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Dodge Viper GTS Coupe (1997)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By John Heilig

SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  8.0-liter V-10
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  450hp@5200 rpm/490ft-lb@3700 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Six-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:  13 mpg city,  21 mpg highway,  14.6 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  96.2 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  176.7 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  75.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3383 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  19.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  20.0 cu. ft.
TIRES:   P275/40ZR17 front/P335/35ZR17 rear
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature,
oil pressure, battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with CD, anti-lock braking,
dual air bags.

The Dodge Viper GTS was a car I fell in love with the instant I saw it on the auto show floor. It has the radical Dodge Viper styling, but with the serious comfort features of power windows and a real top. While I liked the Viper roadster, I'm probably reaching an age where I feel the coupe version is more practical (as if you can call a car with an 8.0-liter V-10 engine "practical").

This car is painted in "American racing colors" of electric blue with two wide striped running down the center. The top itself features a "double bubble" shape, which was pioneered by Zagato forty years ago in his Fiat Abarths and was recently resurrected by Mazda for the RX-7. The double bubble, combined with the rear spoiler, served to attract dirt to the rear of the car. Within minutes of washing the Viper GTS there is a collection of road dirt accumulated on the back. But for minor problems like that, you won't complain.

Except for the power windows, there aren't a lot of modern conveniences on the Viper GTS. Yes, it has dual air bags and ABS, and yes it has the 450 horsepower V-10 engine, and yes it has warning lights, it is still the kind of basic car you'd expect if you were in the market for a sports car.

The 450 horses reach the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. The shifter falls right at your hand with a concave console that is very comfortable even though it's not padded. The shifts are good, the throws are short, so you can race the Viper GTS to whatever limit you choose (and your license will bear). The Viper has a 200 mph speedometer and gives every indication that it can reach that speed. You can be halfway through that speedometer in less than 10 seconds. With the six-speed transmission, too, 75 mph in sixth is only 1500 rpm, so the engine is barely loafing.

Power levels of the Viper are enormous, as they are with the roadster. In some cases, it is difficult to get all that power to the road. There is just so much, that if you accelerate too hard there's a tendency for the wide rear tires to slip. If you're accelerating in a turn, they want to slip even more. We did a tight turn around a small circle and ended up doing a 360-degree turn around the 360-degree turn when we weren't careful.

Visibility is good with the Viper coupe. Visibility out the rear is better than it is in the roadster. It's always bad using the side mirrors because of the huge flares over the rear tires and the location around the A-pillar. You stare out over three bulges up front; one for the engine and two for the tires. It does not look unlike the view out the windshield of a C-type Jaguar.

Instruments are black-on-white. At night, they become lighted-on-black, since the "black" portion is transparent to allow the light through. Viper also has full instrumentation with a huge tach and speedometer and four accessory gauges splayed out across the dash.

There's a tilt steering wheel, which is a modern convenience we didn't expect. In the absence of a glove box, there is a small mesh bag between the seats and a small cubbyhole there as well. Under the pop-up hatch there is a small trunk. Dodge claims 20 cubic feet of storage, but we doubt it. The total capacity is not unlike that of a Corvette.

The other big advantage is door handles. On the roadster, you reach in through the side curtains, much like in an MGA or other old sports car, and pull the door latch. Here, there is a pushbutton with a finger hook to open the door. It's very simple, yet effective.

We had an opportunity to have a former race driver put the Viper GTS through it paces, and he had a one-word evaluation, "awesome." And that's just what the Viper GTS is, awesome. If you want practicality, you're not going to buy a Viper. If you want fuel economy, you're not going to buy a Viper GTS. But if you want excitement and a lot of fun, if you want a car that will have people along the road smiling at you and giving you thumbs up, then you want the Viper GTS. It's a loud, outrageous car, but it's a lot of fun.