Driving the 2008 Viper SRT10

The new Dodge Viper is best summed up by a pair of Oakleys. You see, at every launch the manufacturer gives attending journalists a gift, something to remember the trip by, some trinket to give their kids when they get home. Those without kids put them straight up on eBay and earn enough for an extra martini or two. Legend has it back in 1993, at the world press launch for the Ducati 916, journalists received silver bars stamped with the bike's name and launch date. I don't just mean a little silver bar, but a hunk of metal straight out of West Point Mint.

Publicists responsible try to come up with something that somehow signifies the product being launched, something that represents the company's character. At the launch of Triumph's Speed Triple in France, it was an engraved Mag Lite - functional and tough like the bike. For the BMW Z4 M Roadster it was an iPod. At the launch of the 2008 Dodge Viper, it was a pair of Oakley Half Jacket XLJs, whose lenses had been engraved with a Dodge logo. As I unwrapped them in my hotel room in North Carolina, the night before my first turn at the new, 600-hp Viper, I couldn't help but be wary of what the next day would bring.

I've always been more of an Aviator kind of guy. I'd like to think I wear my mirrored Ray Bans in the classic style with a touch of irony, hopefully portraying a sense of mystery. Admittedly what I'm going for is likely lost on other people, who are at best indifferent and at worst think I look like Tom Petty. Oakley wearers don't seem to get the irony thing. Pudgy middle aged men in middle of the range suits, they seemingly want their glasses to say "I might look mild-mannered, but really, I'm Batman." Secretly they hate their lives and long for adventure and freedom. Sadly, their shatter resistant, developed-for-the-military eyewear is the closest they'll ever get.

The Viper doesn't do irony either. In an age where zero-emissions are the new 200mph, it has 600bhp and looks like a giant penis crossed with a mid-'90s Dodge Stratus. If a Prius is an educated citizen-of-the-world dining in Paris, the Viper is a deadbeat dad in flannel trying to finish a 72oz steak so he doesn't have to pay for it.

Part Two, Part Three