It was recently in Autoblog how Dodge has restarted production of the Dodge Viper after a two week layoff, this follows a reduction of force for the Viper staff last fall after more slow sales. The employees were reassigned within Chrysler and not laid off.
But the Dodge sports car has never been a great seller, has never even been close to the legendary Corvette in sales or popularity and how many do you see on the street?
Now granted the Corvette has been around since 1953 and the Viper only since 1992.
Also the Viper has always virtually been a street legal race car aka “track car”, while the Corvette (with the exception of the high performance ZR1 and Z06 models), is more refined and more affordable. The Viper is a 8 liter V10 cylinder beast with a manual transmission. The Corvette has a automatic transmission option and several V8 engines to choose from.
The Viper’s intial intention was to (in the words of former Chrysler president Bob Lutz), “Be a modern day version of the Cobra”. Now I’m not talking about the higher end model of the Ford Mustang, I’m talking about the late Carroll Shelby’s pure racing car. Two seats, one huge engine, no top, no weight. It was a race car, bare bones interior, all power and handling. Originally made in the mid 1960’s, if you find one in good shape from back then its well in the six figures in values.
Without compromise the Viper exceeded expectations in being that car, but how many people want a race car with license plates? Seems not many, over 700 new Vipers are in stock in Dodge dealerships around the country, enough to make Chrysler pause on production and look real hard into making this car.
This is what you call a “niche vehicle”, or low production. Cars like the Corvette and beautiful retro Mazda MX5 (formally Miata celebrating its 25th birthday), are more successful because they are more roadster than hot rod. You can drive it everyday, cruise and its fun to drive and look good while doing it.
The Viper is made for one thing, go real fast and hold on to your hat. Now in fair comparison when you look at foriegn exotic sports cars such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Bugatti & Koenigsegg, they all have race inspired cars that can easily go for as much a seven figures and some are only produced in the single digits. And compared to them the Viper is a steal but were not talking about mass produced vehicles, just exotics for exclusive buyers.
Would you believe the best selling year for the Corvette is 1979? Same goes for the Camaro and those were some of the most low powered versions of that car (it was post oil shortage and they had small block V8 engines making under 200 horsepower), but they were good looking cars and people liked driving them.
Don’t get me wrong the Viper is a good looking car if you like an aggressive hard core sports car. But for anyone who has been in a race car (I’ve done a NHRA ride along), going over 120 miles an hour is hard riding and race cars aren’t Cadillacs, it will beat you up. But it’s a thrill like none other.
But lets be honest here, Corvettes are often a “midlife crisis car”, and it fits the bill as part sports car, part toy and a rolling fountain of youth. Same for the Mazda MX5. A Viper is simply letting your inner Mario Andretti out.
And as Chrysler is finding out, there just isn’t that much demand for that, especially at over $ 100,000.
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