Hellcat - 707 horsepower

By Adam Drapcho

TILTON — I consider myself a mild-mannered, modern man. For example, I have a farm share and I try to observe a mostly-vegetarian diet. My toddler has been to yoga. And yet, there are times when I'm reminded that, despite all of my forward-thinking airs, there are precious few genes that separates humans from our simian siblings. The most recent such reminder came when I heard the rumbling, window-rattling exhaust note of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. 

The Challenger line of engines starts with the SXT models, which is fitted with a 305-horsepower V6. Step up to the R/T models and venture into V8 territory, where the car is motivated by either a big, honking 5.7 liter engine making 375 hp or, if the "Scat Pack" option is selected, a bigger, honkier 6.4 liter engine cranking out 485 horsepower. But, standing head and shoulders above them all is powerplant in the SRT Hellcat, which straps a supercharger onto the biggest of those engines. With the help of 11.6 psi of boost, the Hellcat engine is capable of 707 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful production cars money can buy.

It takes a fair bit of money to acquire all that power. At a base suggested retail price of $60,000, the Hellcat is more than double the cost of the most modest Challenger available. Chances are that dealers will see if the market will bear an even higher price, as the limited-edition will be hard for customers to find. The red Hellcat with optional black aluminum hood at AutoServ of Tilton is the second one the dealership has been able to stock this year; they've already sold a yellow one to a lakeside summer resident who owns a string of pizza stores in Massachusetts.

Both of the Hellcats that AutoServ has taken delivery of have come equipped with a manual six-speed transmission. Dodge makes an automatic available, but Paul Gaudet, Jr., one of the dealership owners, said he'd only order Hellcats with manuals. It is, after all, "the return of the muscle car," as he said, and he figures its buyers will want to experience driving it, including doing their own shifting.

He's right, the manual transmission on the Hellcat is one worth experiencing. The leather-wrapped shift knob sits on a steel shaft bent towards the driver. Both the shifter and the clutch pedal require a certain amount of heft in their operation — not enough to difficult, but enough to remind the driver that the machinery in the transmission tunnel is stout enough to handle the better part of 1,000 horsepower.

It's a muscular transmission befitting the car it's in. Like the rest of the Hellcat, it makes an impression. The Challenger has road presence in spades. Long and wide, and with that classic silhouette, even the most antisocial-looking motorcyclists yielded the fast lane on the highway before we were within a quarter-mile. In Hellcat form, the Challenger sports a chin splitter, hood vents, a trunklid spoiler and 20-inch wheels wearing Z-rated tires. If the looks weren't enough, then there's the soundtrack. The V8 rumble turns to a roar under throttle, which soon pairs with the supercharger's whine-turn-scream as the RPMs rise. It's an intoxicating duet. Downshift and goose the throttle and you'll want to slow down just to do it again. Don't let the song carry you away, though. With 707 horsepower, you'll be in felony speeding territory within a matter of seconds.

Backing off the throttle and returning to legal levels of velocity, you notice something. The Hellcat, for all its superlative features, is surprisingly easy to drive. Yes, the blind spots are large, and the car fills out a lane in the same way that a 20-ounce porterhouse fills a plate, but the beast is perfectly happy — comfortable, even — to purr along at part-throttle. If the EPA estimates are correct, it will get 21 miles per gallon on the highway. Not too bad, considering its power level.

So, at the end of the drive, I find my evolved mind rationalizing its primitive lusts. For such a special car, and for someone with the means, $60,000 isn't really that much money. And, yes, its fuel economy would be bettered by most quarter-ton pickup trucks, but the Hellcat isn't a car that will be driven every day. Drive a Prius during the week and your carbon footprint will still be better than most. Humans are a complicated creature and can't live on tofu alone. I think I'll have steak tonight.

'Game changer' – Impact of planned sale, renovation of Colonial Theater weighed

LACONIA — "A game changer" were the words most often heard following the announcement this week that the Colonial Theater, dark since 2001, would be renovated and reopened as a civic auditorium.

The Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC) and City of Laconia have partnered to acquire the theater, together with the commercial and residential units on the lot at 609-621 Main St. and during the next 18 months arrange a financial package of $15 million to renovate the entire property, a project expected to be complete by Christmas 2018.

Randy Eifert, president of BEDC, said that when the agency decided to invest in redeveloping distressed property it considered several buildings downtown, but chose the theater, concluding that its renovation and reopening would have the greatest impact.

Jack Dugan, executive director of the Monadnock Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), recalled the experience of Keene where the revitalization of a theater — also named the Colonial —was the first step in the recovery of downtown. Describing the theater as "the centerpiece," adding: "... it is one of the first places we bring people. It's a selling point."

Dugan said that the theater, owned by a nonprofit corporation and operating 364 days a year, enhanced the value of other distressed properties and when the MEDC redeveloped two other buildings, "the momentum began to grow and private developers began to invest." Describing the theater as the "centerpiece," he said that downtown, with its specialty retailers and numerous restaurants has become "a third place where you're not at home or at work but comfortable when you're hanging out."

The construction of what Dugan called "high-end condominiums and rental units," has drawn affluent empty-nesters and young professional families to live within walking distance of downtown. "Success will build on itself," he remarked. "The snowball effect is amazing."

Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research explained that in the past downtowns were anchored by department stores which were then eclipsed by several generations of even larger, often discount retailers operating outside city centers where parking was plentiful. Theaters, or cultural and artistic centers, he said, have become the anchors of revitalized downtowns, not only in Keene but also in Concord, Portsmouth and Lebanon, where they have spawned boutiques , cafes and restaurants.

City Manager Scott Myers stressed the assurance that the Colonial Theater would not only change hands but also be restored and reopened within a specific period of time. He said that this signals there are attractive opportunities for potential investors, particularly in the current environment before interest rates and property values have begun to rise.

Myers noted that even before the announcement Charlie St. Clair invested $315,000 in acquiring the former Bloom's Variety Store at the corner of Main and Hanover streets that houses the Laconia Antique Center, and brothers Mark and Chris Condodemetraky bought the Piscopo Block at the corner of Main and Canal streets for $392,500.

These transactions came on the heels of the opening of the Holy Grail Restaurant & Pub on Veterans Square, which marked a major investment in the conversion of the former Evangelical Baptist Church and coincided with the renovation of a rental units on Main Street to house Wayfarer's Coffee Roaster, which opened this week.

John Moriarty of the Main Street Initiative, who purchased and rehabilitated 600 Main Street, has been associated with efforts to acquire and restore the Colonial Theater for years. He recalled that the late, Paul Normandin once reminded him that "it is not fair to think of the Colonial as savior of downtown Laconia. I realize other things have to happen," he continued, "but, renovating and reopening the Colonial will overcome a perception that has overshadowed downtown." He believes that "others will discover what savvy people have known, that downtown Laconia is intrinsically valuable and under-priced."

"It's a beautiful situation that will generate some positive momentum," said Kevin Sullivan, an agent with Coldwell Banker Commercial Weeks Associates, who owns property downtown. He called the Colonial Theater "the highest profile property in the entire downtown corridor" and said that the prospect of its renovation should increase interest in vacant space along Main Street and raise the value of nearby properties. "There is a positive buzz going around," Sullivan remarked.


County faces $80,000 shortfall in health insurance funds (650)

LACONIA — Faced with a possible $80,000 shortfall to cover health insurance costs for county employees, Belknap County Commissioners are encouraging the 30 non-union employees of the county to shift their insurance to a site of service plan from a more-costly HMO plan.

Commissioners say that their plan calls for a 1.4 cost of living increase plus a step increase for eligible employees retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year which would add another 3 percent to their pay.

The county would also pay the entire tab for the site of service plan, which, according to Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), would reduce the county's costs by $1,374 for a single plan, $3,050 for a two-person plan and $4,119 for a family plan compared to what the county currently pays as its share of the HMO plan.

Currently county employees pay either 5 percent or 6.5 percent of their premiums on the more costly HMO plans, which DeVoy said will subject the county to paying a 40 percent ''Cadillac tax'' on those plans in 2018 unless their costs can be brought down by that time. He says that it is estimated that the tax would $150,000 to the county budget at that time.

Both DeVoy and Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that they were amenable to a wage increase based on the savings the county will realize by a shift to the a site of service plan and are hoping that many employees will switch over to that plan by July 1.

Currently the county offers two plans, an HMO with a $20 co-pay and a site of service plan with a $1,000 deductible.

The HMO costs $845.19 a month for a single plan, with a weekly payroll deduction of $12.68, $1,690.37 per month for a two-person plan with a weekly payroll deduction of $19.50, and $2,282 a month for a family plan with a weekly payroll deduction of $26.33.

The site of service plan costs $675.77 a month for a single plan, $1,351.55 a month for a two-person plan, and $1,824.59 a month for a family plan. There are no payroll deductions for those plans.

Taylor, who is heading up negotiations with the county's four labor unions, said last week that he is trying to get the HMO changed to a site of service plan in a new contract and has had some success with one of the unions, but that the other three are not looking favorably upon the proposal.

He said that the commissioners should be meeting with the County Convention to discuss the projected shortfall in the near future so that a plan can be worked out to deal with it. ''The longer you wait, the more drastic action will be required. We don't want to wait until August or September,'' said Taylor.

DeVoy said that the commissioners don't want to weaken employee morale with talks of possible layoffs and said that the county budget contains $200,000 in contingency money, a portion of which could be used to fund the projected shortfall.

DeVoy and Taylor suggested that an employee who made $50,000 a year and was on a family plan would realize a $2,200 raise and a reduction of $1,400 in health insurance premium costs, which would help offset the $1,000 deductible in the site of service plan.

Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) questioned those numbers and cautioned that employees at the top of the wage scale within their bracket might not be receiving enough of a wage increase to cover their increased costs.

He also said that he thinks it is important that the commissioners meet with the convention to discuss the situation, observing that the plan to save the county money on insurance costs can't be put in place without the cooperation of the unions.

DeVoy and Taylor said that they wanted to see every employee come out ahead in the contract negotiations.
''Right now we're bogged own,'' said Taylor, who along with the other commissioners agreed to hold off on hiring for any positions not deemed vital until commissioners know their situation better.