BY STEVE SILER
Rest in Speed
Detroit’s most venomous sports CAR, THE DODGE VIPER, DOES NOT GO gently into that good night.
During my 20-plus years writing about automobiles, I have reviewed many a brand-new car at the beginning of its life, but never have I reviewed one shortly after the end. Nonetheless, I felt it appropriate to cover Dodge’s iconic, irreverent, and exceedingly rare Viper sports car during its swan song year. A mainstay on bedroom walls of America’s teenagers (including my own) since the Viper concept car first appeared back in 1989, Dodge’s big snake officially goes extinct on August 31, 2017, and I want the world to know not just how fast and crazy it was as the end of its run, but what a good car it had become. It also could have some serious collector value in the future, especially if it was ordered under Dodge’s “1-of-1” individualization program.
If Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution had concluded, “survival of the fastest” rather than “survival of the fittest,” this would be a very different story. Indeed, the Viper’s massive V-10’s unholy 645 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque made it one of the most powerful American cars ever. But alas, with cars, as with actual living things—including real vipers—survival tends to favor those most adaptable to change, not the fastest, flashiest or most extreme. Next to Chevrolet’s legendary Corvette, another big-power American sports car with an outsized personality, the Viper was crude and unforgiving for its first four generations, with the fifth-generation 2013–2017 Viper finally getting creature comforts, technology features and build quality befitting its lofty price (which had crossed the six-figure threshold in 2013). Unfortunately for sun-seekers and extroverts, the Viper roadster never returned after 2010, so the only models to get stylish TFT instruments, cool performance tracking apps, and fancy leather-wrapped dashboard wear full metal hats.
Refined though it has become, driving it remains a high-effort affair, which I discovered firsthand during a several-days loan of a 2016 Viper GTC. Strong arms are required to steer and shift gears in the big brute, and drivers can’t skip leg day if they plan to work the clutch in traffic. With a judicious right foot, one could achieve 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, but finesse and dry weather are definitely required: simply flooring the go-pedal so serves no other purpose than turning its 14-inch-wide rear tires into pools of molten rubber. Cornering is tricky, as the rear can step out quickly and consequentially. And if it starts to rain, it’s probably better to get out and take an Uber.
The good news is that you don’t have to drive a fifth-gen Viper to appreciate it—they look incredible sitting still. And even more than current Corvettes, which are relatively ubiquitous, the last-generation Vipers could become highly collectable. This is particularly true of the Viper GTC trim level, which unlocked a “1-of-1” configuration option that allowed customers to render their Vipers with any combination of 8,000 colors, 24,000 custom stripes, 10 wheel designs, multiple interior treatments and other custom bits. Once commissioned, Dodge would then “break the mold,” disallowing any other to take the same form during that model year—hence, the “1-of-1” designation. Commissioners of the “1-of-1” cars also received a 1:18 “speed form replica” of their car plus two dash plaques—one with the original owner’s name and a second one left blank for the next owner.
The 2017 Vipers started at just under $93K, with prices rising to $123,890 for the beastly ACR track-oriented model, once gas-guzzler and destination charges are factored in. We say “started” because all 2017 Vipers are already spoken for, though there should be a few left in dealer inventories or on the pre-owned market. So should you find one, especially in a creative and appealing “1-of-1” combination with the aforementioned extras and complete service records, it might make an interesting investment opportunity. At the very least, it would earn easy entry at premier car shows in the not-too-distant future, and will certainly be a thrill to drive in the meantime. Just learn to respect its formidable strength. After all, while no new Vipers will be born after this year, those that still exist will always be able to bite.
2017 Dodge Viper
• Base price: $92,990
• Body style: 2-door, 2-passenger coupe
• Power: 8.4-liter V-10 (645 hp, 600 lb-ft of torque)
• Transmission: 6-speed manual
• Drive wheels: rear
• Fuel economy (city/highway): 12/19 mpg