Late last week, a letter appeared online from Chrysler to the Viper Club of America. In it, Chrysler basically said they're tired of the Viper's largest fan club, which they contend is actually a business. They're not alone. Viper enthusiasts are complaining about banned members, shady accounting, and preferential treatment.
Language in a letter sent to the Viper Club of America (VCA) last week outlines what anonymous sources connected to the organization have also complained to us about in the last few days. In that letter, Chrysler expresses a number of concerns with how the VCA is run as well as the links to for-profit business called Viper Parts of America (VPA).
What's going on here? First, a quick history lesson, partially based on conversations we've had with people involved with the club. Everyone we spoke with asked to remain anonymous because they say there are already legal proceedings taking place.
The Viper Club of America is the sanctioned club for Vipers in the USA. It was started in the 1990s when Dodge launched the outrageous Viper sports car, and was heavily subsidized and funded by the automaker until the early 2000s when Daimler bought Chrysler. These were Chrysler's most enthusiastic fans. They needed each other.
Daimler basically said they wouldn't continue to straight up give out cash to the Viper Club. They'd do giveaways and help the club, but the days of an open checkbook were done. The Viper club soldiered on, but changes were on the horizon.
Over the last few days I've spoken to of former and current disgruntled members of the Viper Club, and the same refrain keeps coming back: The club's demise hinged on a series of events that started around 2007 and centered around a man named Chris Marshall.
Marshall worked hard for the club, so hard that I was told he lost his job because he was putting too much time into VCA. Club board members didn't like to see a friend punished for his love, and without board approval, I was told Marshall was sent out around the world and paid thousands of dollars to go on trips.
Nobody in the club is supposed to be paid for these positions, but from what I'm told by people familiar with the situation (Marshall and current Club President Lee Stubberfield have not responded to requests for comment), that is far from the case.
During this time period, Marshall also became the National President of the Viper Club of America and subsequently a Vice President (he is currently not listed as an officer).
In 2010, the club made a few interesting moves. First, club bylaws were totally and radically changed. That included ways around previous term limits that existed for the National President as well as VCA member funds being used to fund Board of Directors travel to events.
The bylaws also mention something called the VPA, a company that was to be run by Chris Marshall and his wife Mary. This is where the V10 hits the fan.
The VPA came about just as Vipers went out of production and the VCA became a club without a car. They needed something. So they purchased tooling and spares from Chrysler, an investment that was then supposed to have all proceeds go back into the club. Theoretically, this would be a way to keep the club afloat and make up for the shortfall that came when Chrysler stopped footing the bill for the club.
One of Chrysler's major concerns refers to what Lee Stubberfield, VCA President, told SRT executives at a recent meeting.
He apparently assured them that Chris Marshall has no hand in running the club while he's involved at the VPA. Chrysler seems to believe otherwise based on communication with Marshall and with club members they say they've spoken to.
The tone of the letter is not conciliatory. It is not kind. It's stern. Chrysler, their letter implies, is tired of what's going on at the VCA, and it sounds like they're considering yanking their support from the club.
Which is odd when you consider a letter Stubberfield sent the Viper Club a week earlier that basically said that everything was perfect and things were going ahead. He also wanted to "disperse" those rumors.
We've been told that parts suppliers, or really anyone we've heard of who questioned the motives of club management, have received suspensions from the club, ranging in one year duration to longer.
What's being alleged is the VCA is now a for-profit business operating under the guise of a non-profit.
But this is a non-profit as a look at the most recent publicly available tax return from the Viper Club (2011) shows, although that return does raise some questions.
Foremost on my list is the box in Section B of the tax return which says "Did the organization have local chapters, branches, or affiliates?" The VCA forums show a number of regional chapters. The masthead of Viper Magazine lists a number of "zones."
The VCA's tax return? It says that the company has no chapters.
There's also a lot of money sent out to affiliates and vendors, but it's unclear where all that money is going.
Chrysler doesn't seem to buy it, although their official response is tame:
As a corporate policy, we do not comment on company business. Chrysler Group LLC is fully committed to its SRT and Viper owners and continues to maintain a relationship with them as demonstrated through participation at various events around the country, such as the Woodward Dream Cruise and support for events like the LX Spring Festival.
That's a lot weaker than their letter, which implies that Chrysler was going to break off their connections to the club and tell members why they did it.
Do you have any experience with VCA? Are you a current member? Vendor? Supplier? Email us at tips @ jalopnik. com with your story or leave a comment below.