Home » The Dodge Viper Died Standing, Not On Its Knees: Cold Start

The Dodge Viper Died Standing, Not On Its Knees: Cold Start

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Follow-through is an underrated talent. Commitment, you might call it. Seeing things through. And through three generations, the Dodge Viper did exactly that.

I’ve come to appreciate cars that never ended up in a compromised take on their original vision. You know, the ones that got watered down, went to four-cylinder setups or became large, electrified crossovers, or had their production outsourced to Austria to save costs.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Granted, Stellantis hasn’t announced an electric, three-row SUV version of the Viper yet, and the way things are going I wouldn’t put it past them. (It would also cost $150,000, because of course it would.) But the Viper is not only a delightful symbol of American ultraviolence that you seldom see anymore—it’s also a car that went down exactly the way it started.

The Viper had a few iterations over the years but generally, those can be broken down into three major generations.

Dodge Viper Rt10 1996 1600 0a
Photo: Dodge

Take the original, which debuted in 1991. The SR I Viper had a big, nasty, menacing V10 engine. I tend to think accounts that it was a machine with murder in its heart are a bit overblown; maybe it was if you didn’t know how to drive. At the same token, you had better know what you’re doing in this thing, and probably a lot of fools didn’t.

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Dodge Viper Srt10 2003 1600 02
Photo: Dodge

1996 brought the SR II Viper. America simply could not get enough 10-cylinder mayhem the first time around, so Dodge had to do it again. And this time, they made the engine bigger. Displacement went from 8.0 liters to 8.4. Dear God! These days, you’re lucky if your engine goes over, I dunno, 2.5 liters. It too was nothing to mess with.

Dodge Srt Viper Gts 2013 1600 02 CropThen we have the final Viper, which arrived in 2013 and survived through 2017. This where things get really interesting to me. I remember when this thing came out: they branded it the SRT Viper (though the Dodge name was later added back, and with a horsepower bump in the process) and made it nicer, more comfortable and better-built than ever—yet still unhinged to drive. Dodge could’ve thrown a supercharged V8 into this thing for downsizing and CAFE reasons, but no; it kept that insane 8.4-liter motor, now packing 640 horsepower.

I drove a few of these back when they were in production. I always really liked them. The last Viper’s biggest problems were twofold: one, that the excellent C7 Corvette could do 75 to 80% of what this Viper could at about 50% of the cost, and two, that the market for such cars was just declining. It’s been a rough few years for sports cars and Fiat Chrysler/Dodge/Stellantis/whoever’s in charge this week gave their trucks and SUVs the muscle car treatment, and those were much easier to live with. And Stellantis these days is run like a private equity company, so it’s not going to take crazy swings like it once did.

Dodge Srt Viper Gts 2013 1600 1b
Photo: Dodge

I’m not even going to sit here and argue for an “electric” Viper or whatever. I’m sure it would be fast. But it’s better that our only memory of this car is as an example of utter devotion to the idea that there is no replacement for displacement.

Godspeed, Viper. May your legend last 1,000 years.

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The World of Vee
The World of Vee
10 months ago

Everytime I settle on buying a 2nd gen RT/10 I get something else. But man I’m so going to get one next summer.

Adam Kan
Adam Kan
10 months ago

Like others this was my bedroom poster car. Finally bought one this year, instead of the iconic blue/white gen 2, I went for a red convertible gen 3 (full midlife crisis). Just starting it up in the garage before pulling it out puts a smile on my face. I fully accept that when driving around with the top down that i’m the guy i made fun of when i was younger, and i’m completely ok with that. I guess at least i’m not bald or fat…

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
10 months ago

The gen1 viper is my dream car. I remember back in maybe 2000 I saw them listed for around 30 grand,now they are approaching 100 grand. FML

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

I have a vivid memory of attempting to pass a SRII Viper on a canyon road as a teenager.
I think he let me get along side him in the 87’ 300ZX I was driving just so I could see him glance at me and chuckle before he punched it, and disappeared in a beautiful roar.
They have had my respect ever since.

Methane generator
Methane generator
10 months ago

I like your big Miata

Last edited 10 months ago by Methane generator
Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
10 months ago

Yes. It’s a shame the Viper’s dead, but it would be a bigger shame to tarnish it’s legacy

David Escargot
David Escargot
10 months ago

Couldn’t agree more… some things should be laid to rest respectfully

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
10 months ago

The Viper is the bedroom wall poster car of my generation, but unlike the Italian exotics, it actually felt attainable. There was always one in the showroom of the local dealership, so I’d beg my dad to take me along whenever he’d take the minivan in for service just so I could drool over it. There were a few around town that got driven fairly regularly including at least one owned by the father of one of my high school classmates (the kid flipped it and thankfully survived).

It was outrageous but at the same time readily available. It wasn’t some forbidden fruit, and that made me like it even more.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
10 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

There was never a dealership in my town that had a Ferrari 360 Modena or Lamborghini Diablo parked on the lot all night, where I could leave nose prints on the glass after hours, but there sure was a Dodge dealer with a steel gray Viper I could drool on up close and personal. Many nights on my way home from work, I would stop off and admire its cognac leather interior. God, what a machine. Proudly displayed front and center flanked by Neons, Caravans, and Ram 1500s, which still just tickles me.

Cerberus
Cerberus
10 months ago

I always liked the Viper. Thought of buying an RT/10 a few times when they were nearly dirt cheap, but they’re just not me. The last one is the one I could almost see myself in, but way out of my price range. I always smile when I see them.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
10 months ago

One of the best things about living in Michigan is seeing cars like the Viper about once a month between May and October.

Too bad that one of the worst things about Michigan are the roads. My wife and daughter went on a road trip, and they laughed at the “Bump” and “Rough Road” signs in Pennsylvania and Ohio on road surfaces which are considered average in Michigan.

T-Keith
T-Keith
10 months ago

If we can talk about a future electrified version…….

I think a monster RWD only EV would be a cool way to be honest to the original concept. All the current crazy fast EVs rely on AWD, they all have a back seat and practicality. Having a RWD only EV sports car(2 seats, limited range) would be unique and unreasonable like the original Viper.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
10 months ago

Better to die on top then to live into irrelevance.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
10 months ago

You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
10 months ago

Better to burn out than to fade away.
(And you could do some sick burnouts in a Viper)

Last edited 10 months ago by Rad Barchetta
TurboCruiser
TurboCruiser
10 months ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

If you’re not first, you’re last.
(am I doing this right?)

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 months ago
Reply to  TurboCruiser

This is a neighborhood. Slow down! (That’s all I got.)

David Escargot
David Escargot
10 months ago
Reply to  Dodsworth

Steady Wol, you’re doin’ 40

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
10 months ago
Reply to  TurboCruiser

Do or do not. There is no try.

Methane generator
Methane generator
10 months ago

Your spelling error completely changes the sense of the point you thought you were making. Hilarious! Could not agree more with your accidental assertion that the Viper is indeed irrelevant

Toecutter
Toecutter
10 months ago

I’ve always liked the first gen models for the raw and unfiltered experience they promised. While I never got to drive one, but have always wanted to. It was like a contemporary version of the Shelby Cobra.

They are a bit big and heavy for my taste, but considering the size of the engine inside and its front placement, it is about as short of a car as you could reasonably expect it to be. The only way you could make it smaller and still accommodate that engine(which I would never want to compromise) would have been to make it more narrow and with a lower roof line. I think it would have been worth the tradeoff, especially if it could have lost a few hundred pounds. But then 200+ lb boobus Americanus wouldn’t be able to fit in it.

Carson Giardini
Carson Giardini
10 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

They’re actually quite small and weigh about 3400 lbs. granted that’s not a welterweight but yea really not that big and heavy.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
10 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Well, it’s no wonder it makes you think of a Shelby Cobra, since then-president Bob Lutz benchmarked the Cobra in the planning stages. “Hey, what if we took our big brutal V10 out of a truck, hopped it up, and built a two-seater coupe around it? Neat huh?”

Last edited 10 months ago by Joe The Drummer
Alec Rosenbaum
Alec Rosenbaum
10 months ago

The last Vipers were great! I was sent to Auburn Hills for training on the Viper when it came out because I was a CDJR salesperson at the time. I became our dealer’s appointed SRT specialist. We got to tour the tech and design centers and had time at the Chelsea proving grounds as well.

The last gen was much more civilized than earlier models, yet was still a beast on track. Dare I say it could be driven every day if you wanted to. It came in two main flavors: the base model and the touring model. Unfortunately the ordered mix was skewed towards the touring model which drove the price way up. I think it would have done better on the market if more of the base model had been available.

The one for our dealership was almost fully loaded. It was very comfortable and fairly easy to drive on regular roads. However, open it up on a track and it could tangle with anything else in the segment IMO. You could leave some of the electronic assists on and concentrate on your racing line and shifts; or you could turn everything off and transport yourself back 20+ years to the first gen years of snake-wranglin’.

I wish it had done better on the market and I don’t think it got nearly the respect it deserved. It was well built, fantastically engineered, and could be driven easy or hard. I miss being able to drive it.

Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
10 months ago

Ok, I definitely want to see a $150k three row electric viper now – just for the whining.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
10 months ago

Some people just want to watch the world burn..

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
10 months ago

You are actively wishing for automakers to give us MORE to whine about?

Jesus, if you like abuse, hire a dominatrix and leave the cars out of it.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
10 months ago

I don’t need to hear about how the Corvette is cheaper or faster, the Viper is cooler and always will be. I will die on this hill.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
10 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

Yes, the ‘vette was cheaper and close in performance. But what do you want to be sitting in at a stop light? A car that there’s 5 others of, or the one that no one else has even seen for a long time?

V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

Others may disagree, but most of the time for me, the uniqueness and attention is the worst part of ownership.

Answering “Hey, what year is that?” or “V12, right?” or “How fast have you gone in it?” at every gas station stop, or having to be on your guard for cars drifting into your lane while the driver hangs out the window for a picture, or getting revved at by clapped out Mustangs on the freeway gets old.

The exception of course is kids at car shows. If you’re under the age of 12, I’ve got a lot more patience for you.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

I can understand but at the same time I’d be the guy in the clapped out S197 Mustang trying to get you to punch it, not to race, just to hear and see it in its element.

V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

And sometimes I indulge, but I also know if if a cop is over the hill ahead, it’s me getting pulled over, not Mustang guy.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Thanks for being a positive car-enthusiast ambassador for the kids: we need as many involved youngsters as we can get.

I never provoke or taunt someone: I find a happy grin/thumbs up followed by cupping my ear is well received and often means I get to hear it. And, if I encounter the owner in a static situation, I’ll usually say something like, “Thanks for bringing this out so people like me can drool over it!” without squaring up to them. That leaves them the option of continuing on with their day or engaging with me about it if they’re in the mood & have time.

To avoid the common questions, I ask, “What’s the one thing nobody knows about these?” or, “What’s the mod you’ve done that nobody else would notice?”

David Escargot
David Escargot
10 months ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

You will die on this hill, surrounded by like minded gentlemen, also prepared to die on said hill.

Tis better to die on the hill amongst nobles than to join the raging mob

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
10 months ago

The Viper is the only car I’ve ever driven that scared the h*ck out of me.
What a hoot.

D-dub
D-dub
10 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

Did you misspell f*ck?

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 months ago
Reply to  D-dub

Maybe it was supposed to be sh*t?

Maymar
Maymar
10 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

poo*, obviously poo*

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 months ago
Reply to  Maymar

Clearly. My mistake. Thanks for the correction!

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
10 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

I think it was clearly “hick”, one drive of a Viper and you become a formal professional. Obviously.

World24
World24
10 months ago

If there’s a hill I’ll die on, is that the Viper is exactly what “car enthusiasts” say they wanted but would never admit.
I’ll always want one. Never an ugly, rear exit 2nd generation one, but the others are definitely bucket list cars.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
10 months ago
Reply to  World24

Most of love American sports cars even if some aren’t willing to be open about it

World24
World24
10 months ago

It drives me wild too. There should be no shame liking what you like, even with cars.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
10 months ago

The Viper was always cool and will always be cool. It’s a little slice of Americana…a distillation of everything that’s unique about American car culture and motorsports into one singular entity. It more or less uses the same tried and true formula dating all the way back to the OG Shelby Cobra-add a huge engine, take out absolutely everything that isn’t completely necessary for structural integrity, send it all to the rear wheels through a stick, and make sure your will is up to date.

It’s absolutely mind blowing to me that they didn’t even have traction control in these until the final generation. Anyway, one of my favorite metaphors for American sports cars is that they seem like they could be built by your drunk uncle in his barn…and the Viper has always maintained that vibe.

Also the VX I is an absolute weapon on the track. A C7 might be able to offer a more civil and usable street experience but make no mistake…the Viper will make even the craziest variants look silly on the track. I’ll always love the Viper because of all this as well as the fact that it was THE bedroom poster car for folks like me who were kids in the 90s.

Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll ever be able to own one, but I’m always giddy when I see one on the road and I get to live vicariously through my pal V10omous.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
10 months ago

The Viper was truly the successor to the AC/Shelby Cobra. There will be a day when the ACR’s go for crazy pants big money.

V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago

Low mileage examples already trade for 2-3x sticker price

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
10 months ago

I got to see a group of Viper owners on a ride in eastern Pa one day last year. There were 3 ACRs in the group and I was losing my shit in my car alone, yelling at myself like someone could hear what I was talking about. Finally I remembered pics or it didn’t happen and snapped a few just as they drove off from me. Never seen and ACR on the road before or after that.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
10 months ago

The Viper is one of those cars that I don’t want to own because it’s not my kind of thing, but I’m very glad it exists.

I’ve seen a few in the UK, and for a happy couple of years I used to drive past, and be passed by, an early one in red a few times a week. Epic.

Also a magnificent engine.

V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago

-There are 5 Viper generations, not 3.

-The 4th and 5th gens had an 8.4L engine, not an 8.3

-The biggest problem, as admitted by FCA themselves, is not necessarily that the Corvette was a better value (that’s honestly the case for pretty much every sports car), but that the Viper never offered an automatic transmission. People in the $40,000 range buying Civic Type Rs might accept manual only, but it becomes a tougher sell at $100-$150,000.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

eh, what do you know about Vipers? (Just kidding)

V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

Not nearly as much as some people I’ve met!

You guys think I’m obsessive…..

MrAcoustics
MrAcoustics
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Beat me to it, if you are going to write an article about a car, at least get the engine size correct.

Gubbin
Gubbin
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

The pedantexpert speaks! Is it true the V10 crank throws on all of these were clocked at 90° like a V8 making the thing a bit vibe-y?

V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Well they can’t all be 90 degrees, because then all 10 cylinders can’t fire in 720 degrees (2 full rotations, like every 4 stroke engine).

The firing order is odd though, 90 degrees, then 54, then 90, 54 etc.

90 * 5 = 450

54 * 5 = 270

450 + 270 = 720

So there is a unique sound and vibration that’s immediately different from a V8 when you start it up.

V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago
Reply to  Patrick George

Hey, you left out the “Lamborghini designed the engine” fallacy, so props to you for that!

World24
World24
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Wasn’t the side-curtain airbag mandate also an issue too?

V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago
Reply to  World24

That was indeed the reason for the cancellation in 2017, because new standards were coming into force for MY2018. Otherwise they probably would have kept it going longer, because the car was still competitive performance-wise.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

This makes sense, and the take rate for automatics in Corvettes has always been higher than manuals. In fact there are generations of Corvette that don’t even offer a stick at all. This was also the 20 teens, when automatic transmissions got really good and became the defacto option in supercars. This is around when Porsche developed PDK, VW/Audi were putting the DSG in their performance cars, and all the household names like Lamborghini and Ferrari switched to assorted sporty autos.

Interestingly enough I don’t think it would be as much of an issue if they were to sell the cars today. The scarcity of manuals has made them extremely sought after and the take rate on cars that offer both has increased in the last few years. Dual clutch transmissions have also fallen out of favor. Most manufacturers are moving away from them and a lot of folks complain that they’re unbearable in traffic (I think those folks are big babies and that a DCT offers way more character than a torque converter)…not to mention snappy torque converters like the ZF8 and Ford/GM 10 speed don’t offer a whole lot when it comes to engagement.

Basically this is a long winded way of saying they picked about the worst time possible to offer a supercar competitor without an auto option and I don’t think it would be an issue in this day and age. I actually think we’re going to see more manual only cars moving forward in the twilight of ICE. More people want them these days.

Last edited 10 months ago by Nsane In The MembraNe
V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago

The high resale on Gen 5s supports your claim. Even with a bit of recent market softening, it’s difficult to find one under $120,000.

Meanwhile, they couldn’t give them away new in 2014-15.

Mike F.
Mike F.
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

This is simultaneously incomprehensible and terribly sad. I have the money for a car like a Viper. I want a car like a Viper. But I don’t buy a Viper because it means that I’ll have to drive a stick. I know it works like this but it continually amazes me.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

I argue there are 4 generations. ZBI and ZBII are not different enough.

Something like 75% of corvettes purchased are automatics. Even enthusiasts trims like the Z06 are around 50% automatics. I used to have a fun time arguing with people that the viper needed an automatic. They cried blasphemy, but I always thought it would help them survive. It actually lasted longer than I thought.

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
10 months ago

Stellantis run like a private equity company pretty much sums up corporate management these days. Will make the union negotiations very entertaining.

wonder how many folk know corporate HQ is in the Netherlands?

Buzz
Buzz
10 months ago

I think the legends of the Model T, the Volkswagen Beetle, and… IDK, maybe the Toyota Prius will last for 1,000 years, but probably not the Viper. It’ll be lost in the mire of other fast cars, like the Veyron or the F40. That isn’t to say anything bad about the Viper, just that there aren’t going to be a lot of cars from today that people are talking about in 3023.

Just Jeepin’
Just Jeepin’
10 months ago
Reply to  Buzz

I’ll bet my life savings that none of them will still be talked about in 1000 years. What buggy manufacturers from just 100 years ago do we discuss, much less individual models?

(Admittedly, I have no savings, but I won’t be around then to lose the bet anyway.)

Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago

Amen. When a great thing passes, let it go with dignity. Remember it fondly, toast it periodically, and pass on its lore.

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