Scott Lear
Scott Lear
1/25/17 12:02 p.m.

Maybe we’re a bit twisted, but we derive a great deal of satisfaction from things that seem adorable at first but can deliver devastating results. Pikachu may be a cuddly animated yellow mouse-thing who chirps his name incessantly, but he also cuts loose with 1.21-gigawatt blasts of lightning. Likewise, Gremlins are cute until fed after midnight, and Carol Kane’s bubbly-voiced Ghost of Christmas Present throws a mean right-cross.

So cute. So unexpectedly violent.

The roads are overflowing with butched-up muscle machines that try to look tougher than they actually are, but there are also some unassuming automobiles that pack a knockout punch. The Fiat 500 Abarth comes to mind among current offerings, and the Mazdaspeed Miata of yore is another great sleeper.

Back in the heyday of economy import performance, however, Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge had a surprising present for the motorsports scene: the Neon.

With great big anime eyes, jellybean colors, a “Hi.” ad slogan, and a totally nonthreatening demeanor, the lozengeshaped Neon wasn’t going to scare away anybody on looks. But in DOHC trim, the little Pentastar had a stout 150 horsepower for its 2350-pound bulk–30 to 50 more ponies than the rest of the popular compacts at the time. The Honda Civic Si hadn’t yet received its twin-camVTEC transplant, and even the beloved Sentra SE-R was down on power to the 2-liter Neon.

Better still, the gearheads at Mopar decided to enhance the Neon with an ACR model that included four-wheel-disc brakes, improved aftermarket dampers, thicker anti-roll bars and shorter gears. The 1995-’97 models even had adjustable camber. It was endearing on the outside, but had serious bite when prodded.

Chrysler wasted no time proving that the new Neon had ontrack chops. They created the Neon Challenge, a wonderful PRdriven race series that put celebrities and racers behind the wheels of identically prepped Neons sporting huge, multicolored decals.

The cars met SCCA Showroom Stock prep rules, and after they had served their initial purpose as high-speed billboards, many of them were snapped up by club racers. It was an elegant way to seed the club racing scene with a large number of Neons that might not otherwise have been racing so shortly after their debut.

A new millennium brought a second-generation Neon, and an ACR version remained available for the first few years. Unfortunately, the new car was heavier and didn’t have any more power than its predecessor, so racers didn’t have much incentive to jump to the new platform.

Then, in 2003, the performance nuts at Dodge’s Street and Racing Technology branch must have found photos of the bean counters doing some scandalous form of long division, because they somehow blackmailed the suits into letting them all but weaponize the Neon. Thus was born the SRT-4, a truly bonkers front-wheel-drive experiment and the spiritual successor to the fan-favorite Omni GLH-S.

Read the rest of the story

NoPermitNeeded Reader
1/25/17 7:43 p.m.

Rad car! What's with the different tires on the front and the rear? Is it merely tire letters?

Robbie UltraDork
1/25/17 10:44 p.m.

In reply to NoPermitNeeded:

Could be different sizes or compounds. Sometimes FWD cars run staggered setup with the front wider than the rear.

79rex New Reader
1/25/17 11:06 p.m.

Talks about it in the full article a little. Its staggered with wider fronts.

1LapSRT New Reader
2/14/17 3:57 p.m.

At some events we run a staggered tires Front to Rear, but this was simply a timing issue and the letters were at the rear of the tire when the picture was taken. At the UTCC event we run a 275/35/18 on 18x10.5" Enkei RPF1's setup all around.

ganseg New Reader
12/28/17 10:46 a.m.

A NASA instructor I had about 12 years ago was a Chrysler engineer and had a track prepped Neon.  I was stunned how well it handled.  I don't remember it being an ACR, but the suspension was Def dialed in.

NickD UltraDork
12/29/17 8:30 a.m.

It's a pity that these cars were so short-lived in production and then doomed to a life of being thrashed into oblivion. I also learned from Chris Greenhouse last year that they make a monstrous stage-rally car.

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