2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10: Quick Full-Throttle Test
Around the country, November 18 and 19,
DCX hosted a Ride, Drive and
Win event entitled "Full Throttle" in Orlando, complete with a Crossfire
SRT-6 giveaway. The underwhelming response was a surprise and a
revelation; for ten days prior to the weekend, full page ads were run in
the Orlando Sentinel, which reaches over a million people. The
weather was stunningly perfect. A cool snap had come in the day before
which lead to low humidity, crisp, clear air, and delightful bright blue
sky, the sort of weather that makes you glad to be in Florida. By 9 am,
the temperature was already up to 67°. There was a breeze blowing,
Nature's air conditioning system working well.
Orange County Convention Center parking area, where the driving road
courses were set up, is a huge facility. The paved parking area is
immense, but I was absolutely alone. There was no traffic whatsoever. As
I followed the signs to the parking area, I was stunned by the lack of
other vehicles there. There were maybe about 75 cars in this huge
parking lot set aside for the Full Throttle event. At the registration
area, I was the only person in line.
The main component of the registration is to allow the
local authorities and DCX security to check your license, to make sure
that your driving record doesn't scare the DCX folks. You also get a
couple chances to win the Crossfire, and you are given cards with SRT on
them so you can get a shot at driving one of the hot SRT models on the
Turning around, I was faced with the most beautiful
Dodge Viper Convertible that
you can imagine. It was gorgeous. I wanted a shot of getting to drive
one of those! I was still marveling at the total lack of participation
by the general public. It was all totally free, with plenty of food,
coffee, soft drinks, bagels, doughnuts, pastries, and more, all spread
out for anyone to help themselves, prepared by Panera Bread, and fully
paid for by DCX.
I made a quick tour of the layout. Three different
driving courses that had about the same distances, curves, cutbacks, and
acceleration lanes. There was a hard braking area as well, if you chose
to get full throttle. A course was set out by itself for the SRT-10
Dodge pickup and the Viper.
Duly noted were models that were NOT there. Missing in
action completely were the PT Cruiser, Dodge Dakota, and Dodge Caliber.
Not a single one on site, not even in the customer parking area! Off the
duty roster included the Dodge Caravan, though several were used by the
staff; and the
Chrysler Town and Country. One
model on display which was a 2006 from a local dealer, and it was the LX
model which had a few options, but not impressive, and not available for
I also want to make a note to Dodge. I
expected to see a couple of police packages there. Maybe not for testing
by the general public, but hey, what more attention getting devices
could you have than a full blown police pack with lights flashing, siren
screaming and that Hemi V-8 roaring around the test driving courses?
Nowhere. Not even mentioned. But take a look at what was there:
As can be expected, the security was provided by the
Orange County Sheriff, which has about 1,100 patrol units. They were all
over the place. They frequently watched the proceedings going on at the
test tracks. As an aside, as Orange County goes, so does the rest of
Central Florida. The Impala is going in on all the surrounding Sheriff
departments and local police departments at a good price — $20,000 or so
including setup, decal installation, radio, and lights. Drive them away.
Hard to beat that, so there are no Dodge pursuits around here.
Now on to getting to drive the Viper! It wasn't easy.
Apparently, at an earlier event, someone got in a Viper and drove it
away! Yes, the person was caught a few blocks away. However, you can
imagine the consternation of the program directors. The cars at the
events for the most part were not even registered or licensed. Due to
this dope stealing a Viper, the show directors decided that since the
Orlando event was the last one of the year, the Viper would not be
available for test drives.
But all was not lost, at least not yet. The lack of
people at the event meant that the guys in charge were readily
accessible. I made my approach. An explanation of what I was doing
there, and that I wrote for a enthusiast site called allpar.com with
about 40,000 or so participants [editor’s note: that's the forum
registration; and Curtis was already registered with Chrysler as a staff
writer] got some attention. My request to drive a Viper, even in a out
of the way part of the parking lot, had not been refused. As I said to
them, just for tactile input, and a general feel of the car. I was
partially rewarded in not receiving a lot of laughs. Some consultations
were held. Finally, the person in charge told me that he would have to
check with his supervisor, and I should check back with him later. In
the meantime, he gave me extra SRT cards for extra drives in the SRT
Around 2 pm, as I was testing the ordinary models, a
roar and a commotion went out in the Viper paddock. The SRT-10 Dodge
pickup and the Viper were on the loose, putting on, and I still don't
get this……. a drifting demo.
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This doesn't represent all the maneuvers that the
drivers put the vehicles through, but it does sort of give you an idea
what was going on. Those are 345/30Z R19 98Y tires.
A full garage was brought along by tractor-trailer.
Tire changes were constant. With the Michelins costing about $420
apiece, retail. They had a few sets out back. Yes, that black Viper is
what I had my eyes set on to drive.
My cell phone rang. It was the production director. He
could not reach his supervisor, but would speak with him in the evening.
Sunday morning dawned clear and somewhat cool. The sun
shone brightly. The production manager gave me a start when he told me
to come on over and talk to him. He had some good news. I was thrown
into a rush. I actually was going to get to test drive a Viper!
Imagine my surprise when the event manager said that
he had checked out allpar.com and was impressed. I was too, not by
allpar, because I already knew, but by the fact that he had taken the
time to check it out. Based upon the large number of people that are
registered in the forums, he agreed to let me “ride” in the Viper.
I met my driver for the occasion, who just happened to
be a cousin of a highly respected family that is well involved with
racing. I didn't press him as to why he wasn't out there raging around
on a track somewhere. The family resemblance however was clearly
Before I even got near the car itself, my driver
commanded my full attention. He was firm in admonishing me to be
extremely careful in entering and exiting the Viper. The reason is shown
Take note of the large "hole" in the side rails, just
ahead of the rear wheel openings. Those are the tips of the engine
exhaust outlets. Since its inception, Viper has been equipped this way
in that the engine exhaust pipes run inside the doorsills. Imagine, they
used to be exposed. I was told in no uncertain terms that it would "fry
your skin quicker than a chicken leg at KFC!" With his voice garnering
my attention, he added that, "you may forget once, but it is a sure
thing you would never forget again!" I asked him if he spoke from
experience and he acknowledged that just about everyone that drives or
owns a Viper gets a mark of distinction. Lead to a few disagreements
with friends, and a break up or two with the significant other.
As I came closer to the driver side door, I could
actually still see the heat waves slowly rolling off the tip. It was
also then that I had a sort of revelation. This looks like a big car at
first. It is not. The wheelbase is 98.8 inches. That is 8.2 feet between
the center of the wheels. As I stood with the ignition key in my hand, I
noted that my host (escort-bodyguard-driver police) was looking at me
Taking a deep breath, and being extremely
conscious of the hot door sill, I swung my leg in. Tell you one thing,
you better be pretty supple. It sort of woke we
up all right. By using my hand on the side of the steering wheel, I
slowly pulled the rest of me inside. I sort of fell inside, and had to
pull my leg with my hand to get the rest of me in. Once that was
accomplished, another tough realization hit me. This cockpit is tight!
Further, when I tried to move around a little to kind of orient myself,
the seat bolster held me firmly in place. That may not be a bad thing,
but it didn't lend itself to maximizing what I thought might be an ideal
driving position for myself. And you got to be careful moving around
because the top is like almost touching your head. I was stunned at the
closeness feeling confined once I was inside. I am not a real fan of
enclosed spaces, and a momentary pang of loss of freedom came over me as
I checked around in the Viper Command Seat. The view outside is
constricted as well. The big convertible roof panels shut off looks to
the right, so the mirror on the right side becomes very critical. Forget
trying to see out the rear. You might be able to see someone who has
taken up a "tail gator" position. The top doesn't give you much view
through the inside rear view mirror. Too narrow.
But, well all right, I am in a Viper! Sitting in the
seat like I knew what I was going to do. While I was scoping out the
instruments, pedal location, and the six speed gear shift, I noted that
the Viper was very warm inside. The temperature was a nice 72° outside,
almost too cool for Florida.
This is the view of what I was looking at. These shots
are from the Viper that was inside with the top down. My little camera
would not focus inside the Viper I was getting ready to drive. Not
enough light and too close to refocus.
This is when you realize you are but a couple steps
from unleashing one of the most powerful cars built in America. A 510
horsepower aluminum engine with 8.3 litres of displacement, (505.6 cubic
inches) laid out in a V-10 with a 90° block. With that rush, forget
about feeling closed in, or what the temperature is as long as you
aren't melting. What makes this go so well is the 535 foot pounds of
twist that is hooked to a 6 speed Tremec transmission. You have gotten a
look at the rear tires. The 19 inchers look like treaded beer kegs under
there. They are in turn mounted to a rear axle with a 3.07 ratio in a
differential that transmits power equally to both rear wheels when it
detects one side attempting to outrun the other. Taking all that power
into consideration, the brakes were far from forgotten. In fact, they
are massive 14 inch vented discs all around that operate through an
upgraded ABS system. The suspension system on the front , which mounts
18 inch tires, consists of control arms, with coil springs, and anti
roll bars. The rear is kept in under the car with control arms, coil
springs and anti roll bar. Fully decked out, like this one, the Viper
checks in with about 3500 pounds of gravity holding it on the ground.
Listed price on this one? Only $86,995.
So, now I look up at my "host". He nods his head. I
slip the key into the ignition lock and twist it. OK, nothing is going
to happen, because this jobbie has a big red "start" button. That is
located directly under the 4 gauge dash panel to my right. Like time has
slowed down, I reach over and press the big red button. It immediately
blasts the big V-10 into an idle. My second seat buddy reaches over and
cranks up the air conditioning. I glance at him, and he informs me that
the V-10 is a massive heat producer. He assured me that I would begin to
notice pretty quickly. I am surprised that it is quiet while it sits in
an idle. I am also surprised at the clutch pedal. Granted, I haven't
driven a stick shift in quite awhile. The Viper clutch pedal is much
lighter than I expected, almost oily feeling. I snick the gear shift a
few times, gauging out the gates. The travel is short, the feeling is
positive, lending confidence to competent gear changes.
I slip the stick into "first" and glance at my
"guide." I am limited to a max run up of 3,000 rpm, carefully watched by
my guard friend, who has promised he'd yank out the key if I went too
far. Just live with it and let's do this.
I began the clutch take up slowly, trying to get a
feel for the car. The tachometer came up to about 1,200 rpm from idle at
700, when all of a sudden, we were launched. Easy. In fact, a lot easier
than I anticipated. I had thought that I would either stall it or send
the rear tires up in clouds of rubber smoke when I broke traction. But,
I didn't, surprising myself. I blipped the throttle, and the engine went
a little past 3,000 rpm; my "watch" person seemed or pretended not to
notice. A slick move of the shifter into second, along with another
quick throttle blip and we were moving out. I had been confined to the
property of the Orange County Convention Center Parking Lots. There are
many, for the place is huge. But, with the Viper, I felt like I was on a
kiddy car track. Slipping into third gear brought the end of one side of
the lot, all too quickly. The big brakes snubbed off the speed like it
was nothing. Well, I suppose, it was, considering.
The instrument panel is laid out very well. Within a
few minutes, you seem to be able to orient yourself to the vital reports
that the fully functioning engine gauges are telling you. All the
switchgear felt positive, and not like they were made somewhere else and
imported to the Viper. The radio controls were familiar to me because I
have the same system in my Chrysler. However, you have to take your eyes
off the road when you are locating stations, or changing CDs. The switch
gear not only looks all the same, it feels the same, and for me, is a
tad too small for my fumbly big finders.
My "partner" was right. The heat generated by the V-10
is massive. You can feel it coming through the door sills from the
exhaust. The firewall also tosses out a lot of heat, that you feel that
in your legs. As well, the center console becomes a heat conduit, making
your arm uncomfortable instead of being a nice spot to rest it. You
definitely need and will absolutely appreciate the air conditioning.
I pulled up to a stop, and turned the Viper to go into
another direction, when I noticed something else that felt a touch odd.
The steering wheel is offset to my right! It doesn't line up straight.
Once I noticed it, it did tend to bother me. I began to try to
compensate through the use of the right hand more than the left. Silly,
I know, but you have to wonder why this would be so in a high zoot car
like this. The only other car I ever knew that was set up that way was
the throwaway Chevrolet Chevette, GM's answer to Ford's Falcon in
competing for throw away cars of the century.
This side of the parking area was much longer. Perhaps
as much as a mile or better. I slipped up to my 3,000 (well, maybe a
little….. bit higher) through 4 gears. By then, it was time to haul the
Viper back to stop. I did note that the ride was hard. Small tar strips
across the drive transmitted quite definitely into the suspension, which
I could feel. I had no way to really tell, but I couldn't help wondering
if I would be willing to use the Viper on a daily commute to anywhere.
Given some of the concrete roads, even around here that 18 wheeled
traffic has beaten down, the ride can be plenty rough.
Since this was an unplanned outing, I had no way to
tell what sort of acceleration this sling shot might be capable of,
however, through the seat of your pants, you know, that it is straining
to go. Just a jab of the pedal away. Even my short pokes on the go pedal
resulted in instantaneous response, shooting forward like a shot. The
torque delivery is smooth, and linear, with no sudden surprises. Just
sheer pure power all totally under the control of your right foot. Much
easier to keep in check than I had figured it would be.
My guardian declared that it was time for the show.
Yes, I do get to ride in the drifting exhibition, with my partner at the
helm. That was part of the agreement I signed, when I waived my right to
go on living for a shot at the Viper. Now, there is the situation on
extracting yourself from this box. I had to step out to prevent leg
fricassee, then pull my head forward, and twist so that I could get my
arm onto the top of the car, to enable myself to get free. I wouldn't
enjoy that very much every time I drove the car. And it was far from
graceful, believe me. On the way around for the switch, I opened the
trunk. Wow. Not much room there. I can't imagine some of the guys that I
know choosing the Viper to go out on the town with. The boot end
wouldn't hold their golf clubs and cases of beer going away. You might
be able to haul enough to make it for two for a couple days over a
weekend if you make certain that the luggage is small.
Being a young guy, my driver slips in and out of the
Viper with ease. Why not? It is in my opinion a younger person's car. It
is good that Dodge builds such a monster, however, I would like to see
something a little more refined. I mean, hey, an anvil is an anvil!
Given the development that has been had for the Viper, the original
intent is very much still in the genes. The price of admission no doubt
keeps a lot of kids from ever being able to afford a Viper.
Now, he slips in behind the wheel, and I struggle to
insert myself into the passenger seat. I click the seat belt into place,
and before I can look to straighten myself up, I am slammed back into
the seat! The engine screams with a loud belly roar, and the Viper is
blasting across the parking lot. I can't get a sense of how fast,
because I can't get my head up! No kidding! The punch from that V-10 at
full blast generates so much force, that you are just pinned!
I am gonna tell ya, I have ridden or driven a whole
lot of very powerful cars. A couple of early model 300s. A 1962 Super
Stock Plymouth 413 that my brother ended up racing. A 1964 426 Hemi that
my brother had for racing. Some pretty darn hot police packages with the
440 V-8s. And a couple of street ready 426 Hemi V-8s that were docile
enough for the wives to operate getting groceries from the store but
would rip off stupendous acceleration. Yes, these cars were fast.
One of the greatest automotive writers was a gentleman
named Tom McCahill. He began his car testing for Mechanix Illustrated
by sneaking off with a 1948 Ford Tudor and wringing it out. He coined
the phrase "beautiful brute" when he went all eloquent over some of the
original Chrysler 300s that he tested. He went on to say of the later
models that they were like "steel fists inside velvet gloves, looking
all fine, but with a knock out punch when called on." With all due
respect to him, and not to re-coin a phrase lightly, let me say that the
Viper is just a brute. A steel fist that is not in any sort of glove,
and doesn't apologize for it either!
In my entire experience, I have never, ever, felt a
car accelerate so hard! It was just like being in an airplane that had
suddenly gone to full take off thrust by a half. I never saw it coming,
and it is just an experience that cannot be appreciated unless you go
and get in one of these torque delivery monsters for yourself. Let me
say this. At no time did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Not even
a single little bit. The Viper was tough, competent, and straight. My
driver tossed it around, spun it out, slammed through the gears, flipped
it back and forth across the track, slammed on the brakes, downshifted
like crazy, accelerated with his foot stuck right on the floor, and
never at any time did he make me feel like he should do anything less.
In fact, the sensation was better than riding on the Hulk roller coaster
at Universal Orlando Resort! And I rode that thing many a time.
The Viper has its place among vehicles. Really, it is
not something that I would choose to be a daily commuter. Although, for
weekend outings, and just blasting around, I would not fail to have one,
and hey, maybe two or three of them! Just be cautioned that these are
tough brutish types of cars. They aren't meant to be Sunday go to Church
meeting rides. Blast by the Church, yes!
No doubt there are more sophisticated, perhaps less
expensive, more comfortable, cars in this class. But a Viper is a Viper,
and there isn't anything else that can come close. A vehicle built in a
class by itself.