There's no mistaking either the 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat or 2016 GMC Sierra 3500 Denali HD on the road. Despite their rarity in Australia, American muscle cars and pick-up trucks are legendary and when they are spotted, they turn heads and put smiles on faces. There's just something about them.
Shogun Conversions stocks one of the biggest ranges of American trucks in Australia and was recently granted full volume certification for the Dodge RAM 2500 and 3500, and Ford F-250 and F-350. This is on top of the full volume certification it already has for the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500, and the GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500.
The Sydney-based business also has low volume approvals for the Toyota Tundra and Ford F-150, as well as a range of American muscle cars including Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro, and Dodge Challenger Hellcat. Low volume vehicles are subject to fewer compliance tests than full volume, as test results from other countries can be drawn upon - alternate standards are sometime accepted.
On the other hand, full volume means Shogun Conversions can re-engineer the trucks from left- to right-hand drive and supply unlimited numbers. It's also responsible for ensuring they are fully compliant with the Australian Design Rules (ADR) which is an intensive process involving hours of rigorous testing and making any necessary modifications, before the ADR compliance certification plates can be fitted. Regardless of whether a vehicle is full or low volume, the type and number of tests varies depending on the category of vehicle.
Both the Challenger and the GMC have already been through the arduous conversion process at Shogun's manufacturing facility in the Phillipines and must now meet ADR requirements as per the Motor Vehicles Standards Act 1989 – which covers elements including occupant safety, emissions control, tow bar testing, energy saving and even securing the vehicle against theft – before being fitted with a certification plate, which then allows the vehicle to be registered in Australia. Phew, what a process.
And this process is what has brought us to the Sydney Dragway. The GMC Sierra 3500 Denali HD dual rear-wheel (DRW or dually) and Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat were to be put through the compliance wringer and we were invited to tag along with Shogun Conversions director Herman Urriola and his team of testers to check out how it all happens.
The fact that I'd never been behind the wheel of either was only half the attraction; the testing process is intricate and fascinating. The list of tests for full volume vehicles, like the Sierra 3500, have to go through to meet the ADR requirements is long. Many, like seatbelt and child restraint point stress tests, are performed in the workshop but some require a lot more space to conduct.
The monster pick-up truck was booked in for a brake systems test, while the low volume hunk of muscle – the Challenger SRT Hellcat – had to undergo external noise testing and speedo calibration testing.
The preparation process for the noise test is very scientific and precise. The vehicle has to be weighed, have a certain amount of fuel in the tank, and nothing in it that would affect unladen mass. A VBOX data logger was set up in the vehicle with a GPS antenna on the centre of the roof, an infra-red trigger was mounted on the side of the car and the reflector mounts set up at a start and finish point which works out to be the length of the car plus 20 metres. The test area also had to be at the centre of a flat and clear 50m radius.
A microphone and recorder was set up exactly 7.5 metres away and the tester monitoring the recorder had to stay a specific distance from the device. Plus, there couldn't be any interference from passing cars, planes, people talking or any large objects etc. A weather station was set up perpendicular to, and 50 metres away, and the unit had to log weather data the entire time to ensure wind speed didn't reach above 5m/s.
The car had to hit the start line at exactly 50km/h. At that point the VBOX beeped and the driver applied full throttle until the second beep sounded, which occurred when the car passed the second reflector. The engine RPM at the start and finish point was recorded too. Once the set number of runs in one direction was complete, it's repeated in the other direction before stationary noise testing was carried out.
These planets must all correctly align each time. No wonder Urriola says this is his least favourite test! It's fiddly and there are a lot of factors that have to be exact. And he'll be back to do this again, because the Challenger SRT Hellcat was over the ADR decibel limit so there's a little bit of work to be done to ensure it passes next time.
The second test for the Hellcat was speedometre calibration. It's a relatively simple process but the most time consuming element was checking and recording things like tyre pressure, weight, the ambient temperature and other details about the car. Once the forms were filled out and the VBOX installed, it was just a matter of driving at 40, 80 and 120km/hr and documenting proof via photo or video that the speedometre in the vehicle matched the VBOX reading at each speed. The Dodge passed with flying colours.
The Sierra 3500 needed to be put through a full brake systems test. This thing is a monster-hauler, capable of accomodating a 2268kg payload, and towing 9072kg or 10,251kg with a fifth-wheel set up. Not to mention it weighs 3725kg itself, so the brakes would certainly have to work hard to pull this thing up and ace the test.
Again, there was a lot involved in setting up the equipment and the sheer number of stops required meant this was another time consuming process. The VBOX was set up, a GPS antenna mounted on the roof and a load cell attached to the brake pedal. Urriola had to press the pedal with no more than 685 Newtons – or no more than almost 70 kilograms of force each time.
Urriola had to bring the truck to a full stop multiple times. The brakes are put through their paces at 100km/h and 50km/h, with the front brakes disconnected, then rear brakes disconnected (for both a ball valve was placed in the brake line) and then with ABS disconnected (which was as easy as removing a fuse).
All this was first done with more than 2000kg of concrete and sand in the back to bring the truck up to GVWR, and then all of that weight removed and the tests repeated with the unladen vehicle. The tricky one is passing rear only testing unladen, without weight in the back the brakes don't do much!
The brake fade effectiveness test involved doing 20 stops, then checking the temperature of each brake disc. At the end of the day, the dually performed particularly well with two-tonnes in the back, better than the single rear-wheel according to Urriola.
Once all the hard work was complete, luckily for me there was still time to get behind the wheel of both the Challenger SRT Hellcat and the Sierra 3500 and have a bit of fun.
Click on the photos tab for more images by Tegan Lawson