The Dodge Viper Never Became a Modern Car

The Dodge Viper is reaching the ultimate end of its production after a legacy of 25 years but, boy, is it going out strong.

The Gen V Viper ACR is the last high-performance model of the Viper, and the ACR badge has been a staple throughout multiple generations of the car. It stands for American Club Racing, and the model itself stands for the pinnacle of track dominance. Maximizing performance in any racing environment is the premise, and it was originally executed through engine enhancements and suspension modification to corral the rambunctious Viper. As the generations evolved, so did the changes to the ACR, and the performance jumped accordingly.

The Gen IV ACR carried over significant changes from the Gen II version, with the easiest to detect being the aerodynamics. Carbon fiber dive planes drive down the front of the car, while the giant wing plants the rear, coaxing it through a track setting with unbelievable grip. These changes allowed the Gen IV ACR to lap nearly every other supercar available around the Nürburgring in 2011, all for just a smidge above the $100,000 mark.

The latest installment is supposedly their last, and Dodge certainly saved the best for it. The aerodynamics are now turned to the extreme, so says Dodge.

The Extreme Aero package is an option for the new ACR, and one that is arguably necessary for the dedicated track attacker. The package is not unique in what it features, but exactly how it features those things. It includes a dual-element rear wing (adjustable), front splitter extension (removable), hood louvers (removable), rear diffuser blades (removable too!) and two additional front dive planes that in some combination add up to a track day experience that is efficient, if not personalized. As a result, the Extreme Viper ACR shattered production car lap records at more than a dozen famous tracks, dethroning hypercars ten times the price.

This was all achieved because the Viper was about simply two things: pure speed, and…well, no, there isn’t really a second one. It’s mainly just speed. The Viper was never about cutting-edge tech, it never even used to have the electronic aids that other cars use to shave off precious seconds. All you have at your disposal is a massive naturally-aspirated V10 and a six-speed manual.

But, unfortunately, that’s part of why it’s going away.

Supercars are defined by their performance, and the manual transmission is being left behind by fantastically quick dual-clutch transmissions. With that comes an ease of accessibility and a driving experience that can be tapped into by virtually anyone. But the Viper ACR has only found itself loved by the smallest niche market.

And we found out why.

Its pricier competition, cars like the Porsche GT3 RS and McLaren 675LT, can double as sufficiently capable road cars off the track if need be. In the real world, in traffic, the Viper is just the worst. It certainly makes you wish you could open it up at the track, but really, it makes you wish you were simply anywhere else. A lot of that comes from the effort of operating its manual transmission, a pain in any car in traffic; though at the same time, I praise its inclusion of a manual, considering almost none of its modern competition gives you that option anymore.

Even once you come to terms with its clutch, the Viper still isn’t particularly generous. Its gearbox surely isn’t developed with low-speed shifts in mind, which makes the labyrinth of downtown West Chester a nightmare to navigate as we take it out for a local shoot. The adrenaline that kicks in at high speeds helps yank the short but weighty shifter into gear, but trudging along at minimal speed forces you to cope with it more reluctantly. You can certainly keep it in high gear around town to avoid the process, but some things you can’t avoid – like real world roads.

Any – literally any – imperfection in the road is crippling. In the late winter, Pennsylvania roads are in some state of disrepair, and the Viper makes you pay, and makes you regret every decision you’ve ever made up until this point. It’s not particularly darty when swerving around the little bumps, as it’s a car developed to tackle the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, which seems like hardly a task compared to West Chester University’s campus. So when you have no choice but to traverse the battered roads, you better brace for impact. The seats don’t do much in supporting you in that regard.

But then I found myself laughing. I looked in the rear-view mirror, saw that towering wing trailing me and thought, “this is so ridiculous.” Passers-by stopped and watched, likely wondering how on earth this is a thing that is allowed on the street.

Because in reality, it doesn’t have a real place outside the track, and that’s probably why it will now have no place in the car market in the future. It will be left in a glorious past where it may rightfully belong.