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Ten Days of Affordable Exotics-Day 4: Dodge Viper

Every gearhead wants to drive something unique. We yearn for the thrill of g-sled acceleration, the feel of cornering as though on rails, and styling that makes you the envy of everyone at Cars and Coffee. This usually means an exotic or nearly exotic car. The thrill of being shoved back in your seat, hearing the wail of a high performance engine, as the scenery outside your window blurs, as you watch the speedometer tell you you’re approaching warp speed, it’s an experience few others eclipse. The problem, for most of us, is that exotic car experience is usually accompanied by a hefty price tag, and that job working at Uncle Plucky’s House of Chicken hasn’t impressed your loan officer enough to finance a new Aventador. So, how do the true car geeks among us scratch that itch to go fast, corner hard, and look cool without selling off our first born? Look for those rare-but-attainable affordable exotics.As the average price for a new car is just over $33,500, I have tried to find exotics with an entry price around $40,000. Compared with the sticker of the 2018 Ford GT (around $450,000), Porsche 911 Turbo ($159,200 base), Ferrari 488 ($245,400), and the Lamborghini Aventador ($399,500), $40k begins to look like an absolute bargain.

Dodge Viper 1992-1995- For those who hail from the “doesn’t-fit-get-a-bigger-hammer” school of thought, your exotic of choice is the Dodge Viper. With a brutish, all-aluminum, 8.0 liter V-10 designed by Lamborghini (then owned by Chrysler Corporation), the first generation Viper cranked out a then-massive 400 horsepower and 465lb-ft of torque. This monster power propelled the 3,300 lb. roadster from a dead stop to 60mph in just 4.6 seconds, with the end of the quarter mile arriving in just 12.9. There were a few other cars around that could achieve similar performance benchmarks, but none of those was strictly analog like the Viper. The Viper had no ABS, no traction control, no A/C, no roof, side windows, nor exterior door handles. It truly was the spiritual successor to the Shelby Cobra. The Viper did come with a folding fabric top and fabric/clear plastic zippered side curtains, which could be stored in the trunk. Air conditioning and a fiberglass hard top were not available until 1994.

Pros: Outlandish styling, massive power, and all of the raw, visceral feel of a Shelby Cobra in a modern wrapper, nothing else feels or drives quite like a Viper. The rear tires look like the kind of steamroller meats you’ll only find on race cars and dragsters. The side exhaust, which is plumbed through the door sills, is accompanied by a warning sticker reminding you not to burn your legs on entry/exit. Because everything in the car is so understressed, the Viper is one of the most reliable exotic/near exotic cars available. This also means they readily lend themselves to modification. No electronic interference from artificial safety devices like traction control or ABS. If you want the pure, unbridled driving experience, this is one of the last places to get it.

Cons: Just about everything else. If you are less than an accomplished performance driver, this thing will bite you, just like the name says. The ham-fisted need not apply. Give it moderate gas in a corner, and you will soon be looking where you have been. The door sills are hot, for obvious reason. Parts prices are considerably more than your average Dodge (although there are a number of parts straight from the MOPAR parts bin, which were shared with other models. With a little research, these can be had much cheaper). The clamshell hood is rumored to be $10k-$15k from the factory. No A/C. No real windows. The top is an exercise in sadistic origami. If you get caught in the rain, and you have the top and side curtains up, you are still going to get wet. Period. It has a firm ride, bordering on harsh. The interior, courtesy of the massive transmission tunnel, is quite snug. The huge 8.0 liter V-10 is THIRSTY, averaging around 11mpg in town, and 15mpg on the highway.

Verdict: Parts may be high, driving comfort may be somewhat compromised, and you may have to use real care in how you drive it, but there are few driving experiences like the Viper. Cartoon styling screams “I don’t give a damn. It’s all about the car.” Raw power, eyeball-flattening acceleration, and the adoration of car guys from 12 years old up, nothing is quite like this car….Unless, of course, you own a 427 Cobra.

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