While the LRT was built at the end of an era at Dodge performance, the SRT is just the third offering from Performance Vehicle Operations. PVO is a direct response to the success Ford enjoys with its Special Vehicle Team (SVT), and especially the Lightning pickup. With a supercharged, 380-horsepower V8 under the hood, the 4700-pound SVT Lightning was the considered the world’s fastest pickup before the Ram SRT-10. The mission for all three vehicles—the LRT, SRT and Lightning—was the same: let real car enthusiasts and engineers have a free hand at building the ultimate performance truck—the best of its day. (We won’t consider the Silverado SS because that appears to be more of a marketing gimmick trading on a great name than a true push-the-envelope-with-all-you-got performance exercise. Then again, maybe that is the best Chevy can do!)
The first sign that I’m driving a true performance truck comes quickly in Paso Robles where I pick up US Highway 101. I have to find a gas station. Just like my LRT got about 12mpg, the SRT-10 drank 20.2 gallons after 271 miles for an average of 13.4 mpg. All but 45 miles were logged on the highway. Another sign I’m in a performance vehicle came just a few miles driving north: A California Highway Patrol cruiser draws a bead on the Flame Red paint and holds position for about 20 miles before finding other prey. I reach Monterey on schedule but had black & white company all the way on the 101.
The SRT is meant to be conspicuous. With a massive hood scoop, 22-inch wheels, aero tricks like a rear spoiler and rocker skirts, snarling stance, and bold monochromatic colors, the SRT demands attention. My LRT didn’t have to beg but certainly asked for attention. Remember, the ’78 Dodge pickup was a couple of generations behind Ford and Chevy in styling. Sporting round headlights and bulbous rear pontoon fenders, the Dodge looks like an aging farm truck. The LRT’s flame-belching exhaust stacks, gleaming chrome and oak wood trim seems cartoonish to truck enthusiasts who are more comfortable with the refined lines of other 1/2-ton pickups. But I love the look and character of the LRT. Dodge designers rarely apologize for taking a chances, and LRT—and now SRT—owners never say they’re sorry, either.
Following a sunset photo session near a seaside lagoon and my morning meetings the next day, I head south on Hwy. 1—better known as the Big Sur Highway. Tight and winding, it hugs the rugged California coastline and provides spectacular whitewater views around every turn. There’s no room for speed but plenty of opportunities to test the steering and handling. Dodge lowered the SRT 1 inch in the front and 2.5 inches in the rear, added a rear sway bar, modified the rack-and-pinion steering, installed tuned Bilstein shocks and popped in stiffer springs. The result is hardly any body roll. Add 15-inch brakes up front and 14s in the rear, and SRT easily tames twisty canyon roads.
While cornering is precise, the SRT suffers from overly stiff ride over unfriendly road surfaces. Although the SRT rides on luxurious 305/40 Pirelli Scorpion tires, road impacts border on harsh and freeway expansion joints play unbearable paint-shaker tunes on the cabin’s occupants. The 6-speed CD changer in our test vehicle turned off or started switching CDs every time the truck went over a speed bump, manhole cover or slightest imperfection in the road. Otherwise, the 500-watt Infinity sound system pounded out the desired tunes with authority and crispness.