Headlines over the past week have been dominated by the passing of Carroll Shelby, but a few weeks before Shelby's death, the automotive world lost another great figure, one to which fans of American muscle also owe a debt of gratitude. Dan Knott of Chrysler died in late April after fighting a battle with cancer. He was 51. Dan lead Jeep product development starting in 1996. In late 2002, he was appointed director of the then-new Street and Racing Technology team, which created the now-famous SRT brand. His last promotion was to head of Purchasing and Supplier Quality.
Here is a look at of three noteworthy trucks and SUVs Knott had a hand in during his career at Chrysler.
1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited
Before the fire-breathing, track-tuned Grand Cherokee SRT8 hit showrooms for the 2006 model year, there was one other, lesser-known performance-oriented Grand Cherokee: the 5.9 Limited. Fitted with the largest available engine at the time, a 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 producing 245 hp and 345 lb-ft of torque, this Grand Cherokee tackled the 0-60 sprint in 6.8 seconds, giving it the distinction as the quickest SUV for the 1998 model year. Its combination of performance, capability and luxury helped it earn Petersen's 4 Wheel & Off-Road's 4x4 of the Year award.
2004-2006 Dodge Ram SRT-10
Up to 2004, Ford essentially owned the high-performance pickup market with the supercharged F-150 Lightning. But when the Lightning was discontinued for 2004, SRT saw an opportunity to fill the market niche. But rather than supercharging, SRT used good ol' fashioned cubic inches to get the job done in the form of the Viper's 505-hp, 525-lb-ft 8.3-liter V-10. The three-year run of the Ram SRT-10 produced two variants: a regular-cab with a six-speed manual and a Quad Cab with a four-speed automatic.
Both were formidable performers, with the regular-cab going from 0 to 0 mph in less than five seconds and the Quad Cab taking only a few tenths more at 5.2 seconds. Both managed the quarter-mile in less than 14 seconds. The price for this substantial performance prowess was paid at the pump, with both models returning a ravenous 9 mpg in the city. Highway mileage wasn't much better -- the manual returned 15 mpg and the automatic gobbling up premium at the rate of 12 mpg.
Although the regular-cab model was clearly the more performance-oriented of the two models, the Quad Cab model outsold it by a nearly 2-1 margin. Less than 10,000 SRT-10s were produced in either style during the three-year production run.
2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Whereas the 1998 Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited tried to skillfully balance on-road performance with off-road utility, the 2006 Grand Cherokee SRT8 was a highly-controversial model for Jeep because it completely threw out any pretense of off-road capability in favor of street and track performance. The formerly sacrosanct two-speed transfer case made way full-time all-wheel-drive setup and the front spoiler was low enough that it would easily scrape over parking curbs, making it clear that this Jeep was not intended to crawl the Rubicon.
However, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 certainly made up for its lack of off-road capability with its performance on the track. It blasted through the 0-60 mph sprint in just 4.8 seconds, quicker than a contemporary Porsche Cayenne Turbo and equaling that of the quicker-still Turbo S, but for less than half price of either Porsche. Though the Grand Cherokee's hard plastic interior couldn't match the Porsche's stitched leather hides, bang-for-the-buck, it was unbeatable.
Like the Ram SRT-10, fuel economy wasn't the Grand SRT's strong suit. The 420-hp 6.1-liter high-output Hemi V-8 earned EPA ratings of just 12 mpg city and 15 mpg highway. With a relatively-small 20.8-gallon fuel tank, visits to the premium pump were frequent.
Although not the volume seller of the Grand Cherokee line, the SRT8 was popular enough among company insiders and speedy SUV enthusiasts that a second-generation model based on the new WK2 chassis packing a 470-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 was made for 2012.