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The Dodge Viper Is The All-American Hero You Need To Buy

Smart Buy / 13 Comments

Manual; V10; awesome.

2017 was a sad year for fans of American sports cars because the last Dodge Viper rolled off the assembly line, ending production of one of the coolest vehicles on sale. Some rumors have postulated that the Viper could make a return in 2020 but with the success of the Challenger and Charger Hellcat models, it doesn't seem like Dodge needs a low-volume sports car right now. It remains to be seen whether or not Dodge will ever bring back the Viper but this doesn't stop people from buying a used example.

With the Chevy Corvette now going mid-engined, the Viper is one of the last pure, manual driving experiences with a big, naturally aspirated engine. The Viper was offered in five generations but we think the third and fourth generation models offer the best value on the used market.

Why You Should Buy One

Dodge officially breaks the Viper down into five distinct generations but we tend to lump together the first and second-generation cars and the third and fourth-generation cars due to their similarity. The fifth-generation Viper is our favorite of the bunch and the most modern inside but used prices haven't fallen to a point where we'd call it a Smart Buy. The third and fourth-generation models, by comparison, are performance bargains. Both generations were offered in coupe or convertible body styles and each was powered by a V10 engine mated to a manual transmission.

As modern cars switch to automatic transmissions and dual-clutches for faster 0-60 mph times, finding a manual driver's car like the Viper is going to become more difficult. Few modern cars were as tricky to tame as the Viper, so drivers who hate modern electronics and value the connection between car and driver will love this car. And as cars like this become so few and far between, there will likely be a rise in value for analog cars like the Viper.

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The Price

The Viper may have been "just a Dodge," but it was always priced like a premium car, even above the Chevy Corvette. But like the Corvette, used prices have come down to earth more rapidly than some sports car rivals like the Porsche 911. We found high-mileage examples of the third-generation car (2003-2007 model years) starting at under $30,000. The fourth-generation cars (2008-2010) are a bit more expensive but can still be found starting at under $40,000 with high mileage.

If you are more of a collector and don't plan to drive the car every day, pristine, low-mileage examples can be found ranging from around $65,000 to $100,000. We'd recommend settling for a mid-mileage car for around $40,000 to $50,000. These cars are all out of warranty right now and just remember, even though some of the Dodge parts will be inexpensive compared to other sports cars, consumables like the tires and brakes will still be pricey.

The Performance

During the Viper's 26-year life span, Dodge never shied away from the formula of a V10 engine at the front, a manual transmission in the middle, and drive going to the rear. Over the years, the V10 engine (which was originally sourced from a truck) was gradually improved to produce more power. Third-generation models used an 8.3-liter V10 producing 500 horsepower (503 in the GTS) capable of hitting 60 mph in about 3.9 seconds if you could get the rear tires to hook up.

The fourth-generation may look a lot like its predecessor but the performance was significantly improved. The V10 was bumped to 8.4-liters producing 600 hp. Dodge also tossed in a newer Tremec TR6060 transmission, speed-sensing limited-slip differential, modified suspension, and Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires. As a result, the 0-60 mph time dropped to 3.7 seconds and the quarter-mile took just 11.7 seconds. This was also the generation where Dodge introduced the track-focused Viper ACR (American Club Racer), which added aggressive aero, racing tires, and stiffer suspension. If you plan to track the car, the ACR is the Viper you want.

The Interior

With all of the attention paid to the performance, Dodge didn't put quite as much effort into designing a luxurious interior. There is a lot of hard plastic borrowed from less exotic Dodge models and most of the buttons and switches were pulled directly from the company's pedestrian cars and trucks. You certainly don't buy a Viper for the interior and if you come expecting anything else other than a cheap interior, you will be disappointed. The fifth-generation Viper featured a massively improved interior but as we mentioned earlier, prices are far more expensive than the third and four-gen cars.

The Practical Stuff

If you are reading this, we assume you know the Viper was never considered a practical vehicle even by sports car standards. The coupe has a fairly generous trunk with 14.65 cubic feet of available storage but the convertible dropped capacity to just 8.4 cubic feet. Gas mileage was equally poor, as you'd expect from an 8.4-liter V10. The EPA rated the Viper at 13/22/16 mpg city/highway/combined. The Viper also had some odd quirks like the side-exit exhaust pipes, which can burn your leg if you exit the vehicle incorrectly (we speak from experience). Just keep in mind, this is not a great car for children to ride in.

The Verdict

The same silly quirks that kept the Viper down when it was new still plague the car today. It had a crap interior, it wasn't practical, and you had to be on high alert while driving it to avoid crashing. But those same faults are what makes the Viper so cool today. Most modern sports cars are too easy to drive, it is refreshing to have a bit of terror in your life. And to heck with a good interior, the car is more than ten years old anyway. As the manual continues to die off and engines go smaller with turbochargers and electrification, we think the Dodge Viper is a solid investment for the future because there may never be another new car quite like it.

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