Years ago, after my first trip to the Detroit Auto Show, I was browsing the inventory at Lamborghini of Ohio with Jack. There was snow on the ground—Phaeton weather—and the cozy showroom seemed the perfect attraction to kill a few hours before my flight back to Baltimore. Jack was going on and on about the throat-stompingly awesome Murcielago. “That’s the only one to have,” I think he said. “I dunno,” I said, “I kind of like the Gallardo.”
“That,” he replied, “is because you have girl parts.”
I’ll admit, he had a point. The Gallardo was the baby Lamborghini—the “poor man’s” Lambo, if such a thing ever existed. If you’re going to lust after an Italian supercar, why not lust after the most super-ific supercar they build? Perfectly valid reasoning. But in the real world, where money is spent and things are purchased, people bought Gallardos. It thus stands to reason that there are those in the world who are Gallardo-rich, but not quite Murcielago-rich. That doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, right? Though I suppose it’s possible that some people just have girl parts.
At one time, that choice did not exist. Until the Urraco went on sale in 1973, there was no fakerich-spec vehicle in the Lamborghini lineup. You had only two options at a Lamborghini dealership: Buy a V12-powered Lamborghini or buy no Lamborghini at all. Lamborghini’s chief domestic rival, on the other hand, did offer such an alternative. It was called the Dino.
Today, Chrysler faces a similar, though not identical predicament. For twenty years, there has been only one Viper. And for most of those twenty years, one was enough. No longer.
The time has come for a second Viper—a V8 Viper.
This isn’t an original idea. In 2005, Chrysler showed the Firepower concept. It was, in my not-so-humble opinion, the most beautiful concept car shown by any domestic manufacturer in decades. It was to be powered by a 6.1L Hemi V8 engine mated to—I’m bracing myself here—an automatic transmission. This was blasphemy on top of blasphemy, if you ask the die-hard Viper faithful. But it was exactly what Chrysler needed to keep the sub-brand healthy. It was a play for volume. Even if the Firepower was destined to carry a sticker price nearly as a high as its rough-and-tumble, V10-powered brother, it was the kind of car that would have attracted buyers Chrysler needed to keep the brand relevant—the Corvette crowd.
And now, nearly ten years later, that domestic rival is poised to eat the Viper’s lunch. In 2001, the Viper ACR laid waste to the first-generation Corvette Z06 in just about every performance category out there, and it should have, considering it cost nearly double what you would have paid for the Bowling Green bruiser. In 2015, the Viper will still cost you an entry-level luxury sedan more than what you’ll pay for the forthcoming C7 Z06, but I’ll bet a fine steak dinner that it won’t be winning any comparison tests.
Vipers are not selling now, a full year ahead of the C7 Z06 arriving on showroom floors. In what sort of shape to they expect to find themselves when that time comes?
SRT CEO Ralph Gilles insists that the Viper is not built to beat the Corvette, and maybe he believes that. But shouldn’t it be? The Viper is a 6.2L aluminum-block Hemi away from a serious C7 contender. In the age of aluminum F150s, a lightweight truck engine certainly isn’t out of the question, and something has to power the Challenger’s replacement. And mind you, I don’t think the Viper should compete with the Corvette on price. It doesn’t have to. But the Viper buyer demographic has not historically been one to purchase cars with triple-digit price tags. These guys are Viper-rich, not Gallardo-rich.
I grew up with Viper posters on my wall and Viper die-casts on my dresser. I watched the terrible Viper TV show. As much as I believe that the V10 is critical to the Viper-ness of the Viper, my fear is that the two choices we now have at the SRT dealership—buy a V10 Viper or buy no Viper at all—will soon be taken away from us entirely. Add the V8 option. Bring back the ragtop. Hell, offer an automatic if you have to. It will sell.
But better than that, it will win.