Dodge Viper Roadster — the end of an icon

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Perhaps it was part good luck and part cautious driving. But we managed to roll through nearly 200 miles in a 2010 Dodge Viper roadster on main streets, four-lane highways and winding rural roads without incident  while testing the redline limit in second gear, challenging some of our favorite twists at record speeds — for us — and hitting triple-digit numbers on several occasions.

You could say we were blessed with a Viper experience much like the guy who owns one, using it just for weekend jaunts and neighborhood bragging rights. 

And with the last of the 500 Vipers now coming off the Detroit assembly line — it might be our last Viper experience. We hear that Dodge may get the go-ahead for a new sports car, but it surely won’t be the raw muscle that has made Viper an all-American icon.

To celebrate the final year of production for the current-generation Dodge Viper, Dodge is building a limited production run of just 50 2010 Viper SRT10 "Final Edition" models. Production of the Final Edition models is scheduled to begin in early summer.

Available in Coupe (20), Roadster (18) and (12) ACR (American Club Racer) model configurations, each Final Edition Viper exterior features a Graphite Clear Coat body with a painted black center stripe traced in red. Viper Coupe and ACR Final Edition models include a black windshield surround. All Final Edition models carry unique side sill badges.

Viper, which has been on the scene for nearly two decades, is simply not a daily driver. The Viper is a track car dressed in street clothes. The one thing that comes to mind while classifying the Viper as a track machine is that the Viper unleashes 600 horsepower with none of the modern safety systems to run interference.

It’s up to the driver to determine if he has the skill to drive over the limits. When the rear end comes out, the less-than-expert driver may face the sick feeling for a split second of losing control. In the Corvette, Porsche and GT500 with stability control systems a driver will not be burdened with the life-before-his eyes sensation that comes just before $90,000 worth of sheetmetal sideswipes a tree at 90 mph; at least within the laws of physics. The Viper has no traction control or stability control to mitigate these mistakes. And in a car this strong the compulsion to run too fast and too hard is not easy to overcome.

The Viper was conceived in late1987 at Chrysler's Advance Design Studios and appeared as a concept at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show and the go ahead for development of a production car was given in March 1989.

The first production cars rolled into dealerships in January 1992, a rather rough-around-the-edges high performance sports car producing 400 horsepower. Now in its third generation and having gone through numerous upgrades, the Viper has been smoothed out and bulked up over the years. Even with the improvements it is still a stretch to call the 2010 Viper refined. Although after nearly two decades it still carries a head-turning stance with its low-slung body, long hood, impressively wide tires and massive side pipes.

Standard equipment includes Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires measuring 275/35R18 front and 345/30R19 in back. An 8.4-liter V-10 engine resides under the long louvered hood making 600 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque tasked to pull less than 3,500 pounds.

Measured performance times shows 0-to-60 in 3.7 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 11.8 seconds at 126 mph. Top speed is claimed to be 200 mph. Huge 14-inch brake rotors and Brembo dual-opposing calipers bring the beast down from 60 mph in a neck-snapping 100 feet.

If you are the ultimate track junkie with a pass to Laguna Seca — there’s the special limited edition ACR 1:33 Edition. We mention Laguna Seca because the Viper ACR set a new track record there in November. While street legal, it is clearly intended for track use with carbon-fiber aerodynamic devices including a massive wing mounted high above the tail.

There are several useable aids inside including power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals (the Viper was one of the first cars to incorporate this-now common feature 15 years ago), a tilt steering wheel, and comfortable racing seats (if you’re not too wide).

Convenience features include power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, air conditioning and a 300-watt audio system with seven speakers and six-disc CD changer. Options outside of myriad of special paint stripes and go-fast add-ons are scare and include only navigation and satellite radio.

The dash is made of hard rather drab plastics. But the black-on-white-faced gauges are intriguing with a large centrally mounted tachometer, a 220-mph speedometer and a series of additional gauges that are stacked down the left side of the center console.

Getting in and out of the Viper is not a simple exercise. The door is rather small and we found it necessary to fully open it to more easily enter and exit. Be warned that the side sills which house the side exhausts can get hot enough to singe the hair off your leg.

The roadster is loud and unrefined, but it heightens the performance experience, particularly the rumble of the big V-10. On the other hand it makes conversation difficult and listening to the audio system an exercise in cranking up the volume.

Our roadster carried a base price of $89,520 including destination charge. Add on a $1,700 gas guzzler tax — the Viper is rated at 13 mpg city and 22 mpg highway — and a $1,100 wheel option and the bottom line was $92,320. The coupe goes out the door for $90,270.

The Viper is not practical from any standpoint, but it’s a blast to drive. Its departure certainly marks the end of an illustrious chapter in American muscle car history.

Base price: $89,520; as driven, $92,320
Engine: 8.4-liter V-10
Horsepower:: 600 @ 6,100 rpm
Torque: 560 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2
Wheelbase: 98.8 inches
Length: 175.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,430 pounds
Turning circle: 40.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 8.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 22 mpg highway, 13 mpg city (gas guzzler tax)
0-60: 3.7 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Corvette Z06, Porsche 911, Mustang Shelby GT500

The Good:
• Breath-taking acceleration
• Superb road carver
• Aggressive styling

The Bad:
• Lack of driver aids

The Ugly:
• Entry and exit difficult