Dodge Viper blurs the blacktop with monstrous blast of power
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
"Brake it hard and don't let off until your front fender taps that curve ahead, then ease on the accelerator as you approach the apex."
Jim Clark, chief instructor at the famed driving school of Skip Barber, shouted his instructions from the open cockpit, fighting the roar of ten screaming cylinders and harsh wind crashing over the windshield due to our speed as expressed by multiple digits on an analog dial.
Ahead on a course at Sears Point Raceway north of San Francisco, the curve emerged at the end of a straightaway, beginning with a broad sweep to the left but quickly bending through the inner arch of a decreasing radius to a hard hook at the apex. Beyond that point, the blacktop route opened again into a chicane where rain water stood in puddles as if lurking just to slip my fat rear tires.
Through instant analysis the driver's mind computed a scene where this sporty roadster whipped off that curve in accordance with physical laws of inertia, gravity and velocity, spinning 360s in an ignominious off-track path.
Reality's track played it differently.
Left foot pressed hard on brake, popped off just where Clark prescribed, then right foot gradually goosed throttle as arms twisted across to inverted fists locked on the small sport steering wheel.
My machine, savagely long in front to accommodate the monstrous V10 engine, dipped its nose during braking but regained an even stance as power flowed to rear wheels in a balancing act which pushed all that mass around a turn theoretically far too tight to navigate at speed.
Pulling almost one full G in lateral force at the hook, the miraculous occurred.
Viper, that no-excuses sports car, slithered through.
What a ride. What a car.
Since Dodge unleashed this serpent in 1992, Viper, a stark roadster with savage exterior shape and massive below-belt muscle, has snagged every eye it passes and captured the imagination of all who dream of seats for only two in a tight open cockpit connected to the raw power of 400 horses and enough torque to tow a freight train.
So many have been bitten by Viper's venom that more than 200 of them drove back to Detroit last summer to tour the New Mack plant and parade around the track at Michigan International Speedway before the 1994 IROC race.
A Californian, who steered his machine across the Rockies to reach Michigan, told me of waking up en route at a motel in western Kansas one morning to discover a flock of teenagers had encircled the Viper with their sleeping bags to protect this wondercar from demons of the night.
Another said he had waited for two years until Viper's limited production caught up with back orders before taking delivery. "My wife thinks I'm crazy -- middle-aged crazy."
So it goes with Viper.
This is the car to draw a crowd, no matter where you go. It's raucous even at idle, one of the fastest off the line, so powerful that at times it's almost scary. It fits tight like spandex, blasts wind in your face due to the open cockpit, and wears no door handles. For all its quirks, you'd have to be a little crazy to lust after it.
But lust comes with Viper.
I spent a week living with an emerald green Viper recently, and at times it was a hassle climbing in and out across broad rails.
But let me tell you: I never got it out of second gear in town, yet busted all legal limits.
Heads turned wherever I steered Viper, and at the shopping center I would return to find a crowd gathered around this curiosity.
It wasn't until my driving lessons at Sears Point that I could really open the thing up for stark terror games at race speeds. And through those turns Viper proved it carries more than muscle: Despite its brutish demeanor, there's finesse in the way it handles.
Of course, if looks alone could kill, this serpent would slay everything in sight.
Its shapely composite shell, stretched over a frame of tubular steel, projects that dramatic hoodline with twin snake-eye headlamp clusters notched above aero fascia. A flat rollbar loops over cockpit as a high mark, and the back is blunt, accented by 17-inch performance tires.
Beneath that skin, classic arrangement of components with front engine, central powerline and rear-wheel thrust sets the stage for a neo-interpretation of that earlier snake on pavement, Carroll Shelby's '60s-vintage Cobra.
For ultimate power, Viper's 8.0-liter aluminum-block V10, with overhead valving and multi-point electronic fuel injection, delivers 400 hp at 4600 rpm and produces massive torque, as much as 465 lbs-ft at 3600 rpm.
Viper's only transmission, a slick manual 6-speed, feels tight, right, absolutely notchy.
The tubular chassis totes serious suspension hardware and power rack and pinion steering, which enable Viper to attack curves with awesome agility. A big disc at each wheel sets up the power-assisted brake system which can collar this speeding serpent in short order.
On city streets I played footsy with brake, accelerator and clutch to whip my way through traffic with quick-cut lane changes and exciting surges and stops. On the track at Sears Point, these techniques, when used in a setting free from traffic and artificial speed limits, unleashed Viper.
My surprise, in slow recognition developed over time with various tests, was that Viper can handle the sharp S-shapes of a road as willingly as it blasts the straights.
How fast is it?
Top speed supposedly clicks up to 165 mph, and in official trials Viper runs from zero to 100 mph in 14.79 seconds, which takes the record for United States Auto Club.
Still, its no-excuses stance and glove-tight passenger compartment imply that Viper is not designed for just any driver. In fact, there's so much car in play you must be constantly on guard when driving it.
A hardtop coupe comes along by fall 1995 with more amenities. In the meantime, the showcar star from Dodge with ragtop lid lists for $56,700. For colors, choose bold red, bright yellow, emerald green or super-bad black.
1995 DODGE VIPER
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 DODGE VIPER Specs
||Exotic sports roadster
| Model Options:
||Exotic sports roadster
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||OHV 8.0-L V10
| Gas Mileage: