A year ago — almost to the day — I was driving home in my new 1997 Dodge Viper GTS, after I asked you people what car I should buy, and you resoundingly told me to get a Viper. Today, almost a year later, I’m wrapping up my time with the Viper: I sold it to a new owner a few weeks ago, and now he’s taken delivery, which means I am officially Viper-free. So I’ve decided to look back on the last year and tell you what it’s been like to own my Dodge Viper.
I’ll start with my initial impressions: When I first got the thing, I was scared of it. I’m not going to lie and say that isn’t true. Dozens of people told me to be careful of it, that it’s highly dangerous and that it could easily cause an accident when you’re least expecting it. This was doubly true for my old Viper, because nobody was making a full set of four tires for it anymore — and the set that was on my Viper was ancient, only contributing to its dangerousness.
But I drove it back from North Carolina to Philadelphia, over 500 miles, with a short stop at Katie’s Cars and Coffee in the D.C. area — and I didn’t have any issues with safety. That remained true over the entirety of my next year with the Viper: Even though I only put about 1,000 additional miles on it after that first week, I never had any incidents, any issues or any close calls. Truthfully, the car never once scared me — probably because I drove it cautiously, and I was always prepared for the worst.
Unfortunately, while I didn’t have any safety issues, I certainly had some reliability problems. As I was filming a video where I taught my friend Britt how to drive a manual transmission, the radiator failed — sending coolant all over the parking lot where we were shooting. After a flat-bed tow and a new radiator, things seemed fine — until the ancient radiator hoses also failed, requiring their replacement. Following that, I always kept an eye on the temperature gauge — but the Viper never had any issues again.
Not that I would know, because I didn’t spend much time behind the wheel. The simple truth is that the Viper isn’t an easily drivable car — especially in Center City Philadelphia, where I live — and I never found myself wanting to take it out for an evening cruise around town, or down one of the curvy roads that parallels Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River (something I’ve enjoyed with the Viper’s predecessor, my 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and its replacement, a 1997 Land Rover Defender 90). Instead, I really only used it for videos.
But while I didn’t drive it much because I found it a bit difficult to pilot, I never really blamed the Viper for its beastly experience. In fact, I liked it: The Viper has never made any claims that it was anything other than a loud, rough and angry machine; it never tried to be an Aston Martin or a Porsche 911; it never pretended it could replace a European sports car. Instead, it’ll rumble at a stop light, and it’ll squeak and creak occasionally, and the interior isn’t all that nice — but that’s part of the charm. It’s fast, and it’s bold, and it’s aggressive, and it’s hilarious. I’m glad I owned it.
In the end, though, I’m also glad I sold it. While you people insisted I buy this thing for years, the videos and articles I made with it simply didn’t do as well as I expected — proving that, in the end, it just might not be interesting enough to support a year’s worth of content. You enjoyed when I drove it in the snow, sure, or when I used it to teach my friend to drive a manual transmission — but it seems you’d rather see me poking around a Pontiac Aztek.
And so, the Viper is gone — off to a new home in New Jersey, where it’s surrounded by other interesting cars. I miss it more than my Aston Martin, simply because it had so much personality — and also because, like everyone else, I had a model of a blue and white Viper GTS on my bedroom dresser when I was a kid, too. Seeing it in real life was always a thrill. But when it came time to actually go anywhere, well … I always found myself driving something more comfortable. Find a 1997 Dodge Viper for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.