This Venomous Dodge Viper Infiltrates The Italian Countryside
Photography by Federico Bajetti
I have to admit that I was scared to drive a Dodge Viper RT/10. I was truly afraid of doing some harm to myself, others, and the car if I had to handle an 8-liter, V10 sportscar.
It’s true: the Viper is menacing. The looks and the proportions of the car always seem to ask you if you’re ready to test your driving skills.
Looking at the Viper is looking at a concrete representation of the word “challenge”: would you dare to take such a powerful car near its limits and come back alive? This question kept ringing in my head for days before driving it.
I’ve always loved the Viper, and it’s been among my favorite cars for some time. It was photographer Federico’s idea of testing one for Petrolicious: we decided to test one when we had a visit at a common friend’s garage in Verona, called Mistral Motors.
As we were having a good time looking at all the cars in the garage, we spotted the vicious silhouette of a Viper RT/10. It was a black, hot rodded ’98 RT/10 (Phase II SR) with 500+ horsepower. We couldn’t resist having a better look at it. The owner of the garage, Carmine Sessa, was kind enough to fire it up and let us savour the brutal sound of its 8-liter V10. We both knew we had to ask him to test it one day.
“Sure!” Carmine said, “come whenever you want!”.
I have driven big blocks before, and I have a weak spot for muscle cars: heck, I love all American cars. The biggest displacement car I had driven before was a 6-liter Corvette, and I thought that was just a magnificent piece of engineering. The torque, the power and the attitude made me fall in love with it right away.
Before I was handed over the keys, however, Carmine, the owner, told me: “Any Corvette feels like a Fiat 500 after you drive one of these”. Challenge accepted! What could possibly go wrong?
The Viper is extreme and bad-ass as one car can get. The interior is made out plastic, the exhaust is mounted right underneath your seat, and you have the clear sensation that all the car is built around THAT engine.
To start it, just flick the key two clicks and then you’re ready to fire up the beast. The feeling one gets by sitting inside such a car is like being the king of an earthquake. The sound is thunderous, addicting, and arrogant. It is an immense satisfaction to be able to have such a masterpiece at your command under your right foot.
Pull the tall gear lever into first, and slowly release the clutch: no gas is needed, as this behemoth will pull away with ease and without any sign of protest. The pedalboard is located far to the left to accommodate its giant transmission, which is running underneath the massive tunnel dividing the two leather seats.
On the road driving normally, the Viper is…remarkably easy! It has so much torque you can engage the 5th gear straight from 2nd, and you’ll still be cruising at 40 mph at 1100 rpm! With the top off and the intoxicating sound from the pipes, it almost feels like a smooth Grand Turismo. it’s comfortable, the seats aren’t stiff and the suspension damping is soft, yet doesn’t make the car feel sloppy.
It’s incredible the amount of confidence it inspires in its driver. I suddenly realized that I was wrong: the Viper feels more like a “pet dragon,” and despite it sounds angry at every regime, it is a pleasant touring car.
Be warned though: this car has a dual personality that is not controllable by a single button like in today’s performance vehicles. You decide when to use it as a GT or as a tarmac ripping machine. All you have to do is have the guts to push the pedal on the floor all at once.
When unleashed, the 500+ horsepower and loads of torque will slay the tires and make the rear end begin a dance that you can hardly control. It’s fast. Very fast. The torque never ends until the redline at 5,500 rpm (like a modern diesel engine!) and each gearchange is a step towards madness.
You shouldn’t be allowed to go fast on a narrow Italian B road, should you? I bet you have to have an Alfa or an Abarth to enjoy the drive, right? I have to excuse my colleagues at Petrolicious, but I might now prefer the rumble of an American muscle car for such trips.
At full clip, “our” black Yankee Doodle was rocking like Metallica at Tushino Airfield. Its sheer violence, arrogance, and thirst were a neat contrast to the delicate scenery of the hills around Verona.
When you drive this car, you barely notice the flaws and the cheap plastic interior. In all honesty, I could care less for the poor interior quality: if you drive one, you’ll never notice anything wrong with it. If you want to dominate a snake, you need quick reflexes and a vigil eye. Cars like these force you to focus on your driving, and they do this so fully that you even question the presence of a radio or air conditioning.
After 2 hours of driving, we returned the car to the garage at Mistral Motors. Sadly, the keys to this wonderful machine had to return to its owner, and for us it was time to head back home.
“So, did you like it?” Carmine said.
The big, happy smile on our faces said it all. Long live the Viper.
We thank Mistral Motors, Carmine, and Alessandro Sessa for letting us to drive tastefully their Dodge Viper.