had been given to vehicle performance and design were added to the typical list of luxury, space, and comfort. The Super8 HEMI showcased a “Passenger Priority Design” which used panoramic seating for the driver and passengers. This meant allowing for higher seating to give them more of an in-control feeling compared to other sedans of the time. Rear passengers sat higher than the front passengers, creating theater-like seating in the cabin.
“In using the tall-stance concept, we created unique design proportions while remaining true to the classic image of the American sedan,” said Kevin Verduyn, Senior Design Manager at then DaimlerChrysler’s Pacifica Design Center in Carlsbad, California, sharing credit for the Dodge Super8 HEMI’s exterior design with Product Designer Robert McMahan, who sketched the original drawing. “Although very much a road car, the visual language of the exterior is characterized by ‘machined’ truck-like surfaces that are simple and very powerful,” said Verduyn. “Combined with more customer-friendly interior features and greater performance, this concept reaches a level of refinement that exceeds any other sedan, past, or present.”
The Dodge Super8 HEMI’s interior paid homage to some legendary vehicles of the 1950s while featuring brushed and painted aluminum accents. The concept also featured an ornate instrument panel that recalled the era’s characteristics shaps adding some technology of the early-2000s into the mix.
“The Dodge Super8 HEMI’s interior conveys a certain nostalgic optimism expressed in a modern, purposeful design,” said Bill Chergosky, who is responsible for the vehicles’ interior design. “I not only borrowed design cues from cars of the ’50s but other evocative aspects from that era, such as jukeboxes and diners.”
Adding to the concept’s retro-look, both the front and rear seating was made up of bench seating. The seats were anchored to the floor at the ends and added a sliding feature thanks to an independent rail system. The bench seats, along with the absence of the B-pillar, enhanced the concept’s spaciousness. At first glance, the seats appear to be floating in the air,” added Chergosky. “With support coming only from the rail system, the lack of middle supports creates a spacious, bridge-like form. Not only does this add to the interior storage capacity, but it also allows for easy folding and unfolding of the seats.”
When it came to technology, the Super8 HEMI didn’t disappoint at the time. The concept was equipped with an internet-based multi-passenger “Infotronic” system. The system was a prototype designed by DaimlerChrysler’s Research and Technology Center (RTC) in Palo Alto, California, the DaimlerChrysler Liberty & Technical Affairs division in Rochester Hills, Michigan, the DaimlerChrysler Design Office in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and Sun Microsystems, Inc. in Southfield, Michigan. The system would be a precursor for the now loved Uconnect infotainment systems found throughout Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) vehicles.
The vehicle-internal computing architecture consisted of four Single Board Computers that each ran a certified standard Java Virtual Machine (JVM) on top of a Linux operation system. The software architecture for the in-vehicle computers was based on a 100-percent Java device platform called “deviceTop” from the Espial Group. The system was directed by voice recognition or it’s liquid crystal display integrated into the instrument panel.
Just like today’s systems voice commands would allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road while controlling the vehicle’s audio system, climate control, phone, and security systems as well as allow access to the driver’s smart home appliances or home security system.
While the Dodge Super8 HEMI isn’t widely talked about as design breaking vehicle, the rear-wheel-drive sedans we have grown to love over the past decade and a half owe a lot to the big brawny concept car. The car can also be credited with pushing infotainment technology forward, to allow a majority of the cars we buy today from FCA have the class-leading Uconnect systems that we have come to love. The Super8 HEMI might just be one of the most underestimated concept cars to ever come from the Dodge brand.
2001 Dodge Super8 HEMI Concept Image Gallery: