Today, the last Dodge Viper rolls off its Conner Avenue assembly plant and into the annals of history. RT/10, GTS, GTS-R, SRT-10, ACR-X, Carbon, two generations and over 25,000 examples later, Chrysler finally sets its wild child to rest. Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
If the Viper were a beer, it would be a King Cobra: messy, but gets the job done. If it were a band, it would be Mötley Crüe, umlauts and everything. Side-mounted pipes and a front end that could eat toddlers was Dr. Feelgood’s recipe to kickstart anybody’s heart. A brash, two-middle-fingered, gun-blazing, aviator-wearing rock star of a car, the Viper rang true to the engineer’s law of simplicity that provided for its charm. A hood that stretched into next week, on top of a monster V10 engine lifted from a pickup truck, in front of a coal-bin interior sitting on top of a rear suspension also lifted from a truck. It was to be the next Cobra: a ludicrous engine in a small car that proved the axiom that there’s no replacement for displacement. That’s what Bob Lutz had intended, back in 1989 when he was helming a company that built K-Cars and whose most exciting vehicle was a FWD compact hatchback with a Japanese motor and a 30-year old nameplate reflecting a racetrack it never raced on. Unsurprisingly, the Viper dropped like a spaceship. Its mere presence was one way to get people to look at wood-paneled Caravans.
The Viper has always been a car that baffled Europe: a car it frowns upon with haughty snobbery, prides in never building, secretly yearns to do so, but forgets that it already does. And Europeans will take note at the fact that it’s more sophisticated than it lets on to be. Where the RT/10 roadster was impractical in the same way Denver International Airport’s Blue Mustang would be in your living room, the GTS coupe actually buckled down and decided to do something about this racing business. Ask the French about the GT2’s class victories at LeMans three years in a row. Ask Team Oreca (a French team) about winning the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2000, 12 Hours of Sebring, and the five FIA GT Championships. Ask Zakspeed about its three overall victories at the 24 Hours of Nuburgring. Oh, and speaking of the Nurburgring, the Dodge Viper ACR obliterated Porsche’s, BMW’s, and Nissan’s finest in the neverending penis-lengthening manufacturer circle jerk that are Nurburgring laptimes. Not bad for a car that revels in its lack of traction control. (USA! USA! USA!)
So what’s there to drive now if you’re looking for that patented combination of batshit insanity and civil egregiousness? A Corvette ZR1 comes closest, but you’d have to disable its ESP first. A Caterham feels too clinical, too focused on track-day time-shaving to be dramatic about it. Sure, it’s got side pipes, but they can’t set off as many car alarms. A Lamborghini, if you’ve got the dough? You could build a Factory Five Cobra, but what makes you think your average Viper owner is going to spring for so much manual labor? Who has time for that? Not when there are tires to smoke, preschoolers to frighten, neighbors to enrage, police officers to annoy, burnouts to do, status quos to flaunt (or reinforce, depending on your point of view), hairpieces to blow off in the wind, bleach-blonde bimbos to pick up.
And so it is perhaps fitting that this all-American car dies on Fourth of July Weekend, a weekend of noise, fireworks, brash patriotism, and potential risk of injury. I can’t think of a more appropriate send-off than amidst blaring rock music, explosions, fiery barbeques, and the sound of beers being shotgunned. It’s what the Viper would have wanted.
As for the workers, where will they go after 18 long years of building the dream? Something tells me they’ll be alright.