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The Transformance of a Dodge Caliber

Many basic and boring cars throughout history have been the lucky recipients of a new engine, improved suspension and brakes.  
The resulting increase in performance usually results in a pretty big transformation.  A transformance, if you will.

Trans-form-ance (verb)

1. the act of transformation by an infusion of performance

see also Performation

Everyone probably has a favorite car that went through a transformance sometime in its product cycle.  The Volkswagen Rabbit begat the GTi; the Ford Taurus, the SHO; the GMC Sonoma, Syclone. All of those examples began life as a solid, well-rounded vehicle that sold well.  A popular choice in its assigned class.  What if you took a car that was generally panned by critics, unloved in the marketplace and ultimately ended up canceled after only a few model years – and completely transformed it by replacing a thrashy and generally mediocre 158-horsepower engine with a batshit-crazy 285-horsepower turbocharged powerplant and additional braking, suspension and performance goodies?  And what if, at the same time, you were to change the appearance of said car from awkward, unattractive and downright bizzarre to something aggressive, interesting and generally badass?

Well, you’d have a Dodge Caliber SRT-4.

Now, let us have a moment of silence for the dear, departed Dodge Caliber.  Okay, that didn’t take too long.  Let’s face it, outside of rental car companies, few people will likely miss the Caliber.  It was strange looking, cheaply built and a poor performer.  And it was recently killed off – the last example rolled off the assembly line on November 23, 2011.   That’s why I was out driving around Salt Lake City’s industrial west end with my camera on a cold afternoon recently – I was on a mission to find the most unusual, oddball and unique vehicle imaginable.  Instead, I found a Caliber SRT-4.  At least it was perfectly positioned for photographing in a 45 degree angle spot.  I grabbed my camera a snapped a few photos from different angles and checked them out in the camera display.

I don’t know how I missed it when I parked my car, or when I was circling the SRT-4, but there was a Caliber SE parked on the opposite side of the street in the background of one of my photos. 

What an opportunity! I walked down the street and took a few shots.  But for some reason, I wasn’t happy with any.  While the SRT-4 was a willing model with interesting angles and cool details, the SE just… wasn’t.  Was it the color?  The location?  No.  The SE was just ugly.

How is that a trim package could so throughly transform a car?  Was the turbo engine somehow communicating with my digital camera?  Did the red paint dazzle my brain?  Or was the SE really that bad?  

Yes.  It is really that bad.  The pseudo-SUV styling isn’t tough, it isn’t attractive and it certainly isn’t intimidating. 

After several hours tens of minutes sifting through my photos and analyzing the styling of both cars, that can be my only conclusion.  The SE was boring, cold and ugly.  The SRT-4 was exciting, cool and surprisingly… attractive?

Click to enlarge (1680x1050p)

 

Click to enlarge (1680x1050p)

 

So the question is, if it’s not the Dodge Caliber SE and SRT-4, then what vehicle has had the greatest Transformance?  

This will be the first in hopefully a long series of Design Studies.  I’ve done a few on   , but I’ll be migrating this idea over to Redusernab because it’s a lot of fun.  I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.

  • pj134

    Is that even a real question?
    <img src="; width="500/">
    Clearly, the gentlemen who took a pedestrian Innocenti by DeTomaso and put a turbo on what was already a ferocious ~50 horse block and made it into a ~70 horse hell spawn had no soul and feared not the repercussions of his savagery and what would happen to him in his eventual meeting with the devil for his deeds.

    • Deartháir

      Agreed on that one. Awesome little cars!
      http://redusernab.info/2010/02/11/dealership-find-

      • pj134

        Yeah, the one I pictured has been on Hemmings for a long time now. If I lived in Canadia or had the funds to import it I would be all over it. Even if mdharrell things I'm a wuss for not going with the Austin motor.

    • Maymar

      I was shocked any of these were actually for sale in Canuckia. Also, I really didn't need another reason to visit Montreal.

      • pj134

        According to mdharrell, there was one year that it was brought here. Good luck finding one though.

        • Maymar

          Oh, I knew we got them, essentially by accident. I'm just shocked a cheap obscure 27-year old Italian car has survived here – the car you posted is for sale right now, the only one on Auto Trader in the entire country. I'd assume it'd be easier to go through the whole importation process than to find one (if not for this specific one).

          • pj134

            To clarify, when I said “here” I did mean the US.

  • DemonXanth

    <img src=";
    Ford Shogun. Taking a cue from the French.

  • JayP2112

    2010 Mustang V6 4.0 vs 2010 Mustang Shelby GT500
    <img src="; width="450">
    <img src="; width="450">

    and maybe because I have hatchbacks on the brain now… the Focus Rental Edition vs Focus SVT.
    <img src="; width="450">
    <img src="; width="450">

    • Devin

      <img src="; width="500">
      Or you could do this to a Focus.

      • I was thinking of factory cars when I wrote the article, but that car makes me giggle. I'd take the crappiest looking Focus wagon, slap that V8 in there and a few yards of woodgrain paper on the sides… yes.

        • Devin

          I think the factory actually did one as a one off for SEMA, which is what got me searching. It was put together to show off their crate engines for the show, I read something about it a few years ago. Being a few years ago, I don't remember all the details, and might be horribly wrong, but I'm certain Ford made at least one V8 Focus.

          • JayP2112

            The V8 kit was offered in the Ford Racing catalog. A few have been made and I think one of the Spike/TNN/Speed car shows built one. Short wheel base made it a bear to drive apparently.

  • Oh man, there are so many good ones. Personally, since I have driven both extensively, I would say the '97-2004 F-150s are fairly transformed… with Lightning!

    <img src="; width=500>

    <img src="; width=500>

  • SSurfer321

    <insert> Any vehicle that was homologated for racing purposes </insert>

  • OA5599

    <img src="; width=500>

    From 75 HP econobox at introduction (or 62 HP when equipped with the later 1.6 L engine) to a shitbox from hell that came from the factory with 175 HP in a lightweight package capable of exceptionally high g-forces for the time. For a few thousand bucks more, your local Mopar dealer would be happy to sell you the Super 60 kit that would bump the power to the 300HP range, or you could pay their service department to install it for you, too.

    <img src="; width=500>

    <img src=";

    • Scandinavian Flick

      Great minds, something something…

      • OA5599

        Early bird, something something…

  • Scandinavian Flick

    I think in the case of the Caliber, a lot of the visual difference can be attributed to the wheels. It is incredible how much wheels can transform the look of the entire car. It gives the car a whole new sense of proportion, as you mention. The car appears lower, (I know part of that is the kit, but still…) the wheel wells are less distracting, and it doesn't have those cheap looking pieces of doodoo that come on the standard model.

    As for another example of transformance; here's a Shelby Omni.

    <img src="; width="500"/>

  • OA5599

    <img src=";

    <img src="; width=500>

  • Jim-Bob

    I'll go out on a limb and say the 1989-94 Suzuki Swift GTi/ GT. Take the already awesome Geo Metro and double it's horsepower, add a body kit, bigger brakes and an improved suspension. What you get is an amazing little pocket rocket with a curb weight of around 1700 lbs and excellent fuel economy. Add an aftermarket turbo lit to the potent DOHC G13 engine and you have a real giant killer.

  • Number_Six

    I strongly believe the Caliber SRT-4 is the most correct answer here. In second place I nominate the Lotus Carlton. Base models had 98HP, while the Lotus version galloped around with 377HP during a time when that figure was only seen in supercars.
    <img src="; width="500" />

    • The only problem I have with using the Caliber is that even in SRT guise, it's not a car I'd want. I've never driven one but my time at the helm of Caliber rentals permanently impaired my impression of the model.

      • Number_Six

        I agree, but the transformation from CVT-saddled soporific sadsack to 300HP rocket is pretty dramatic – it just leaves you with an undesirable car that brings some fantastic bang for the buck.

        • OA5599

          I think I've told this here before, but in the first week of Cash for Clunkers, a dealership advertised a leftover 2008 Caliber SRT-4 for $19K (MSRP was $27K and included an invite to the SRT driver's school) and Chrysler was matching the clunker bounty dollar-for-dollar. I might have been out the door for a touch over $10K a clunker, but the dealership played games and I walked out the door. I was going to check other dealerships for similar cars, but then decided it was too much work for the grand prize to be a Caliber. No regrets today.

  • The CTS-V, it transformed an entire brand, much less an also-ran mid-size luxury sedan.

  • OA5599

    Bumblebee.

    <img src=";

    • It really is more than meets the eye.

    • pj134

      Whats that from? A knockoff of Transmorphers or something?

  • OA5599

    Does it need to be a factory transformation?
    <img src="; width=500>
    <img src="; width=500>

    • Wow, he transformed it into a coupe!

  • pj134

    I am kind of shocked that no one has mentioned the Dodge Dart Super Stock.

    <img src="; width=500>

    • OA5599

      When I posted the b'cuda above, I intended it to represent the whole buy-a-hemi-A-body-from-the-local-dealer segment.

  • I have to wonder if the SRT-4 Caliber offers the same durability as the regular Caliber. My father was cursed with one as a company car, he now has about 180k trouble free miles on it. (One replacement set of brake pads, a tune up, oil changes, and tires, that's it) It drives just as bad now as it did when new, apparently a very well made piece of crap. He keeps thinking the CVT is going to go because it started getting noisy (or just noisier) at about 100k miles.

  • I know Ray is a new writer, but this is the type of thing I am looking for when I come to a site like this one. Excellent work.

    To be honest, I may have never given a Caliber a second look. Now I will.

    Oh, and to answer the question, how about this:
    <img src=";

    • Hey, thanks!

  • To answer the question 1969 Chevrolet Nova. The base engine was a 90 HP 4 cylinder, the Nova SS was available with a 375HP 396 V-8. According to there is a calculated 15.8 second DIFFERENCE in 0-60 times and a 9.8 second difference in 1/4 mile times.
    <img src="; width="500/">

    • That is an impressive improvement!

  • tonyola

    <img src="; width=500>
    <img src="; width=500>

    I win. Everyone else can go home now.

    • Deartháir

      Dammit, get out of my head.

  • dickie

    The only one you'll be blowing the doors off of in a Caliber SRT-4 is… yourself. Literally. Doors fall off. Bumpers fall off. Exhaust falls off. Wheels fall off. This is not a car so much as it is a prefab shed on wheels with motive power. Please don't ever EVER use "SRT-4" in association with performance. Ever.

    • tonyola

      You've forgotten this SRT-4, haven't you?
      <img src="; width=500>

    • Not on all of them. See my comments above about the 180k+ mile Caliber my father drives. Sure it is a piece of crap, but apparently at least some of them are well made pieces of crap.

    • Devin

      That's the Lotus school of performance, silly. You add lightness as you drive.

  • TDI_FTW

    Lancia Thema 8.32

    <img src="; width="500">

    <img src="; width="500">

    • Maymar

      Fantastically cool as the Thema 8.32 is, isn't it only marginally faster than the next slowest version which wasn't complete maintenance hell?

      • Van_Sarockin

        Sorry, what was your point? I couldn't hear over the awesomness of the Lancia Thema ('s service invoice).

      • TDI_FTW

        Some things are better left unsaid…..

  • Deartháir

    Come now. No low-hanging fruit?

    <img src="; width="500">

    • If you want to play that game…

      <img src=";

    • Number_Six

      Here's one of the most obvious low-hanging fruitiness:
      AC Ace, maxed out at @170HP in the finest Ruddspeed editions:
      <img src="; />
      AC Cobra, anything up to @485HP:
      <img src="; />

  • Age_of_Aerostar

    Olds Calais, to Olds Calais 442

    <img src=";

    <img src=";

  • VeeArrrSix

    The GTI…
    <img src="; width=600 />

    and the GTI W12 650
    <img src="; width=600 />

  • Maymar

    Going slightly the other way, what about this:
    <img src="; /img>

    To this:
    <img src="; width=500 /img>

    Or this:
    <img src="; width=500 /img>

    To this (I'd have just gone with the Trailblazer SS, but the Saab's got a slightly nicer interior. Slightly):
    <img src="; /img>

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