Introduced in January 1994, the first generation Neon (PL) became Chrysler’s halo compact car during the 1990s. At the Neon’s release, former President of Chrysler Corporation Bob Lutz said, “There’s an old saying in Detroit: ‘Good, fast, or cheap. Pick any two.’ We refuse to accept that.”
In 2000, Dodge and Plymouth released the second-gen Neon, offered only in a sedan. While the new Neon was more evolutionary than revolutionary, it didn’t take long for Chrysler’s Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO) team to get ahold of it and fit it with a turbocharged 2.4-liter I4 engine producing 215 horsepower in 2003 (230 horsepower in 2004 and 2005), thus creating the Neon SRT-4. The SRT-4 became an instant legend, offering the best horsepower for the money at the time with a starting price of around $20K.
As time passed, first-gen owners didn’t take long to start swapping their 2.0-liter engines for the stout SRT-4 powerplant.
Fast forward to this year, Malcolm T. Ward has taken his SRT-4-powered first-gen 1998 Dodge Neon R/T to a remarkable 200.9 mph (323 km/h) at the Texas Mile.
Ward has come a long way since he first attended the Texas Mile in 2012, in a different Neon. That car featured a nearly stock engine with a few bolt-on performance goodies. That car was able to reach 169 mph in the mile. Aerodynamic changes bumped the car to 179 mph, and he eventually reached 190 mph in 2019 with a new engine. The performance encouraged him to try and smash the 200-mph barrier, but it didn’t go as planned at the Texas Mile event organized in October 2020 when he blew a head gasket.
Using the engine, transmission, and other parts he could rob from a 2004 SRT-4 from a junkyard, his first-gen rocket produces an amazing 700 horsepower at the wheels on VP C85 race fuel.
As for the car now, it didn’t hit the magical 200-mph mark on the first run as it took five attempts: 176.2 mph, 175.6 mph, 185.6 mph, 196.7 mph, and then it reached 200.9 mph. During the fastest run, the Neon was doing 128.8 mph at the quarter-mile mark and 159.7 at the half-mile mark.
It makes us wish, that Dodge still built turbocharged compact rockets.