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March 2009 Trail Head

Posted in Features on March 1, 2009
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I'm not a car guy. I've never owned a sports car. I don't know the differences between '55 and '57 Chevys. I know what a muscle car is, but I couldn't identify the makes and models in a lineup. So subsequently, I've never owned a vehicle with capabilities that exceeded my driving skills. I've always owned and was interested in trucks and 4x4s. Most of which I have had no problem literally driving into the ground.

I recently weaseled my way behind the wheel of an '08 Dodge Viper SRT10 for an extended time. If you talk to anyone that knows cars well, they'll tell you the Viper is basically a street-legal race car. Oh sure, it has a few amenities like power windows, A/C and a single very small cup holder. But if these are the kind of things you're looking for in a vehicle, you probably don't understand what the Viper is about and you're likely considering a mini-van, crossover vehicle or a town car purchase.

Much like many of the Jeeps we all know and love, the Dodge Viper is an enthusiast vehicle. It has quirks that are characteristic of a race car, much like Jeeps have quirks commonly associated with off-road capability. Both of them can be daily drivers but only for truly committed enthusiasts who are able to overlook the shortcomings.

When I first hopped in the Dodge coupe it felt like I was in a tank. The control positions are well thought out, the seats fit snug and the windshield is little more than a viewing slit. You feel kinda safe and protected. It might be a little cumbersome to get in and out of but the Viper easily seats 6-foot-plus drivers. However, the pedals are tightly spaced. So those with size 11 or bigger feet may have trouble manipulating them. Less clunky shoes are mandatory. Work boots and a Viper ain't gonna work.

The Viper SRT10 drives heavy until you ramp it up to track speeds. On the road the temptation to speed is more frustrating than wearing a blindfold at a strip club. The car encourages you to go faster and it doesn't even feel like you're speeding. First gear will easily get you above the highest posted limit in all 50 states. And on a...ahem...closed course, Sixth gear will bog the engine until you get well up into the triple digits. The 8.4L is only burbling 1,850 rpm at 100 mph! But it's not a big deal since the huge 600-horsepower V-10 has enormous amounts of torque throughout the entire rpm range. It'll lug all day long at 1,500 rpm and then scare the crap out of you when you wind it up to the 6,500 rpm redline. The Viper is a monster, slapping the go-pedal to the floor is like pissing off a whole gang of silverback gorillas. It gets the power to the ground and then some. Needless to say, I had an opportunity to bump my fastest top speed driven another 15 mph, but I was still a ways from the Viper SRT10's 202 mph peak.

Unless you're able to drive up to ten-tenths of the Viper's ability, you'll never want for more power or torque. It's already easy to launch too hard and roast the tires or spinout in a corner from over-acceleration. Rather than eeking out all the power you can, like in most cars, you'll find yourself holding back, knowing that just a little more throttle input could send you off the side of the road. Personally, I'd like to see someone swap the Viper's 8.4L motor into a mud Jeep. Something with a long wheelbase, 44-inch tires and a drivetrain that can take the abuse. Heck, it's already set up for a manual tranny so the computer swap and wiring would likely be a simple procedure.

With energy prices up and green America leaning on the auto manufacturers like a fat lady waiting in line at the bakery, it's only a matter of time before we see the disappearance of the V-8 engine as we know it and certain death for the Viper's V-10. It will happen in my lifetime. If you are a car collector with an extra hundred-or-so thousand dollars lying around you have to add a Dodge Viper to your fleet before they are gone. And that could very well be sooner than you think. Regardless of if you can afford to own a Viper or not you should make an addition to your bucket list. Buy, rent or steal one. Just make sure you get behind the wheel before you die.

I eventually had to return the car, and I think just in time. Unfortunately I can't own a car like the Dodge Viper SRT10. It doesn't matter that I don't actually have the money to buy one. I'd end up dead or in jail before I made the first payment. -John Cappa

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