I knew the day was coming. But when it arrived, I shriveled and hissed like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. “We wants it. We needs it. The precious. We hates them. We hates them. They steals it.”
No golden trinket caused this meltdown. Rather it was the request for the return of an Adrenaline Red 2015 Dodge Viper GT that our parent company TEN was forced to buy after someone unnamed ruined all its resale value by off-roading it on a Motocross course. (RK Episode 38).
When I came on as editor, I claimed the keys as a birthright. I’d driven numerous Vipers before and always said that I’d happily daily drive one, but here was a chance to prove it. Could I use a 645-hp two-seat $100,000 sports car as my only transportation? Would my love for the car turn out to be a fling? I ended up driving the Dodge, which I nicknamed Red Snek, for almost three months. Together we covered 3,600 miles including five road trips—including to a ballet in Death Valley, and a junkyard in the redwoods, all sorts of errands—including picking up a wedding dress and getting a friend’s car out of police impound, and clutch-heavy, hour-long commutes to the office. Knowing my own sense of drivability to be skewed from a lifetime of only driving old beaters, I took on many passengers and got as many second opinions on the car as possible. Everyone from co-workers to my mom thought it looked great, and I found myself looking back over my shoulder in parking lots, whispering, “I love you, you beauty,” as if it could hear me. My passengers’ opinions ranged from delighted to finding it mildly cramped, but all were impressed with its speed. “It just goes like a red rocket ship,” my friend Elizabeth said.
Rocket ship is the best description for the Viper. Not just because of its performance, but also because of the way it makes you feel in the cockpit. It feels as if you’re hurtling through the stars, on your way to a Barbarella-type planet of consequence-free sex and drugs. It’s not a totally comfortable experience. You’re always aware of the heat rising from the hood and the exposed metal of the shifter handle. You can hear the V-10’s uneven firing and feel the constant judder of a car that would prefer to be rounding corners at redline rather than lugging along in stop-and-go traffic. That’s what makes it so fun for a daily driver. It’s like riding a warhorse while everyone else is on mini donkeys. You might not get to use the full potential very often. But when you do? Wow. And you know it’s always waiting there even while you’re dodging minivans in a grocery store parking lot.
When I shared the #dailydriverViper plan on the Roadkill Facebook page, there were lots of questions, ranging from drive-in drivability to fuel mileage. Here are the answers:
Hemi Eisner: How practical is it to go through a drive-thru?
The only drive-thru problems were height. It’s too low for the window. The same thing is true for parking garage kiosks. I had to pull the brake and get out, which definitely ruined the cool image.
Marty Winchester: How will you go back to driving a “normal” car, say a Chevy Cruze or a late-model Malibu?
Well, lucky for me, I’ll go back to driving a ’71 Opel GT.
Matthew Blackburn: What are the top three things you don’t like about using it as a D.D.?
Trunk space, worrying about it parked on the street, and the funky things it does with a phone in the USB, though that might be a flaw in my charger cord.
Lee Fogel: Is it too hot for a D.D.? Vipers are notorious for heat soak in the cabin.
I did tend to run the A/C in it even when it was cool outside, but it’s nothing like the earlier models with the first crossover exhaust.
Shawn Mernagh: I used to work as an engineer/test driver for Dodge. I definitely miss the pure acceleration and sound the Viper had in third gear and don’t miss that rock-hard suspension on bumps. What was your favorite gear to use?
With all the traffic in L.A., I spent a lot of time in second, but third is probably the most fun. I was impressed with how usable fifth was, and I barely ever got enough road for sixth.
Mike Stewart: Do you have a single biggest complaint about a car like that? I mean, obviously it’s freaking awesome to roll in, but if you actually did have some issues with it, what might they be?
I do have some issues, though they mostly have to do with being a smaller person than the target audience. I have to sit really far forward, which makes getting in and out hard, and certain shifts are hard (because of the angle of my shoulder).
Waylon Reinhart: So in a long-term sense, do all the hp and good looks make up for the stiff ride? Did you have overheating issues? Do you get used to people staring at you everywhere you go?
Yes, No, Yes!
Alexander Wilson: As far as a daily driver, is a car such as the Viper worth it? I get they can be great track cars and Sunday funday cars, but how do they do among the toils of the weekly grind?
That’s what I wanted to find out. The fun outweighs the trouble, but it’s a lot like an old car in that you can’t just drive it brainlessly. You need to think about a safe space for parking, gas stops, and braking distance—not in front of you like in a classic car, but behind you so the driver in back doesn’t slam into you. The biggest downside to owning one would be costs such as tires and insurance.
Justin Purcell: How many times did you burn yourself on the doorsill? Do the footwell and tunnel still get hot from the trans and motor? I never burned myself, but it does get warm. Footwell and tunnel do not get hot anymore, but the shifter does.
Nacho Glycerin: How nerve-racking is it to drive a long-term high-end loaner when it comes to watching out for door dings, scratches, etc.?
Very, although slightly less when the first damage was done by your boss on an off-road course.
Nathan Shufelt: I’m sure it turned heads whenever you drove it. Will it be hard to transition back to the old-school cars again?
I’ll miss the luxury, but the vibe is really the same, having something that stands out and makes you happy when you see it in the parking lot.
Brandon Petroski: How was it while driving in rain or snow?
I haven’t had snow, but I’ve had lots of wet. I wouldn’t say I loved it in the rain. On the plus side, it has a much better defroster than any of my normal daily drivers.
Kevin Kohlieber: Is the blind spot as big as you think it might be on that thing?
No, it isn’t that bad. It has three mirrors. If you use them, you know what’s around you.
Garland Ward: Do you feel like a douchebag? Serious question. Are you secretly ashamed?
I thought I would feel like a rich jerk, but the car is so unusual that I felt more like a space alien. I didn’t really get the feeling that people were hating me the way they might hate a Ferrari or Porsche driver. I did feel like a D-bag when I passed homeless people, so I gave away lots of money at freeway off-ramps.
Nick Mercer: How many guys hit on you while you were driving that thing around?
So many. I think Dodge should market it to women as an alternative to plastic surgery and exercise.
David Bright: How many speed bumps did you scrape on?
No speed bumps, but I went slow and angled. A couple of driveways were tricky, but I never found anywhere I couldn’t get through.
Brianna Heid: Could you fit a car seat in it?
I think so, but I’m not sure. Is it cool to put a baby in the trunk?
Luke Millington: Are lorries intimidating on the highway?
Oh, a British question. Big trucks were a little scary. I for sure thought about what a tossed tire tread would do to me.
Marco Vinicio Martinez Campos: How’s gas mileage?
It averaged in the 20s on trips and around 17 mixed.
Luke Mcdermott: How’s your clutch leg after an hour in traffic?
Torey EndorsToi Griffith: What kinds of cars did you destroy on your commute? Who was most likely to throw revs your way (such as Mustang drivers, rice rockets, BMWs, etc.)?
Sportbike riders threw the most revs, maybe because they knew they were the only ones with a chance of winning. Toyota Prius drivers threw the most blocks.
Dock Myrick: Did you find yourself driving differently or doing anything differently due to the expense—or the sheer presence—of such a vehicle?
I was more worried about the interior than the exterior. Light tan Alcantara makes you really conscious of how often you spill food or drink.
Neil Losasso: How are its manners in stop-and-go traffic? Does it overheat?
It’s amazingly civil in stop-and-go, and I had lots of that over the time I drove it. You can slow almost to idle in every gear except sixth, and although you can see the heat shimmering out of the hood, it doesn’t affect the cabin that much. It never went above 210 on the very hottest, most trafficky day.
Danimal Gilbert: How many issues did the car have D.D.ing it for that long?
It had one nail in a tire.
Josh Fifita: What is your opinion on road conditions? I’m sure you felt every imperfection.
As much as I love the car, I can’t deny that it can be a rough ride. There’s a section of the 405 freeway in California that is so broken up that you could watch the shifter bouncing, and it would delete your iPhone typing—if you have that setting for shake to undo. On another trip through Death Valley, there was a section of gravel-surfaced pavement that had my passenger audibly sighing with relief when it ended. The Corvette Z06 has more adjustable settings for dealing with that kind of road, but there’s something sort of fun about having that butt-to-ground connection. It’s very race car.
James McHenry: What’s your favorite sort of road to drive the car on? Where does the car feel the most special?
I found myself heading out into the desert a lot with it. Those long, curving roads stretched out all golden in front of this bright red hood, and it felt very free and glorious.
Jeremie Halvorson: Which is worse on your back, getting in and out or the suspension?
Neither is awful for me, but the first week or so I had a terrible neck ache from anxiously stretching to look over the hood. Once I got used to the size of the car, that went away.
Will English: How’s the noise level on the highway?
It definitely has a noticeable drone on the highway. You can fix that by downshifting it and letting it be a noticeable roar.
Jonathan Azbel: What was your scariest moment with the Viper in the last three months. Did it try to bite?
No, it was a perfectly gentle snake of a car. The scariest moment was getting a nail in the tire, not because I thought I would crash but because I thought I’d have to pay to replace it. It’s $575 a tire!
Ron Dredge: Does it help to be under 5 feet tall and have small feet?
Hey! I’m over 5 feet tall (barely). Being short is actually a bummer. To push the clutch in, I have to have my knee up against the dash. But yeah, small feet are good. I hear from the big folks that they can’t drive it in clunky boots.
Zack Bowers: What was the most annoying thing about it?
That the incidentals of owning one would be so expensive.
Drew Hobbins: Was it hard to restrain yourself from doing burnouts and going too fast on the street/highway?
You’d think so, but it feels so fast even going slow that it’s not imperative to always be flooring it. That said, long, open highways were awfully tempting.