2001-2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and 2003-2005 Dodge Viper SRT-10

Scott Dahlquist
Steering Wheel View

Unfortunate news in this rarefied egocentric league, few love the new Viper's redesign. Stylists Osamu Shikado, Eric Stoddard, and Dave Smith are each credited with elements of the Viper's still-attention-grabbing new look. Design-by-committee may partly explain how this otherwise bold machine can look so unexceptional, comparatively. The car is nominally (0.9 inch) shorter, although its wheelbase is extended 2.6 inches, and it is wider, even though the front track is narrower. The payoff comes in the cabin, which has more leg, hip, and shoulder room than before for considerably more comfort. More's the pity, then, about the infernal heat in our tester. By our lights, the Corvette isn't the most beautiful sports car that ever was, either. But it's handsome enough and continues to grow on us. And at the end of the day, it just seems more like a serious production automobile. Despite which, I find myself being strangled by the Corvette's seatbelt in hard cornering. And on the subject of cornering, my Viper-singed calf collapses the Corvette's door-mounted loudspeaker grille every time I brace against it to counter the lateral g's. Unchanged from the last time I had a Z06 on the track, almost two years ago.

It would probably be wrong to infer too much from the annoying things these two cars do to you when you're hammering your total ass off in them on a racetrack. Those of greater vertical stature won't necessarily suffer quite the same afflictions as the short people. And yet the flaws do reflect the economic and technical realities all car companies--including big, mainstream ones--face when attempting to build limited-edition sports cars. Losing the rough edges costs money, and money, now more than ever, is tight.

When first shown, the Viper was built to telegraph the return of the once-ailing Chrysler Corporation. A little smoke-and-mirrors display and all-around morale builder from the great Chrysler showboating team of Lutz, Castaing, and Gale, it gained traction on the show circuit and went into production by popular demand, signifying in grand fashion that Chrysler was back.

Not just from the ashes of the headed-for-bankruptcy, shabby behemoth era of Lynn Townsend and the 1970s. The Viper signaled life beyond the post-federal-bailout money spinners that sprang from Lee Iacocca's unsporty mind. Here was a car from a future universe that was to be far removed from the world of K-cars, minivans, and dreary derivatives. More even than the leap marked by the cab-forward LH sedans, the Viper said that there were engineers at Chrysler enthusiastic about something other than forging faux landau irons and cutting costs. Like the voiceless tappings of miners trapped underground, the first-generation Viper was the sign that there was hope, that they were still alive down there.

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