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This week's whip: Dodge Viper (!)

2008 Dodge Viper - Photo: Dan Roth/Examiner
Dodge Viper - Photo:Dan Roth/Examiner

600 horsepower, six forward speeds, and a very marginal cupholder. The Dodge Viper has its priorities in order, for sure. For all that it's a wild and hairy sports car in the old-style idiom, the Viper is shockingly benign, too. In a car like this, it will always be possible to do something imprudent and end up in a problematic situation, but when treated with the respect it commands, the Viper is an easy-driving American Exotic.

Times looked grim for the Viper not too long ago, but the car's Conner Avenue production facility has reopened, and once again, new snakes are being born. It's hard not to love this thing; all the burliness brings with it a winning charm. While it's obvious that the Viper is largely hand-built, it's a quality job. The car is solid and doors click shut with precision; the Viper is not a kit car, an impression furthered by the nicely turned out interior. Sure, this is still a car that carries stickers warning against idiotic driving, and anyone's first encounter with Chrysler's ongoing refinement of the Cobra recipe is bound to be at least a little intimidating, but once you settle your nerves you find that car and pilot speak the same language. Every now and then, the Viper taps you on the shoulder and says something like "yes, you could pick off that 20-car string of slow movers in a roar of ten-cylinder thrust, but if you mess up, we'll both die. Just sayin'..."

While some will see the Viper as pure excess, it really is a treat to drive. It's surprisingly composed, happy to lope along in 5th gear at 65 (6th is too steep for anything below about 75), the ride doesn't pound your spine, and with the top and windows up, you can even hear the radio. Despite being a convertible, the Viper also carries what's got to be the most powerful air conditioning system in recent memory, handy to have, since the cabin becomes a slow-roaster otherwise. The clutch has a stiff return, and the Tremec transmission will serve a dreaded 1-4 skip if you don't goose it enough in first, but how do you criticize that in a classical sports car? The Viper is exactly as it should be, and it never fails to induce a grin when the burble from the sidepipes transitions into a wail. For now, it's sidestepped the ax, or being sold off as a brand to the highest bidder. Welcome back.