For 2006, the Dodge Viper puts a lid on it: a coupe joins the third-generation SRT10 convertible. The convertible is unchanged, save for new colour schemes of Viper Red or Viper Black only; later in the year, a special “Blue Mamba” edition will be available, including black leather upholstery with contrasting stitching and shift knob accents. The coupe uses Viper Blue exterior colour with twin white stripes, a nod to the scheme used on the original GTS coupe. There are also two new wheel designs, and available satellite radio.

The coupe is equipped similarly to the roadster, but body-wise it shares only the front fascia and fenders, hood and doors. It includes a “double-bubble” roof (it’s tall enough for a racing helmet and cage), unique rear styling with wraparound taillights, new canopy and deck lid, spoiler, and different windshield surround, door side glass, rear fascia and quarter panels.

Both use an aluminum-block 8.3-litre V10 that the company calls “500/500/500”: 500 cubic inches, 500 hp, and 500 lb-ft of torque. (Okay, it’s really 525 lb-ft, but that would ruin the slogan.) It’s mated exclusively to a heavy-duty, six-speed manual transmission.

Standard features include air conditioning, power windows, suede seat upholstery, leather-wrapped wheel, Alpine six-CD stereo system with seven speakers, power locks, height-adjustable pedals, 18-inch front and 19-inch rear alloy wheels with Z-rated tires, bi-Xenon headlamps, fog lamps and variable intermittent wipers.

The Viper can be vicious, and it requires considerable driving skill to keep it under control when you step hard on the throttle; as a pure driving machine, there are no cupholders, cruise control, traction control, or stability programs, and the only concession to covering the driver’s butt is in anti-lock brakes and the mandatory front air bags. If you don’t know what you’re doing, this is not the car to take out and open up.

That said, it’s surprisingly easy to drive at lower speeds, with a smooth clutch and extremely precise steering. The manual top is easy to operate, the cabin is wide and comfortable, and the large footwells mean the pedals are far enough apart even for big-booted drivers. The coupe offers all-weather practicality but more importantly, it provides the opportunity to take it to the track for serious competition.

The Viper occupies a unique market niche: it’s not as exotic as the Ford GT40, it’s not really a daily driver like the Corvette, and it would take two of them to get into the price range occupied by Ferrari and Lamborghini. When you hear enthusiasts speak reverently about “Detroit muscle”, this is exactly what they mean.

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