It seems symbolic that the last 2010 Dodge Viper -- perhaps the last Viper ever made -- was built three days shy of America's Independence Day. That's exactly what happened yesterday morning: A customized golden coupe rolled off the Connor Avenue assembly line.
To us, the Viper has always been a four-wheeled manifestation of the American spirit -- brash, determined, powerful, and completely unapologetic. Certainly, it had an independent streak. When the concept was fist birthed by Bob Lutz, Tom Gale and Carroll Shelby back in 1989, Chrysler was known simply as the manufacturer of umpteen different configurations of K-car econoboxes. Yet here we are, 21 years later, watching proud owner D'Ann Rauh take delivery of her personalized SRT10 coupe at the factory. Her new ride is the last of the second-generation Vipers to be built, and quite possibly, the Viper line altogether.
Bittersweet? You bet. We drove the first Viper when it launched in 1992; we were at Indy when the snake paced the famed 500 that year and again in 1996. We watched (from afar) when a French team stormed to a LeMans victory in 1997. We witnessed the birth of a second-generation car in 2002, and we hung on the edge of our seats this year when Chrysler's new overlords revealed the Viper's post-2010 future is uncertain. Should the corporate brass pass on a third-generation model, Rauh's car will carry much more significance. If so, the irony is delectable -- in a 2009 interview, Rauh suggested she and husband Wayne would stop buying Vipers "when [Dodge] stops making them." Currently, their collection consists of more than 40 cars, so it's easy to see how she could twist Dodge's arm to call dibs on the last car. Rauh picked the color scheme (copper stripes over a bronze gold metallic paint) herself, but the special touches don't stop with the color. Unique gunmetal-colored 5-spoke aluminum wheels are fitted, and the outlines of Viper-significant racetracks are airbrushed into the copper stripes. Unusual? Perhaps, but then again, we've seen a lot of wild special edition Vipers come our way in 2010. Chrysler limited total Viper output to 500 cars this year, but nearly half of that figure has consisted of limited edition models, including: -33 1:33 Editions, patterned after the ACR that set a record lap time at Laguna Seca, which sported a black/red inverse paint and red wheels. -31 Voodoos, patterned after Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles' personal ACR, which sported a graphite and red-traced driver's stripe. -30 Snakeskin ACRs, which applied the retina-burning green paint to the ACR's exterior and gauge bezels. -5 Canada Editions, each a white SRT10 roadster with red stripes and a maple leaf logo on the rocker panels. -20 ACR Roadsters, custom built for Woodhouse Dodge, applying the hardcore ACR modifications to the drop-top SRT10. -10 Reverse ACRs for Tomball Dodge, which applied a silver stripe to five black ACRs, and a Snakeskin Green stripe to a black ACR coupe. -10 Unique Stripes for Tomball, five of which applied green stripes to black ACRs and coupes, while another five were painted silver with blue stripes. -5 Plum Crazy coupes for Roanoke Dodge, which were black SRT10 coupes with a vibrant purple stripe. -5 Silver Center Band coupes for Roanoke, which sported a silver center band atop a GTS blue paint job. -50 Final Edition cars, which consisted of coupe, convertible, and ACR models painted graphite with a black roof, and a black center stripe with red tracer. Something missing? Technically, Chrysler considers the awesome 2010 Viper SRT10 ACR-X a racecar, not a special-edition model, but with only 25 cars built, it's hard not to subconsciously lump the X into the group. It's our favorite -- a brash, no-nonsense racer that's perfectly dialed in for the track. We can't predict what lies ahead for Dodge's halo car, but we hope the product planners see fit to keep the halo car alive. Certainly, it may not be the world's most refined or sophisticated sports car, but seeing Vipers rolling off assembly lines helped reassure us there was always some enthusiast spark lurking deep within the halls of Chrysler.