1995 Dodge Viper
1995 Dodge Viper. Click image to enlarge


By Chris Chase

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Photo Gallery: Dodge Viper, 1993-2002

I remember the first time I saw a Viper up close: in the spring of 1995, when I was almost 18, I went with my parents to a Chrysler dealer so they could look at minivans. But what caught my eye was not the Caravan we drove home in – it was the blazing yellow Viper parked in the showroom, front-and-centre, as soon as we walked in the front door.

I don’t need to tell you what my reaction was, do I? Yup, pretty predictable, I think: I tried to convince my dad we needed one. After all, I had been a licensed driver for all of about 11 months at that point, so a 400-horsepower supercar would have been the perfect tool for honing my, uh, driving talents.

About the only link that could have been drawn between our new Caravan and a Viper was that they were both Dodges.

The Viper first bared its fangs at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 1989; like any successful concept, it was so well received that people had placed orders before the show ended, and the order was given for the company to begin work on a production version.

1997 Dodge Viper
1997 Dodge Viper. Click image to enlarge

The first Viper rolled off the production line in 1991, but it wouldn’t reach Canadian showrooms until the 1993 model year. It was probably worth the wait, though: the bodywork was dramatic, lending the car a substantial look: it was only about 10 cm (about 2.5 inches) longer than a Dodge Shadow, but stood more than 25 cm (about 10 inches) wider and almost 24 cm lower than that economy car.

But the coolest bit was under the hood, where an 8.0-litre V10 resided. The original Viper RT/10 had 400 horsepower, 450 lb-ft of torque and no passive safety systems to speak of. Naturally, the only transmission was a six-speed manual. In 1996, horsepower increased to 420, along with a boost in torque to 480 lb-ft; 1997 brought another power increase to 450 hp and 490 lb-ft, and an ACR version of the GTS coupe sold in 2000 and 2001 boasted 460 hp and 500 lb-ft.

Buyers of these cars probably aren’t too worried about fuel consumption, and that’s good: Natural Resources Canada’s ratings for this beast were 17.6 L/100 km (city) and 9.7 L/100 km (highway) in 1994, and it really only went downhill from there. By 2002, fuel consumption estimates had gone up to 20.9 L/100 km in the city and 10.5 L/100 km on the highway, and that’s assuming a light right foot – no doubt driving one of these things gently was not easily accomplished. And with a fuel capacity that started at 83 litres and dwindled to 72 in 1997, you weren’t going to get far on a full tank.

1996 Dodge Viper
1996 Dodge Viper. Click image to enlarge

Airbags appeared in 1997 (in anticipation of a 1999 federal law mandating a standard driver’s airbag in every car), and anti-lock brakes were added in 2001. Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tested the Viper for crash safety.

It’s tough to judge reliability of such a low-volume car – Consumer Reports doesn’t bother trying, due to lack of information to draw from – so we’re stuck with whatever can be dredged up from Viper-related websites.

The Viper Club of America offers a list of common problems and technical service bulletin info. Here, you’ll find out why it’s bad to rest your hand on the shifter while driving (doing so causes accelerated wear on certain components, which can lead to a transmission that won’t stay in gear, or broken gears); and how to “burp” the engine cooling system, a procedure that ViperClub.org states is imperative to prevent air pockets in the cooling system that could lead to an overheated engine. There are reports of fragile clutches in Vipers, but I suspect this has more to do with driver skill than mechanical durability.

2001 Dodge Viper
2001 Dodge Viper. Click image to enlarge

Scouring the many Viper sites on the web may reveal more common things to look for, but much of the discussion centres on the usual topics, like “How can I make my Viper faster than a Corvette Z06??!!1!!one!!!?” For serious gearheads, the Viper section DodgeForum.com has a list of year-to-year changes for ’92-’02 Vipers.

Something that’s bit surprising is how poorly newer Vipers have held onto resale value, while older ones are still fairly pricey. A 1993 model in good condition, worth $60,000 new, is worth more than $30,000 according to Canadian Red Book, while a 2002 GTS (almost $112,000 new) is worth just $54,325. Apparently, there’s no such thing as a good deal on a Viper;

2000 Dodge Viper
2000 Dodge Viper. Click image to enlarge

I suspect, though, that most who buy these cars new take pretty good care of them, so the high used vehicle price tags are probably justified in that sense. These well maintained cars, even going under the assumption that most Vipers have probably been driven hard at some point, are probably pretty good bets as far as longer-term durability is concerned.

But it’s hard to imagine a Viper purchase being anything but an emotional one. If you like a car like this and can afford it, you’re probably not going to be concerned about it being as rock-solid reliable as your dad’s Camry – especially when a car like this could eat most others for lunch without even trying.

Hey, if you buy a yellow one, call me, will you? I’d love to take it for a spin.


Online resources

There’s no shortage of places to talk about Vipers on the Internet, but I’d start at the Viper Club of America’s site. It’s got lots of information on these cars, and busy forums. After that, ViperAlley.com looks like a good place to stop, too, as do the Viper sections at DodgeTalk.com and MoparChat.com. The forums at DodgeViper.net don’t seem as popular, and the same goes for the Viper sections at DodgeForum.com and MoparStyle.net.


Manufacturer’s Website


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001269; Units affected: 259

1996-1999: Certain passenger vehicles used extensively in track type racing events and subjected to aggressive driving conditions could experience cracks at the welds of the rear differential mounting bracket. The cracks could eventually lead to metal fatigue and dislodging of the differential mounting bracket from the frame of the vehicle. Separation of the differential mounting bracket could result in loss of vehicle control. Correction: All affected vehicles will have a field repair kit installed. Vehicles exhibiting cracks will require an additional weld repair prior to installation of the kit.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001269; Units affected: 291

1996-2000: Certain vehicles may experience cracking of the steering rack mounting brackets which could result in unexpected steering looseness and lag. Correction: Dealers will install reinforcement brackets.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997168; Units affected: 36

1996: These vehicles may not comply with C.M.V.S.S. 1103 – exhaust emissions. The rear oxygen sensor wiring may be reversed, with the left sensor connected to the right side wiring and vice-versa. As a result of this condition, the catalyst efficiency monitors are non-functional, or may exhibit false malfunction indicator lights (MIL). Correction: left and right rear oxygen sensor wiring will be reversed to restore the function of the catalyst monitor.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997102; Units affected: 8,527

1997: The circuit design in the air bag electronic control module may allow the potential for inadvertent air bag deployment upon vehicle ignition shut down. Correction: the air bag electronic control module will be replaced with a module that incorporates the latest production redesigned circuit to prevent this condition.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001117; Units affected: 51

1998-2001: On certain vehicles, the optional five-point racing seat belt may not meet load specification. Correction: Dealers will replace the seat belt assemblies.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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