1995 Dodge Viper

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1995 Dodge Viper
Available in 1 styles:  Viper 2dr Coupe shown
Asking Price Range
$3,655–$71,399
Estimated MPG

12 city / 21 hwy

Expert Reviews

By 

Orlando Sentinel

Here's a question readers, co-workers, relatives and friends ask me all the time: ''What's the one sports car you would buy if money were no object?''

That's always an easy question to answer. I usually say: ''Money is no object. I don't have any.''

But that flip reply really doesn't address the issue.

And when that question popped up again recently, I really started thinking about it. If money weren't a concern, what sports car would I buy?

The mind reels at the possibilities when money doesn't matter.

I could pick from any sports car on the market - everything from a $20,000 Miata to a $360,000 Bugatti EB 110 Super Sports. And let us not forget those credible alternatives in between - the $70,000 Acura NSX, the $80,000 12-cylinder Jaguar XJS convertible and the mighty $120,000 Mercedes-Benz 600 SL.

But after taking a good, hard look at what's available, I narrowed it down to two sports cars: the Dodge Viper R/T 10 by Chrysler and the Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet.

Here's why: First, I want something I can depend on. I don't have anything against Italian or British sports cars, but I don't want anything exotic like a Ferrari, Lotus or Lamborghini - gorgeous but trouble-prone cars that have been known to require the services of prayer-mumbling mechanics and even divine intervention to keep running.

Moreover, the Viper and the Porsche don't require a cadre of technicians for a tuneup, parts are easily obtained, and neither car is so expensive and rare that it couldn't easily be replaced if stolen or wrecked.

Second, my sports car has to be a convertible. So that rules out the Lotus Esprit and the Acura NSX. Also, I want a real sports car, not a quick luxury machine. Count out the Jaguar and the Mercedes.

There are some people in this world - lottery winners, million-dollar athletes, corporate bigwigs, and those who inherit fortunes - to whom money is not a factor when choosing a car. Because I'm not oneof them, hitting the big Kahuna in the Saturday lottery drawing is the only hope for working stiffs like me.

Generally, I'm not one given to an inordinate amount of daydreaming or fantasizing. But if I wake up one Sunday morning and find that I hold the winning lottery ticket, you can bet there soon will be a new sports car parked in my driveway.

The Viper and the 911 won't take all my winnings, either. They are priced somewhat sanely - if you are a millionaire, that is - at roughly $70,000 for the Viper and $73,000 for the Porsche.

The Viper actually has a retail price of about $54,500 and change, but the V-10-powered Viper is in such high demand that you'll likely pay the dealer about $10,000 over the sticker price.

The beautiful thing about my job as an automotive writer is that I don't have to stumble upon those six magic lottery numbers to make this fantasy come true.

All I have to is pick up the phone and launch into some inspired whining and beggin g.

So I took a deep breath and called Chrysler and Porsche and told them I wanted to test the Dodge Viper against 911 Carrera convertible.

Both automakers said yes - as long as I agreed to put gas in each car. So I rolled up my pennies, nickels and dimes and took both cars for a test drive.

There's no point in driving at triple digit speeds around here - members of the law enforcement community tend to have little patience for such things. Anyway, in traffic-choked Central Florida, the best way to enjoy a sports car is to carve up curvy roads and blast past slower traffic.

And what I found was this: These two sports cars deliver blistering performance in radically different ways for about the same price. They are both wickedly fun to drive and completely dependable. Both sports cars massage your ego - they make you feel great when you're behind the wheel - and deliver excellent value for the money.

PERFORMANCE

If absolute power corrupts abs lutely, there's no better way to go asunder of the law than in the driver's seat of a 400-horsepower monster like the Viper.

Simply put, this car is amazing. I have never driven a faster, more powerful car.

Motor Trend tested a Viper recently and clocked a 0-to-60 mph time of just 4.5 seconds. That puts the $70,000 Viper in contention with such cars as the $239,000 Lamborghini Diablo.

When you twist the key, the 10-cylinder engine crackles to life with an impatient, furious rumble. Rev it up and the exhaust belches forth a deep and vicious sounding snarl.

Torque - not horsepower - is the force that rotates the wheels. In looking at specifications for every sports car on the market, I can find no other vehicle that has as much torque (465 pounds per foot at 3600 rpm) than the Viper.

All that technical jargon means this: There is no car on the road able to stay ahead of the Viper.

The Viper comes with a six-speed manual gearbox. But you need only the first two cogs to reach 65 mph and beyond. First will get you to about 40 mph in a second or two. Second gear will take you the rest of the way at warp speed. The other four gears are for cruising. In fifth at 65 mph, the engine is barely idling at about 1500 rpm.

You could drive the Viper as hard as you want and likely never have to rev it over 4500 rpm.

The Viper's clutch pedal was smooth, but it took a lot of strength to press it. The shifter, however, is terrific. It clicked smoothly into each gear, and the throws were short and precise.

An experienced driver would be able to reach 60 mph in about 6 seconds in the 911 Carrera, which was equipped with a special automatic transmission. This is not quite as fast as the Viper's 4.5 seconds, but it is still more than enough to quicken the pulse of the average driver. The same 911 with a manual gearbox is considerably faster than our test car. It can do 0-to-60 in just 5.4 seconds, according to Porsche.

Our dark red Porsche test car came with the German automaker's novel Tiptronic transmission, a computer-controlled four-speed automatic with an electronic shifting system that gives you the option of shifting manually.

The shift lever is mounted on the floor, and it contains two gates or slots. The first one is conventional, with detents for park, reverse, drive and so forth. The driver shifts into manual mode by moving the lever to the right into the second gate. Pushing the lever up or pulling it down shifts the gears manually.

This year, the 911 with the Tiptronic transmission has buttons built into the steering wheel that allow the driver to shift the transmission without moving the lever.

Generally, I found the 911 to be fairly tame - until the engine revs up to about 4500 rpm. Then it's as if you suddenly are riding a horse that has been kicked in the ribs with sharp spurs.

At 4500 rpm, a surge of power from the six-cylinder horizontally opposed ''boxer'' engi ne thrusts the car forward in a brutally fast and surprising manner.

With the Viper, you can leave virtually every other car at the stoplight or else pass with thundering violence.

The Porsche is more of a thinking man's car. You'll have to pick your skirmishes carefully and learn the car's limits. Passing slower cars is the Porsche's most entertaining trait. You approach stealthily, wind up the engine by downshifting one gear and then rocket past.

In terms of mechanical refinement, the rear-engine Porsche feels light years ahead of the Viper. The Porsche impresses with its high-quality German engineering.

The 911 starts right away and delivers its highly calibrated power smoothly. The car feels great from the get-go. On the other hand, the Viper shakes and rumbles like the a classic American hot rod, and it blows people and cars away with its raw power and thundering exhaust sounds.

HANDLING

There are at least two things the Viper and the 9 1 have in common: bone-jarring, ultra-stiff suspension systems and brakes that require a hard push of the pedal for a fast stop.

Neither car can roll over anything larger than a speed bump without its suspension systems reaching the limits of its travel and making the car bounce stiffly. Generally, a stiff suspension system gives cars the ability to stay straight and stable during high-speed cornering. And both sports cars are absolutely superb at attacking sharp corners at high speeds.

Porsche engineers have had 30 years to fine tune the 911's suspension setup, so excellence is to be expected.

The Viper, however, proved itself to be a world-class competitor - and that came as something of a surprise. The Viper is only 3 years old, but it handles like a thoroughbred.

For decades, Detroit could make cars that accelerated like a rocket, but when it came to world-class handling, Motown iron almost always left something to be desired.

Not this time.

Underneath the Viper's wildly aggressive body is a four-wheel independent suspension system, power rack-and-pinion steering and aircraft strength four-wheel disc brakes. The suspension system is mounted on a rigid steel space frame. And that keeps the body from shaking when you drive over bumps.

The steering is excellent. Response is quick and crisp. In fact, the feel of the steering wheel is close to perfect. At about 3,500 pounds, the Viper is no lightweight, yet the car doesn't feel heavy. Much of that is because of the steering system.

When you round a corner in the Viper, it takes just a very slight movement of the wheel. The car's stiff springs keep the Viper absolutely flat.

One drawback: the Viper's massive 17-inch tires restrict its turning radius. It takes a bus-like 40.5 feet to turn a complete circle. The Porsche makes the same turn in 38.5 feet - still large, but more reasonable.

Also, you may find that the Viper's power-assisted, four-wheel disc brakes take a bit of getting used to. They are strong, but you'll have to give the pedal a hefty jab to get the brakes to bite hard.

After one two-hour trip in the Viper through stop-and-go traffic, I was tired from all the shifting and braking. The car is not easy to drive in city traffic; it's much better on open roads.

The Porsche feels as if it has a bit more refinement and finesse in the way it handles, but I noticed the brakes in the 911 also require a heavy foot for quick stops.

At 3,120 pounds, the 911 is smaller, lighter and a bit more agile than the Viper. You could drive this car all day without feeling fatigued.

The 911 also is outfitted with a four-wheel independent suspension system. The car is very quiet over the road. The steering is wonderfully lively, but as with the Viper, the Porsche's heavy-duty brakes take a lot of leg strength to get them to bite hard.

Because the engine is in the rear, the Porsche offers a completely different sensation than the Viper - and most other sports cars. In the Porsche, the driver has a better view of the road than in the Viper. In the Porsche, you look down over the sloping hood. You sit low in the Viper, and it's hard to determine where the long hood ends.

The difference is you feel more in control of the Porsche than the Viper when it comes to quick, tricky maneuvers such as squirting through a hole in traffic.

All in all, the Porsche is less of a beast and less taxing to drive than the Viper, even though both cars perform exceptionally well.

FIT AND FINISH

When it comes to user friendliness, there is no contest here. The Porsche is a modern car with the accouterments one might expect in a $70,000 sports machine.

The Viper is about as modern as Noah's Ark.

You won't find such things as outside door handles or roll-up windows in the Viper. Air conditioning, at $1,600, is the only option. Our test car didn't have air conditioning, and that made driving somewhat uncomfortable in rainy, 90-degree weather. However, the incredible rush of power tends to offset the feeling of inconvenience.

I'll say one thing for the Viper - during a period of daily heavy rains, the car proved to be waterproof. I consider that amazing considering the unorthodox (for modern cars) way in which the lift-off convertible top and snap-in side windows attach to the car.

To call the set-up crude would be an understatement. The side windows fit in slots in the door. A ring is used to unzip each window. To open the doors or lock the car, you have to reach and do it by using the inner door handles. The Viper's convertible top unlatches from the front and rear and lifts off as a complete assembly. It stores in the trunk.

The Porsche has electric windows and an automatic power top that goes up and down with the press of a button.

Both cars come with excellent, body-hugging bucket seats. The ones in the Porsche are more flexible to adjust. In the Viper, you can only slide the seats back and forth on their tracks. The Porsche has a power driver's seat that tilts, raises and lowers and moves back and forth. The Porsche also has rear seats, but they are useless. There is no rear legroom of which to speak.

Footroom is a sore point - there is precious little room for the driver's left foot in both cars. In the Viper, I found I tended to tuck my left foot behind the clutch pedal once I reached cruising speed.

The Porsche's pedals are mounted in the floor, not under the dash. There is a small space between the brake pedal and the left kick panel for your foot, but I found I couldn't get comfortable. The Viper has very little storage space. The snap-in windows and the convertible top take up all available room in the trunk.

In terms of dash design, both cars are excellent. One of the nice things about a true sports car is that it usually has a snug cockpit with all the important controls lessthan an arm's length away. In the Porsche, however, the radio was difficult to tune because it had small, poorly labeled buttons.

Our bright yellow Viper worked flawlessly. The car features a full set of analog gauges with a white background and red needles. They are attractive and effective. The Porsche's easy-to-read analog gauges are also classy looking.

Chrysler has made several big improvements since the Viper first hit the street in 1992. Heat from the engine no longer finds its way inside the car and bakes your feet. And the fit and finish of the body panels, the paint and quality of materials of the hand-built Viper is first-rate.

Porsche has practically overhauled the 911 for 1995. Technological advances have reduced scheduled maintenance on the 911's engine, the suspension system has been reworked, the styling is new, and the price has been lowered. The Porsche also is a quality machine.

After driving both cars, logic would seem to dictate that the Porsche is the sensible, smarter buy.

But it's not that simple.

The Dodge has something over the Porsche other than performance that the 911 - and indeed no other car in recent memory - can equal.

Wherever you go in the Viper, people are attracted to the car. Senior citizens, children, women, men all know what it is, and they want to look at it, touch it and ask questions about it. Drivers pull up beside you on the road and flash the thumbs up.

It'salmost as if the Viper's all-American heritage - there's isn't a foreign-made part in it - means something special to people. Its aggressive styling and thundering performance already have become legend.

Finally, if the object of spending a lot of money on a sports car is to get where you are going quickly and to make you feel special along the way, the Dodge Viper - despite the ransom you have to pay to the dealer and despite its crude amenities - leads the pack by a country mile.

If money didn't matter, theViper ould be the sports car I'd own.

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