We normally don't make a big deal about celebrity cars from the SEMA show, but here's an exception. This car belongs to Jeff Dunham, the comedian. If you're unfamiliar with him, a quick search of YouTube will get you up to speed. Prepare to laugh your head off while you're at it.
Jeff was approached by Mopar to build a custom Challenger to go in Mopar's display at the SEMA show. They wanted a car that would showcase a new crate-engine program they'd just developed, and a one-off Challenger seemed like an ideal platform to accomplish that.
This Challenger was plucked off a local dealership's lot, as a black '12 SRT8, and was delivered to Palmer's Customs in Camarillo, California. We spoke with owner Alan Palmer, who described the six-week transformation, from standard production car to fully customized show car, as a challenge, so to speak. Though it may look like just a paintjob and big wheels, Palmer and his crew touched every panel of the car. "We blew the car apart once it got here," he says. "On average, three to four guys were working on the car at any given time. Halfway through the build, I was starting to get concerned that we would finish on time."
Obviously, Palmer and his crew did finish on time, and the result is subtle and clean-looking. Many of the custom touches need to be pointed out, because they're so easily missed. We actually think that's a good thing.
Who: Jeff Dunham
What: 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8
Where: Camarillo, CA
Engine: The car's stock 392 Hemi (no slouch in its own right) was removed and replaced with Mopar's new 426 crate engine. This engine ups the ante to 515 hp and 490 lb-ft, and we exercised unbelievable restraint and idled the car into our photo studio, ignoring the pleas from the lopey cam, begging us to stomp on the throttle and light up the tires. The exciting announcement Mopar wanted to play up is the fact that its ECMs are now unlocked and can be tuned. For a few years, this wasn't possible, and that certainly hindered enthusiast owners by limiting the amount of modifying they could do to their cars. Even cooler news is the fact that Mopar will also be offering crate engine packages of the 5.7L Hemi as emissions-legal engine swaps into older cars, similar to Chevrolet Performance's E-Rod program. They are still working on the certification with California's Air Research Board, so here's to hoping that bureaucratic quagmire doesn't trip them up too badly. We will report in the particulars of Mopar's emissions-legal engine swap program as soon as the details have been finalized.
Transmission: Jeff gets major enthusiast points for insisting on a manual-transmission car. The stock Tremec T6060 six-speed remains in place behind the new Hemi.
Suspension: Stock, but lowered 1 inch, which means it looks great.
Custom Work: Jeff's Challenger had just 24 miles on it when he dropped off at Palmer's Customs in Camarillo, California. Working off of sketches from Mark Trostle, SRT's head of design, Alan and his crew needed to completely disassemble the car to turn the 2-D sketches into a 3-D reality. The handmade fender flares are especially impressive. Alan told us one guy built all four (that way both pairs would match, side-to-side). They were formed out of sheetmetal, using an English wheel, a shrinker/stretcher tool, and a planishing hammer, and welded onto the stock fenders and quarter-panels. Alan said the rear flares were more difficult to build because they had to modify the car's unibody to tie the flares into the quarter-panels as well as the inner structures making up the wheel houses and floorboards. The rocker panels were made from aluminum. They tie into the fender flares and extend beyond the side of the car more than the stock pieces do. The front and rear bumper covers also had to be re-formed to match the shape of the flares. The rear diffuser was also formed from aluminum and bonded to the bumper cover. The spoiler blends cues from both vintage Trans-Am race cars and current NASCAR styling. The brackets were water-jet cut from 1⁄2-inch sheet aluminum and mated to the decklid with hidden fasteners. Up front, Mopar's new T/A hood incorporates a functional air inlet and fit the car much more precisely than most aftermarket fiberglass hoods, according to Alan. The stock grille was replaced with a machined-from billet piece that was pushed forward to the edge of the hood. Headlight covers made of Lexan were made and are mounted flush with the grille, while the hood pins are directly from Mopar's catalog.
Exhaust: From the converters back, the exhaust system is custom formed. Usually, the mufflers are located at the rear of the car, but to make the side-exit exhaust work, bullet mufflers were welded in just aft of the transmission. The system then bends around the back of the stock gas tank and runs forward to the openings in the rocker panels. The tips were custom made, and Adam had to make several custom heat shields to keep from melting the plastic gas tank.
Paint: Adam painted the car using PPG's Vibrance line of water-based paints. The purple is a custom mix, and the matte treatment on the car's upper surfaces is done with a black basecoat and a flattened clearcoat.
Wheels/Tires: The 22-inch HRE forged aluminum wheels were powdercoated to match the matte-black upper half of the car. They are shod with Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires measuring 265/35ZR22 (front) and 295/30ZR22 (rear).
Online: Details and videos of the build can be found on Jeff Dunham's website and YouTube Channel: www.jeffdunham.com and www.youtube.com/JeffDunham.