Like an 8.4-liter candle that burned far too bright, the fifth-generation Dodge Viper will emit its final death rattle in 2017 after just five years of production. I waxed nostalgic about the Viper last year following a back-road blast through Ohio in a 2015 Dodge Viper GT. Soon after hanging up the keys, word came through that Detroit’s supercar had reached the end of the line. Dodge wasn’t going to make this parting process easy; I soon followed the Ohio trip with a day at the Bondurant driving school thrashing the GTS and T/A 2.0. After the T/A, there was but one Viper left that I needed to experience before the clock ran out. I used the excuse of the 2016 Woodward Dream Cruise to put in a request Dodge for a 2016 ACR, knowing full-well this street-legal race car is one of the worst “cruisers” imaginable.
The Viper ACR, short for American Club Racer, was created on a song by a group of exceptionally passionate engineers as the ultimate Viper. Thanks to careful planning and many, many hours spent on the track, the ACR packs a build sheet of chassis and aerodynamic hardware that would impress even the most seasoned track-rat.
Visually, the rear wing is inescapable. Over six feet in width, it puts down just under one ton of pressure on the rear wheels, aerodynamically limiting the ACR to 177 mph; if pushed, that wingless red GT I drove last year would brush against 206 mph. Peek underneath the rear haunches, and you will catch a glimpse of the knife-sharp rear diffuser blades that manage underbody airflow. Up front, functional canards work in conjunction with a wide front splitter. Thankfully, Dodge foresaw disaster and removed the damage-prone splitter before I even had a chance to bash it against curbs, speedbumps, and parking humps.
A car’s aero is only as good as its tires, and as expected, Dodge didn’t skimp on the rubber. Kumho Ecsta V720 tires of ridiculous widths—295s in the front, 355s in the rear—weld the Viper to the ground, and sport some nifty “ACR” signage on the sidewall. These are cheater slicks in the truest sense: just two grooves are present to displace water.
Inside, it’s all business. Nappa leather, soft touchpoints, and premium infotainment is replaced with carbon fiber, microsuede surfaces, and a tinny, lightweight sound system. Open the rear hatch and you’ll find that all carpeting and trunk lining has been removed, allowing the masochistic among us to enjoy the naked fuel tank and the exposed brake ducting running along the rear quarter panels.
Almost as impressive as the aero is the 10-way adjustable Bilstein suspension that, even when tuned to a street-friendly setting, provides a bone-powdering ride over even the glassiest of pavement. There’s a payoff to all this harshness, of course. This combination of suspension, tires, and aero returns a claimed 1.5g of lateral grip, perfect for the congested, bumper-to-bumper traffic of the Woodward Dream Cruise.
We arrived on-scene for the Dream Cruise sometime around 8:30 am, the stumbling bark of the V-10 shaking free any clinging sleepiness. We stopped for gas at the corner station, catching the attention of an SUV driver. “I know where you’re going!” he said with a laugh. After stuffing the rear storage area chock-full of backpacks, folding chairs, and sunscreen bottles, we roared down to Royal Oak, MI, the heart of the event. The wide nose of the ACR pushed its way into the main artery of traffic, and at once, we were part of the show.
Driving a track weapon with seven international “fastest lap” records to its name in the world’s slowest car parade was surreal. Fat cats in automatic Hellcats chatted with their friends in the rear seat, top-down Camaros enjoyed the sunshine, and Corvettes of every generation lazily floated through traffic. Sure, the other cruisers might have been more comfortable, but we had all the attention and camera flashes their bright paint and chrome wheels sought.
We did most of our cruising the day before the event, as we wanted to enjoy the event as observers rather than participants. In contrast to the thousands of vintage muscle cars, the record-setting Viper stood as a pillar of what modern Detroit is capable of. Most of the time, gawping onlookers noticed the beautiful blue color first, but it was the dinner-table wing that coaxed the phone from pocket or purse. Soon came the bewildered pointing, the shocked stares and the good-natured laughs. Our Viper ACR, the car with a mean-streak a mile-wide and a six-foot-wide carbon fiber chip on its shoulder, attracted nothing but friendly faces and admiring glances.
It likely has the stiffest and roughest ride of any car you can get with a warranty, but like most things, you get used to it. For the most part, the pavement on Woodward is unbroken and with the windows up, the A/C blows ice cold. Aside from a medium-weight clutch pedal, the ACR was a big softie once you were moving. The 8.4-liter V-10 is the same friendly and lovable lump you find in all other Vipers, spinning out a tremendous 645 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. Prod it with a red-hot poker, and it is as angry and unhinged as you need. Let it be, keep the revs low, and it’s as compliant and agreeable as the 6.4-liter V-8 found in a Scat Pack.
I turned the keys back over to Dodge, and this time, I think it’s finally over. The light switch is permanently thrown in the Conner Avenue plant after the Viper finishes out the 2017 model year, and FCA has no immediate plans to replace its supercar. If there is a Viper successor in the works, rest assured the old V-10 powerhouse won’t be a part of the fun.
In the end, the ACR left me battered, bruised, and broken; an evening spent with a wild bobcat would have been kinder. I never failed to crack a smile during that weekend, however, and I couldn’t have imagined a better send-off for one of my favorite cars. Driving around metro Detroit, it made me feel every bit of a rock star, FIA GT3 driver, stunt man, and patriot. It’s safe to say I’ve finally had my fill. Goodbye, Dodge Viper ACR. We hardly knew ye.