Owner Profile: Graham Henckel, Rochester Hills, Michigan.

SRT engineer Graham Henckel gives driveSRT the inside scoop on his SRT garage in an owner profile.
Posted on Mar 18, 2012

I’m one of those guys who always loved cars since I was a kid. My dad had several sports cars when he was young. He even bought a 2-stroke Saab rally car to bring me home in, so I guess I got it from him. I was the kid who put thousands of miles on my Dinky toys, and Corgi’s, wearing out my mother’s floor rug as a kid. As I grew up, I never really considered any occupation other than working in the car business. My parents told me I should go work in Silicon Valley 30 years ago, but I went to work at Chrysler instead. We’ve had our ups and downs in the Motor City, but Chrysler’s just got a great bunch of car nuts here, and we have a lot of fun building minivans, Jeeps, trucks, and of course, SRTs.

I was really honored a few years ago when I got the chance to join SRT Engineering to lead the Gen 5 Viper team. You just cannot imagine how dedicated, and capable these guys are – and they never stop! We work our butts off here, but at the end of the day the sacrifices you make are worth it when a wicked-sweet new SRT rolls off the line. And soon, we’ll have the lightest, most powerful, and fastest Viper ever to show off! America’s Supercar is back, baby!

First Mopar® - I bought an ’86 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z (with the “CS” Shelby suspension package) right out of college. Black with gold wheels, sunroof, 5 speed. I installed an adjustable turbo boost kit (up to 13psi) with water injection, made about 180hp. Eventually the hot combustion temps just destroyed the cylinder head, and the clutch couldn’t take the higher torque for too long either. But I took down a bunch of 5.0 Mustangs with that car!

Mopar Garage - I own a 2005 Dodge Neon SRT-4, and a 2010 Viper SRT-10 roadster, both purchased new. Still looking for an SRT minivan (hey Ralph!)

The SRT-4 was already a great car, but I’ve modified mine to make it a more extreme road racing track day car. Underneath, it’s got Mopar Stage 3 KW coilovers, 300% stiffer sway bars, -2.0 degree of front camber, 4-piston Stoptech front calipers and modular rotors, SSR forged wheels with 225/40-18 tires, front and rear strut tower braces (etc, etc!). I’ve also added power with the Mopar Stage 2 engine kit, cold air intake, bigger intercooler, Borla 3” cat-back exhaust. The car runs great, and has been just bullet-proof at the track. My wife and I jokingly call the car my “$33,000 Neon”, in reference to what I’ve put into it, but I have no regrets. The car just rips!

I haven’t done as much with the Viper yet; Mopar engine controller, 3.55 rear gear, short shifter, and Steve Dreyer at Autoform sold me a full chrome roll bar for that authentic “427 Cobra” look – it looks cool, but Steve just killed himself getting the chrome right – so don’t ask him to make another one! I also installed a seat lowering kit so I fit in the car better. I’ll probably install racing harnesses and maybe some racing seats this summer.

Favorite stretch of road - The nearest road racing course! Hanging it out there in the Viper, or chasing down M3’s in the SRT-4. My wife, Paula, and I also love doing road trips with the Motor City Viper Club (MCVO, the local VCA chapter). Just thumping along in a Viper with the top down on a cool autumn day can’t be beat, especially when there’s 30 other Vipers running with you! We just have a blast doing these events, and the MCVO club always does a great job organizing events.

Farthest you’ve driven to meet a fellow car enthusiast - We’ve been pretty busy here in the SRT Engineering office lately, so I haven’t been road-tripping much lately. I drove down to the Sebring 12 hours race (in the Turbo Z!) years ago, and that was probably the furthest I’ve gone in one trip. A buddy of mine in Boston and I keep planning to drive our cars (he’s got a Lotus) to Watkins Glen, or Mt. Tremblant or Mosport to go watch historic races some weekend, but somehow our family obligations or work keep mucking up those plans. We’ll pull it off one of these years!

Racing or cruising - I generally find time to make it out to a handful of road race track days here in Michigan every summer (Waterford Hills, Grattan, Gingerman, etc). When I was a kid, I used to race 2-cycle sprint karts (road courses, 100cc Yamaha piston port class), and I really loved the racing, but I haven’t done it since. So going to occasional track days is a fun way to do some fast driving, without the major commitment racing takes. Now that I have the Viper, it’s become my track car of choice, and I guess I’ve semi-retired the SRT-4 from track duty. And, I haven’t wrecked anything – yet!

Paula and I also go to the Woodward Dream Cruise with the Viper club, and like to just drive the car around in the summer weather. Even when you have kid’s baseball games, or groceries to get, doing it in a Viper makes it a memorable trip.

Badge of Loyalty - Let’s see… well, I skipped my high school graduation to attend the inaugural Detroit Grand Prix in 1982! The sound of those gorgeous Cosworth DFV V8s, and the Matra V-12s, and the crackling wastegates on the 1.5L turbo cars racing through the Motor City was awesome! And it was so disorganized there the first year, that you could literally go wherever you wanted to (I spent plenty of time IN Pit Lane!). I even raced my ‘82 Mazda RX-7 around the Grand Prix course on the Tuesday night before the race (and didn’t get arrested!).

In December of 1988, I wrote to then Chrysler president Bob Lutz and pretty much begged him to build the then-rumored “Viper”. And, he wrote me back! He was just a youngster pushing 60 then, but he was genuinely worried that young guys might not like “the good old meat axe.” So I think he was happy to get a letter from a 24-year old engineer begging him to build a modern Cobra. And I’m pretty sure he received a few million more of those following mine. He couldn’t promise we’d build it, but man, am I glad he pulled it off. Thanks Bob!

Online Hangouts - We’re working pretty long hours here at SRT Engineering, and with 5 kids at home, we’re pretty busy outside of work too. So I don’t really get online very often. But I try to check out the VCA Forums every month or so, and keep up with the content at driveSRT and Viper HQ. I also keep up with competitive car news through Autoblog and a bunch of other websites.

Club Affiliation - Paula and I have a lot of fun doing the VCA / MCVO events when we can. The Detroit-area Alfa Romeo club guys are pretty rabid, and organize a few good track days each year, so I like to go run with them. We also like going to the Woodward Dream Cruise, both to watch, and to drive (my daughter had a lot of fun taking the Viper down there at night last year). Paula and I also love the Autumn color tour the Viper club does every year. Throw in a few other VCA events like the club-vs-SRT autocross, or VOI, and you’ve hit it all.


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