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Ralph Gilles talks past, present and SRT future

Wed, 07 Aug 2013 00:00:00 -0700

Ralph Gilles -- SRT boss, Chrysler vice president of design, curator of something called the "Man Van," has become the public face of Chrysler performance, carrying the legacy of Firepower engines and 428 Coronets and the Dodge Viper RT/10 into the future with the Challenger, Charger and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8s.

Since "unofficially" helping form it in 2003, Gilles has seen SRT transformed into Chrysler's most coherent performance strategy since Plymouth Rapid Transit, a company-wide force so much greater than the flagship Dodge Viper. He was there from the beginning. He's in charge now.

"Obviously I had more roles the last five years," he said, modestly, "but still designing. Better parking spot every once in a while, but the rest is the same."

Gilles came to Chrysler by way of Montreal, where he survived freezing East Coast Canadian winters in -- of all cars -- an Austin Marina, which British Leyland never had the good sense to sell in America. "Horrible car," Gilles reminisced with scorn. "I almost don't talk about it. The only good thing about it was it would do burnouts backwards." From an early age, he drew not cars but animals: dogs and cats, until his father brought home a model of the John Player Special Lotus Formula One car. All of a sudden, he said, he started paying attention to cars. He was 6 -- and just starting to lay into the car designer clich


By Blake Z. Rong