Long post warning - but still featuring GSF content!!
I’ve been a petrolhead for a long time - ever since my first Matchbox car I guess. Later, as a young teenager, my posters of semi-naked ladies were forced to share space with car pictures; I remember staring at both a lot. Another thing I remember, just next to my poster of Lindsey Dawn McKenzie (remember her??!) was an older picture of a Dodge Viper, a gen 1 car, in red - I’d had this poster since I was 8 years old. The Viper lacked some of the more refined design cues that Ferrari and Lamborghini boasted, but she seemed to have an evocative, outrageous and curvaceous style all of her own. There was nothing else quite like her - I was smitten! The car was nice too.
(please excuse the grin... 😂)
A couple of decades later, and after a track day driving one, I thought “why not?"; so here’s my new toy, a 3rd gen imported Viper that lived in Florida until very recently. The gen 3 is considerably more refined than the early cars and the original 8 litre V10 now displaces 8.3 litres, which is 14.6 pints. There ain’t no replacement for displacement so they say... Many people will remind you that it’s a truck engine, which is and isn’t technically correct. Originally, Dodge mooted using a big-block V8, but needed more power. The engine was duly handed to Lamborghini, who added two more cylinders and recast the block in aluminium, resulting in an engine both more powerful and lighter than the original V8. Its a relatively simple and old-school giant, 20v, pushrod and with no fancy turbos, cylinder deactivation - nothing.
I’ve only done a few hundred miles in it so far, but here are my initial impressions;
Firstly, just look at it - the Viper’s doing 150mph just standing still! The enormous bonnet, huge vents/slashes in the bodywork (all of which are functional, to expel heat - we’ll talk about this later) and massive fat tyres - 345/30R19s at the rear, 275/30R18s at the front all edge toward the superlative! The folding roof is manual, can be completed in about 10 seconds but unfortunately does involve opening and shutting the boot.
Getting in, the driving position is a little unusual, aside from being a left-hooker, the pedals are offset slightly to the left. When cruising the below-waist configuration could best be described as ‘manspreading’. The driver is cocooned in a very comfortable seat between wide sills, which house the side exhausts, and the immense gearbox in the middle. The steering wheel isn't adjustable, but the pedals can be moved closer or further from the driver to fit. Visibility is a leap forward from the gen 1 cars (where, being 6’2” I couldn’t decide whether to look out of the extreme top of the windscreen or stretch and drive over the top of it!)
The engine utterly dominates the car as you would expect. Physically, it’s massive, and from the moment the red start button is prodded, a huge bassy rumble of thunder splits the air, quickly settling into a surprisingly low 600rpm idle. The gearbox is probably the most truck-like of the drivetrain components - it’s heavy, a little vague and fairly slow, although it does deal with 505bhp but more specifically 525lbft (712Nm) of torque with ease. The gearbox almost isn’t required, however.
Shifting into first and pulling away, I’d be surprised if you could ever stall it. Gentle driving activates the skip-shift mechanism, which will guide you straight from 1st to 4th if you change before 15mph for ‘economy’. A $30 plug in device can disable this, but I’m undecided for the moment. Torque is everywhere and in the lower gears at least, the Viper appears to have little inertia; you decide how many revs you want to do, and the car’s speed immediately comes up to match.
On a motorway, the Viper is sprung fairly softly, the tyres aren’t ultra-low profile and the ride is at least as comfortable as my GSF; which surprised me. There is some tramlining, but it’s easy to drive around that. The cabin is typically American (plasticky), although reasonably refined with little wind intrusion with the roof down. In the ultra-long 6th gear, revs are barely above 1000rpm at 70mph.
A country road blast really wakes the Viper up, although it’s a wide car and needs room to play. Above 3000rpm, the brute force of that mighty V10 pins heads firmly to headrests, like a modern day Cobra. It’s not traditionally sonorous - sounding more like a V8 with extras, rather than the wail of other V10s. It handles like a go kart, has very quick steering and ample visibility to create a very enjoyable hoon! A blast in it reveals the engine’s dominance in more than just noise and power however; the heat haze is plainly visible from the 10 slats in the bonnet, and the warmth from the transmission tunnel, and the sills (do not touch these when getting out!) works the air conditioning hard.
It’s been my dream to own a Viper, and it was difficult to let my previous track toy, a Honda S2000 go. Let’s hope I did the right thing! I aim to keep this thread updated for as long as anyone is interested, any questions, ask away. Hope you enjoyed the post, and I'll get some more picturesque images once it stops raining!)