Ill admit it's hard to title something dream garage with a neon on my mind. My dream garage though...it'd be a lot less exciting than most I'd assume. If unlimited funds ran through my depressing bank account, my dream garage would be full of mostly odd, ugly cars, vs a slew of insane super cars. Being an 80's baby I had the pleasure of growing up with a lot of "cool" tuner cars. Cars that we could actually afford. Today for most kids a 40k civic is just a dream until used car lots start making dreams come true. cars like the civic si, integra gsr, integra type r, sentra se-r, sentra se-r spec-v, celica gt-s, mazdaspeed protege, focus svt, the list goes on. we had a pretty decent lineup before the evo and wrx topped it off. Everyone had a piece of the pie except dodge, and then came the SRT-4!
The neon had been around long before many of its rivals, but it never had the power to let its nuts hang. on the upside the chassis had been well proven. So well that it was the budget racers go to. Road racing, auto cross, it didn't matter, the neon was was cleaning up! The down side was the neon wasn't a looker. Personally i didn't think it looked that bad, in fact i kind of liked it. Maybe it was because it looked different, granted back then all cars had their own look. The general perception was that the neon was ugly, and in the world of being a cool teenager or picking up chicks in your early 20's, you not only had a slow ass neon, you had an ugly ass neon. You can't have both...
In 2003 dodge did what dodge does best, big motors! Dodge decided to take the neon and stuff a hefty 2.4l 4 cylinder in it. But that wasn't enough, so they added a turbo to it. What they ended up with was 215hp and 245tq! it turned the slow 150hp neon into an absolute beast, making it to 60mph in 5.6 seconds and running the quarter in the low 14s. The only thing lacking in the srt-4 was a limited slip differential. In 2004 they answered the cries for help making a quaife diff standard. But wait there's more! Along with the diff power was bumped up to 230hp and 250tq! That means 60 came in just 5.3 seconds and the quarter dropped to 13.9! DAAAAAAAMN GiNA!!! Even by today's standards a bone stock srt-4 is pretty quick. So you no longer had a slow ass neon, just a ugly ass neon.
The srt-4 came with a lot of hype being it was pretty much the fastest sport compact around, and it was cheap. the interior reflected the price, especially with roll up windows for the rear passengers, wtf, i guess you have to sacrifice something for performance. You did get some amazingly bolstered seats which could be considered uncomfortable, but who cares. There was tons of aftermarket support even from mopar. with Simple bolt ons the srt-4 would make v8's look like child's play. the hype quickly came and went, and with the srt-4 aging fast, in 2005 dodge shot for a second wind with the acr.
The acr was a mildly modded version of the srt-4. It didn't make any more power but it did have stiffer sprnigs, adjustable tokico shocks, openings in the seats for harnesses, larger front sway bar, and lighter 16 inch bbs wheels with 225s vs the standard 17's with 205's. Noise and ride comfort had often been a topic of concern with the srt-4, and with these mods it only made it worse. But who cares! that is what made this car great! it handled great, stopped great, made plenty of power, it was a no compromise race car for the street! That my friends, is why the srt-4 acr is part of my dream garage. there were only 1,175 srt-4 acrs built. Hopefully one day i'll be lucky enough to find one for sale that I can pick up. The neon and even the srt-4 didn't age well. you can easily pick one up today for well under 10k. Honestly today 230hp, 250tq, and a lsd for under 10k isn't easy to come by, at least not in the form of fwd. fortunately these cars were pretty stout and if well taken care of should have many more laps of fun left!