Who reads car reviews so late at night? But that's what you get in the world of (now broken) manufacturer embargoes. The Jalopnik Review of the 2013 SRT Viper GTS will be going up tomorrow morning. But for now, here are a few reasons why, this week, we're thankful for it.
Sure, the new Viper's vastly improved over the previous model, and does so by way of a lot of incremental, tactical engineering work and some very smart decisions by people who care. You can count that as a bonus 11th reason to be thankful for the Viper, but for the main list, read on.
Wrinkle your nose and mouth, squint your eyes and nod slowly. You know, make the "hell yeaaah" face. Now build a car. Oops! Too late. Someone already did.
Normally, during U.S.-bashing efforts, at least half the country keeps a stiff upper lip, while the other half waves their flags so wildly, you'd think they were signaling the 437th Airlift Wing to drop the Natty Ice. But, to paraphrase Fredo in The Godfather, "We're smart, not dumb like they say!" We can make things other than drones and Funyuns and CGI farms. Indeed, we can rest assured that a rag-tag group of American engineers can turn out something that might very well lure a track-day snob out of his Porsche GT3.
While they seem like one big pamper-fest, vehicle launches — especially those for performance cars — usually involve meeting and talking to people you admired but didn't know it. One of those people is Dick Winkle, head powertrain guy on the Viper project since 1989. Dick was there, on site at Chrysler's former Lamborghini division when — as the story goes — Dodge engineers got some insights into building a high-performance, aluminum V10. Dick says — vehemently — the Viper V10 has little in common with the engine that would become the 1994+ Dodge Ram V10, sharing no parts or specs. So there, trolls.
I have nothing against turbos and superchargers, but there's something about the mechanical purity of generating a massive amount of horsepower and torque through mere inhaling and exhaling. It's like getting high without some pachouli-scented idiot shotgunning a lungful of ganja, spittle and atomized bean burrito down your gullet.
Our hero, Ralph Gilles, designer, business guy, racer and coolest knight in all of automobilia — anointed by King Marchionne The Benevolent — assembles a cadre of minions, boffins and wizards to face down the bifarious forces of physics, the nanny state and corporate accounting to transform a venerable war weapon into one meeting the demands that modernity has thrust upon it. Huzzah!
Planting the pedal, the Viper yowls, the induction noise is so loud it sounds like the V10's gulping in a hot-air balloon's worth of chocolate pudding. Hurricane Sandy called; she wants you to cut the shit.
I couldn't get a picture of it (for obvious reasons), but a speedo-sized version of Viper's new "Stryker" logo appears in the middle of the TFT dash cluster when the rev limiter is kicking in during launch control. It's like DANGER TO MANIFOLD, only not stupid.
Yes, that raised rubber design on the inside of the door is the Nürburgring Nordschleife. You know, where the Viper ACR set the production-car lap record of 7:12.13. That is, unless you think the Radical SR8 and Gumpert Apollo Sport are production cars, which some deluded souls continue to do. There's also one of Laguna Seca in a storage compartment. Details.
Most cars are built for the street, and then retrofitted for track use. The Viper is a track car that's been adapted grudgingly for around-town and highway driving. Sure, it's a far better street performer than before, but the Viper only really feels truly at ease on a racetrack. There's a sort of halfhearted "you can have it all" message out of SRT, but this front-mid-engined circus wagon — despite the newly swank interior, cruise control and hey-I'm-not-burning-my-goddamn-ankles-off-any-more cushiness — is biased in favor of circuit-ry.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, always a hit at parties, once said, ethos anthropos daimon. That translates to "character is fate," or as political wonks say, "character is destiny." In the auto industry, too much character — defined by some as "flaws," others as "focus" — has been a liability. Seems the less character a car has, the more it's destined to sell, a condition that's creeping from "regular" cars into the performance realm. Maybe the new Viper will be a pendulum swinger. Try to find a car in the its class that performs so well while making such an impression — literally burning its character into your membranes. You can't. (More on that in the review.)