I grew up in England, a speeder's paradise. It might not have had Germany's famed autobahn, Switzerland's dramatic mountains or Spain's impossibly smooth tarmac. What it does have is a populace largely confined to urban areas, a police force with a reasonable concept of safe driving and a seemingly infinite amount of beautiful country roads. I grew up driving classic cars and riding modern sports bikes at speeds of my choosing in a culture that fostered driving ability. I devoted just about every Sunday to either a long ride or drive. Not anymore. Now I live in America.
After years of enjoying the ability to determine what speed I felt was safe, amongst other moderately skilled drivers doing the same, I find this country's utterly senseless draconian enforcement of unreasonably low speed limits incredibly confining. Never one to succumb to claustrophobia, I can only speculate that's what I feel when driving here in the US. The wide-open highways close around me, squeezing my concentration into the roadside ahead; every shrub, building or bridge becomes the lair of Johnny Law, lying in wait to prey upon people careless enough to exercise their freedom.
The Viper wasn't made to be driven slowly. And thanks to its phenomenal grip and composure, anything below 120mph feels slow. Cruising at 65mph turns yesterday's phenomenal supercar into a lumbering box of boredom, bouncing over every bump and rut, the groaning engine betraying its utilitarian heritage. At these kinds of speeds, you yearn for distractions, something you'll find too little of in this car. Lacking both the elegant minimalism of a Lotus Elise or the extravagant wistfulness of a TVR, the Dodge's interior is made worse by the rest of the car's competence. Acres of sweaty black plastic, the kind that adorned early '80s Walkman knockoffs — and that smells faintly of urine — do an exceptionally patchy job of holding in their innards. Look at the gauges from the passenger seat and you can see through a centimeter-wide gap into the wilderness of wires beyond.
People passing outside can't see the interior past the Viper's new sharp creases or old bulbous shapes. The main visual differences for 2008 are the six functional vents in the hood, but people can tell this car is special. Stop at a gas station and people ask you questions, drive through a town and people take pictures, pass someone else in a fast car and they want to race. They lose.
In a just world you could leave all this attention behind. Kids in Blazers swerving beside you to get a better look couldn't keep up. Moms in minivans barring the way - all minivan drivers being by definition female - could be brushed aside. With 600 hp promising 200 mph you'd be nothing but a quickly fleeting mystery in people's minds. This is what the Viper promises and in a perfect world would deliver. But confined by the constraints of reality the promise remains just that. The Viper is an unfullfillable fantasy, elating in the potential lurking deep in its accelerator travel is a reward too often impossible to be truly satisfying.