Robert Bowen
Robert Bowen Editor
9/24/20 8:49 a.m.

[Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the June 2008 issue of Grassroots Motorsports]

Back in 2002, car enthusiasts were finally getting out of the millennial SUV doldrums. Signs of life were just beginning to develop in the sports sedan market after a dry spell that arguably began in 2000, when the last old-school Civic Si and Sentra SE-R models disappeared from showrooms. They were replaced by newer, heavier Eclipses, Civics, Sentras and Neons. 

Subaru fired the first shot of this sport compact revival in 2001 with the launch of their WRX, and the reverberations were felt from Torrance to Detroit. With WRX sales booming, other car makers jumped at the chance to compete—within a year, the Lancer Evolution VIII came to Mitsubishi dealers, while the Sentra SE-R Spec V brought up the budget end of the segment. Honda introduced the somewhat unloved 2002 Civic Si hatch, while Chrysler—then known as DaimlerChrysler—responded with the lackluster Neon SXT. 

But wait, manufacturers were just warming up. Luckily for fans of the pentastar, a front-drive monster was waiting in the wings. An unsuspecting public was about to get a real American-style thrill: the 2003 Dodge SRT4. 

On paper the 215-horsepower screamer had far too much muscle to be forced through just two front wheels, but it was just what many people wanted. Ridiculously fast in a straight line, the SRT4 could accelerate to 60 in about 5.3 seconds. Tack on a top speed approaching 150—though Dodge claimed it was lower—and the fortified Neon exuded the vibe of a highly strung tuner car put together in someone’s garage. It was loud, bright and fast.

The car’s garish wing, bright paint options and in-your-face intercooler were polarizing features. Most contemporary reviews complained about the looks more than anything else. Meanwhile, fans of the car found the rough edges endearing since they were reminders of the muscle cars and turbo Dodges of their youths. If the looks were a bit much, that was part of the charm. Still, there was one feature that couldn’t be argued over: a price below $20,000.

The story of how we got the SRT4 is as interesting as the car—it’s one of those tales destined for automotive folklore. A couple of young engineers with a purpose and an attitude pushed through the project despite the objections of senior executives. Marques McCammon is credited as the man behind the SRT4. According to his own recounting to the press, his team built two prototypes of the car during 1999 and 2000. 

Their goal was to build an inexpensive, fast, tunable car, and that’s more or less what arrived at the end of the assembly lines in the fall of 2002. They combined an inexpensive Neon chassis with a few cheap exterior parts, an already-in-production 2.4-liter turbo engine and a few aftermarket goodies to create their dream Neon. It wore the SRT4 badge.

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