Two weeks ago, before I became a Dodge Viper owner and decided to risk my life like George Clooney in that movie where he drives his boat into swells the size of a rural congressional district, I figured the Viper would comprise two equal parts: loud and uncomfortable.
Here’s what I discovered: The Viper is loud but not all that loud, and it’s uncomfortable but not all that uncomfortable. Although it might seem, on the outside, like a one-dimensional nod to 1990s American excess, it actually has a few endearing quirks that give it some character, like a dog who chews on the shower curtain whenever somebody comes over. Today, I’m going to tell you about them. We’ll start in back. See the 1997 Dodge Viper models for sale near you
Brake lights. Like most cars, the Viper has two brake lights on either side of its rear end. This is not unusual.
What’s unusual is the third brake light, which is required by law to be mounted somewhere in the middle. Well, they mounted it in the middle, right inside the Viper logo. If you’re behind a Viper GTS and you think, “Is that a Viper?”, just wait until the driver puts his foot on the brake, and the snake logo lights up like a Vegas slot machine. Then, you’ll say to yourself, “Oh, it’s a Viper all right!”
This is the coolest third brake light of any automobile on the market.
Stripes. As many of you know, my Viper has stripes. Why? If you buy a Viper, you’re going to get stripes. Getting a Viper without stripes would be like buying a refrigerator that keeps things at 84 degrees.
What many of you may not know is my Viper’s awesome exterior color, Viper Blue, was only available in 1996 and 1997, the first 2 years of the Viper GTS. What I didn’t know, until a reader on Twitter told me last week, is there’s only one surefire way to tell apart 1996 and 1997 models. The stripes in the 1996 models go through the license-plate area, while the stripes in the 1997 models don’t. You’re welcome for making you look like an expert at cars and coffee.
Seat belts. As a few of you pointed out after watching my first video with the Viper, the seat belts aren’t like the normal seat belts you’d find in a normal car, in your normal life. They’re different, because this is a Viper, and the simple fact that it could kill you while carefully taking a turn isn’t different enough.
The Viper’s seat belts come from the center of the interior, not from the door posts. When you sit behind the wheel, you reach for the seat belt over your right shoulder, not your left shoulder. I’ve heard two potential reasons for this: The Viper’s cabin was deemed too small to install the seat belts in the normal spot, and the Viper’s original convertible design didn’t allow Dodge to fix the belts to the pillars. Regardless of the reason, it’s certainly quirky.
Hood release. The Viper doesn’t have an interior hood release. Instead, releasing the hood in a Viper is something you can only do from the outside. Allow me to repeat that: You can only release the hood in a Viper entirely from the outside. If you ever see a Viper in a parking lot, and you want to check out that sweet V10, you can just walk up and take a gander. Be careful when you’re poking around, though, as the hood reportedly costs $15,000.
Windshield wiper. I have no idea how to describe this without simply directing you to my video, but I’ll do my best. When the windshield wipers are operating, they look like the thing I Dream of Jeanie does with her arms before she activates her powers.
Tires. The Viper has an especially unusual tire size in back: 335 width, with only 17-inch wheels. Unsurprisingly, nobody makes this tire size anymore. When you call a tire store to see if they have any tires fitting this size, the person on the other end begins laughing uncontrollably, asking if you’re driving some sort of wide-tired golf cart. The whole process makes you feel very shameful, and I now know what it must be like for an albino alligator living in a colony of normal alligators.
To replace the tires, I had to go on eBay and find a rare set recently made in a limited production run. Total cost for the rear tires: $663. Per tire.
The slamming. In the past, when I owned exotic sports cars, I always insisted people be gentle with them. These are aging, fragile, hand-built vehicles, so you want to quietly close the door, slowly shut the trunk and carefully walk past, so you don’t scrape or scratch it.
Not the Viper. With the Viper, you have to slam everything.
I’ve never seen a sports car like this before, but it’s totally true. The parking brake requires a pull like you’re trying to win a tug-of-war competition against a video-game boss. The doors, the hood and the trunk all need to be slammed shut, like you’re heading into the basement and bolting the door because a tornado’s comin’. In other words, this car does not want you to be gentle; this car wants you to be as muscular and brutish as it is. Only then will it respect you.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, the Viper isn’t just a brash, beastly sports car that feels like little more than an engine bolted to a body. It has quirks. It’s unique. It’s interesting. And every time I jump in, I think it’s going to kill me.
Then, I reach for my seat belt over my right shoulder. Find a 1997 Dodge Viper for sale
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