The Viper’s venom is circling the drain. Detroit’s hand-built supercar is not long for this world, as rumors emerge that the Viper’s long-running Conner Avenue manufacturing plant will go dark next year. Pitiful sales caused a production pause in 2014 and a drastic $15,000 price cut soon after, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles boss Sergio Marchionne now says this particular generation of the Viper can’t be retrofitted with mandatory side curtain airbags.
We’re losing a car that’s absolutely unapologetic and uniquely American. Since its introduction in the early 1990s, the Viper maintained an unshakable aura of danger, with a reputation as an unruly, uncomfortable beast that only the clinically insane would drive. I developed a primal uneasiness around the Vipers I saw while growing up at car shows and meets, but it is not until now, looking at the rolling hills of Ohio’s Wayne National Forest through the low-slung windshield of an Adrenaline Red Dodge Viper GT, that I actually get to experience a Viper for myself.
Tendrils of modernization have breached the fifth-gen, and now you get things like launch control, a five-tier stability control system, optional dual-mode suspension dampers, Nappa leather seats, Alcantara trim, fabulous Uconnect infotainment, and a standard suite of SRT performance-monitoring apps. All are welcomed and stand in stark juxtaposition to the Viper’s still simple cornerstones, including steel brakes, hydraulically assisted steering, side-exit exhaust pipes that burn your calves as you exit the car, and a naturally aspirated 645-hp, 8.4-liter, odd-firing V-10 that’s a Neanderthal among today’s advanced turbocharged engines.
I pulled over to catch my breath on the side of Ohio State Route 26, a 67-mile stretch of unbroken asphalt curving its way through mid-America’s hill country. I terrorized the peaks and valleys as the Viper’s digital tachometer swung up to 5,000 rpm in first gear and its 14-inch-wide rear tires broke loose as onboard assistance systems struggled to pin down 600 lb-ft of torque. Second gear doesn’t run out of forward motion until the car is somewhere very close to 100 mph.
The slotted, platter-sized steel brake rotors and massive calipers have ferocious stopping power, which is important when you have wide-open straights barreling through windswept panoramas that quickly give way to sharply banked curves. The steering is wonderfully communicative — not too quick with good, linear response. Route 26 spits the Viper out into the city of Marietta, Ohio, and I feel like I’ve just driven something from a different era, a different place.
I then realize the Viper’s hold on existence is slipping, and I can feel its encroaching demise. This will almost certainly be the first and last time I drive an all-new Viper, at least one built in this vein: a sports car that offers what is perhaps the most uncut and unfiltered driving experience available and is, for better or for worse, the palate cleanser for the artificial sweetening of today’s most potent performance machines.
2015 Dodge Viper GT Specifications
|Engine:||8.4L OHV 20-valve V-10/645 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 600 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm|
|Layout:||2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||12/21 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||175.7 x 76.4 x 49.1 in|
|0-60 MPH:||3.4 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||206 mph|