The old Viper was created during one of Chrysler’s seemingly endless financial crises. So the whole process was done by just 17 men, for $50m — that one-twentieth of what it usually costs to design a car. The cost-cutting did show in certain areas, such as the complete absence of windows, and the roof, which had all the sturdiness and weather protection of a trash bag.
Under the bonnet there was the 8 litre V10 engine from a truck and a chassis made from melted-down tramp steamers. It was as sophisticated as a Russian hammer, but you had to love the simplicity; the honest-to-God recipe of big, big power and four big, big wheels.
The new Dodge SRT-10 has a proper canvas roof that stows away, albeit manually, in a neat recess behind the seats. It has windows that go up and down and, horror of horrors, it has pedals that can be adjusted electrically to suit your shoe size. This is like giving Lucifer a side parting and a cardigan.
But don’t worry. Chrysler may have sprinkled the surface with a veneer of 21st-century living, along with a million safety notices advising you to “drive carefully”, but underneath beats a heart that’s still as cold and as unforgiving as stone.
The engine is no longer an 8 litre V10. Now you get 8300cc, which means the brake horsepower has shot up from 400 to 500. (pathetic by European standards), but because the weight of the car hasn’t gone up it means the Viper goes from 0-60mph in 3.9sec and on to a top speed on the wild side of 190. It is an idiotic engine that uses fuel like it’s coming from a fire hydrant, but the torque is sensational, and the noise coming out of the side exhausts sounds like Beelzebub barking.
It’s not all mouth, though. Put your foot down and when the wheels have stopped spinning, it lunges off towards the horizon, not so much like a rabbit but as a wrecking ball. The build-up of speed is not electric but it is relentless. And then you get to a corner. There is masses of grip from tyres that are so wide they could roll a cricket pitch in one pass, but when the grip is gone so are you. All is well and then, in the blink of an eye, you’re going backwards in £1,500 worth of thick, cloying tyre smoke.
Then there’s the gearbox, which works with all the fluidity of a Victorian signal box, and the steering, which has a full centimetre of play around the straight ahead. And now you’re going backwards again, desperately looking for the traction control switch, which isn’t there. The devil doesn’t do traction control.
The windscreen seems designed to push as much air as possible into your face, the dash seems to have been made for £4.50, it’s cramped and the £80,000 price tag seems awfully steep.
but in the end its just superb
Dodge Viper; one of the worst cars I’ve ever had the misfortune to drive. And one of the best.
What was it like to drive? Well, if you’ve ever tried one on your Gran Turismo game, you’ll know. It’s like trying to wrestle with a tiger in an out-of-control nuclear power station.
(it is a mother of violence it just a big red axe murder) Jeremy Clarkson
Prices shown in USD.
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