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From the land of snake-charmers, to tame the Viper

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 17, 2018

With its burly 8.4-litre V10 engine, the iconic Dodge Viper is the best car to take trackside in America RICHARD PRINCE

The iconic Dodge Viper

The iconic Dodge Viper

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Test_drive

The Viper is on the brink of extinction. We head to its home to take it on and tame it

The quintessential American muscle car experience can’t get better than being behind the wheel of the Dodge Viper. The sense of revelry in excess that the Viper delivers is just unbeatable. To draw an all-American parallel to the feeling of euphoria when you are pushing a Viper to its limit would be to watch your favourite team win a ball game from front-row seats with a stack of batter-fried butter sticks and a Mars one-pounder by your side. The only un-American thing about the Viper is its stick shift. But we Indians love manual gearing don't we?

The best part about the Viper is that it is one heck of a serious sports car to drive. Though the Viper represents a lot of swagger and showmanship, there is a lot of substance too under that long hood and the fang-baring logo that lights up at the rear. It has the long hooded, sinuous, wicked looks of a super sports car and sounds great when you put foot to metal; but most of all the Viper has that brutish, untamed potential to its drive.

That is a big draw of course; but it also adds a pinch of hesitation into the minds of anyone picturing themselves going for it on the track. We were itching, rather dying, to get behind the wheel of the new 2017 Dodge Viper for several reasons – the fact that it will be the last production year for this iconic sports car is just one more.

Picture a red Viper with tyres worn over a whole day’s assignment of punishing track duty, purring and waiting to be taken out on another lap. The location is a massive patch of concrete tarmac (about four football fields in size) at the Chelsea Proving Grounds near Ann Arbor just outside of Detroit. FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automotive), Dodge’s parent company, had laid out a track of cones with tight bends and chicanes that would challenge any sports car fan. That’s where we were going to push the Viper to revel in its slithering madness.

Quality not quantity

The Viper has seen many owners (with the company changing hands several times) since production of the over-the-top sports car first began in 1992. It has also had years when production was suspended like from 2010 to 2013 when Chrysler, Dodge’s original parent, went bankrupt. The Viper was never a big selling model with its market performance pretty close to Bugatti territory – only 760 were sold in 2014. For petrol-heads, however, the allure of the Viper is a whole different feeling.

The Viper is less than 4.5 metres long and the bonnet alone looks like it’ll be more than half that length. The design hasn’t changed much since 2013 when it was reintroduced and is only different in parts from the 2010 model. But, the original execution was so good, that it doesn’t need much change. Massive air scoops on the front fender, intake and cooling fins on the hood and a roofline that is evocative of the best sports cars ever designed. The curvy, setback coupe design of the Viper is tuned for minimising turbulence and maximising aerodynamics. At the rear, the design tightens and the compact boot lid with its integrated rear-spoiler (in the Viper GT) makes the design look like a Viper’s nostril flare (we mean the snake here).

There are bits of carbon-fibre peeking out from under the car as we walk around. Speaking of peeking out, the exhaust ends with chrome finishers sticking out from the sides, just below the doors and they are a big reason for the Viper’s characteristic sound note. We step in and there is no time or inclination to even soak in the interior of the Viper, except for the red RPM dial with the snake logo leaping at you – a LED reminder, just in case you missed seeing the 11 other badges sprinkled around the car and under the hood.

Engage the clutch, shift the 6-speed manual gearbox into first gear, part engage brake, part release clutch and floor the throttle, and we are off the starting block in a haze of tyre smoke. Tyres squealing, the Viper lunges forward in attack mode and we ready ourselves to tackle the first turn on the track unnerved by the rear already tending to go sideways, yet confident that launch control will kick in and correct some of that without spoiling the fun.

Driver's car

The Viper is in its element on the track or on a twisty mountain road and it has always been interesting because of the challenges it posed to drivers. Before the electronic aids in today’s models were introduced, the Viper was even more of a challenge to drive at the limit. We were totally expecting to extract the most fun on the track with the Viper, braking late into the turns and cornering tight, waiting to let the rear step out of line. Counter-locking and correcting the line after a slide and managing to not knock out any cones on the track is a feeling that is at a whole different level altogether. More so if you are abroad and a whole lot of eyes are following your progress – then it is almost like your national pride is at stake.

The Viper’s V10, the famous 8.4-litre, 10-cylinder engine puts out 645bhp of peak power and 814Nm of peak torque - very apt, coming from the land of excess. 15 litres of coolant run through its veins to keep the aluminium pistons from melting. The Viper’s is a longitudinal mid-front engine, with power being fed to the rear wheels. The Viper’s peak power and torque kicks in at the top-end of the RPM band, but there is so much still available to work with in the 3,000-5,000 rpm levels that it is easy to get carried away when the track opens up ahead of you.

The rest of the drive on the track, lap after lap is just a blur and keeping the Viper’s nose pointed at the right spot between the cones is just so much fun that nothing else in the leather clad cabin really matters. So, you are going to have to check out the interior features from the pictures here.

Stepping out of the low-slung Viper is trickier than getting in, because the exhaust finisher just below the door makes for a boiling hot chrome scuff plate. Exiting the car with a grin is inevitable, but if you are not going to cautiously step over, you could end up with toasted thighs.

End of an era

It is the 25th anniversary of the Viper and also the end of production – two contrasting milestones. So, FCA has developed five commemorative, serialised special edition models. They are the Viper 1:28 Edition ACR, GTS-R Commemorative Edition ACR, Snakeskin Edition GTC, VooDoo II Edition ACR and the Dodge Dealer Edition ACR. The Viper has a lot of track and street cred and some of these models are meant to pay tribute to records that the car has set on different tracks.

This could be the last chance for sports car fans to grab a Viper before it stops rolling off the assembly. Last chance to stay willingly mesmerised by the sting of the Viper’s fangs.

Published on July 07, 2016

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