It's difficult to remember what a powerful statement the very first Dodge Viper made when it exploded on the scene as a concept car at the 1989 Detroit auto show. Or when, miracle of miracles, it actually made it into serial production with the 1993 model year.
Then again, the real truth is, it's kind of difficult to remember much of anything when you're attempting to get down and get funky around GingerMan Raceway, a well-groomed but sneaky little 1.88-mile track about six miles from the shores of Lake Michigan.
Expansive memories are in particularly short supply, we find, when you happen to be visiting GingerMan for the very first time and are getting to know the fairly technical course in one of the very first second-generation Vipers in existence, which you are driving as ambitiously as you know how, also for the first time, while trying desperately not to lunch it.
It's hard to focus on the past when the new Viper cranks the model's already brutal performance game up another hefty notch, with a redesigned and even larger 505-cubic-inch, ten-cylinder engine, capable of raising titanic twin towers of thrust: 500 horsepower and 525 pound-feet of torque.
You don't come up with numbers like this by accident. Do you get the feeling Dodge has something to prove? Everywhere but at the Greenpeace retreat, 500/525 gives you bragging rights out the wazoo. Even if the new Viper's extroverted exterior is at once somehow less svelte and less cartoonishly outrageous in appearance than its predecessor, its owners will have something to talk about for a while, at least. Adding 50 horsepower and 35 pound-feet of torque to the previous-generation Viper's already absurd complement helps this aluminum, 8.3-liter (up from 8.0) exercise in internal combustion ground-rocketry get close to the magical four-second 0-to-60-mph barrier. It goes some considerable length to justifying a speedometer that now reads to 220 mph. This would be, to put it mildly, a fast car.
But it's not as simple as a big engine. Credit for memory fade on the track also goes to the Viper's newfound levels of grip, a byproductof a redesigned chassis and monster 345-series Michelins mounted on nineteen-inch rear wheels. (By the way, it's just as well the Viper hangs on as tenaciously as it does; traction control is still not an option.) And a big hats off, too, to the snake's new brakes, better and more powerful than those of any Dodge we've ever driven.
Yet I must confess there is another reason, somewhat personal, making it impossible for me to conjure the Viper's storied past. You see, I am on fire. Not literally. Flames are not visible, and my life is not flashing before my eyes. But on a very hot summer day, the Viper is turning out to be the most accelerative two-seat deep-frying apparatus I've ever come across. Way too hot. Not too hot to handle--otherwise an altogether more civilized proposition to drive than its predecessor. Just way too hot to sit in. As I brace for another hard left-hander, I feel the polymer doorsill cover--underneath which lies a Brobdingnagian side pipe--starting to burn my left leg as it comes in repeated close contact.