The Viper is a steely eyed squint, a duster pulled back to reveal a Colt .45 holstered in a gunfighter rig. It isn't a challenge. It is a preemptive strike to would-be challengers.
Viper's styling is perfect for a road-going racecar. It is like driving Speed Racer's Mach Five. Left-lane hogs actually retreat to the right when it appears in their mirrors. The Viper is so wide and squat that it could look a little squished, if not for the slimming racing stripes. Those stripes, of course, are homage to the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe; the Viper GTS is the spiritual successor to that car. If you grew up thinking the Shelby coupe was the coolest-looking machine on the planet, then the Viper GTS should light your fire.
Stoke that fire further by looking under the hood. Tubular headers and cast-aluminum intake runners appear race-worthy. The bare engine block is a work of art. Its massively deep-skirted design, with six-bolt main bearings, seems clearly intended for racing despite its prosaic origins. The Viper's aluminum 8.0-liter V-10 is based on the cast-iron Dodge Ram truck engine. The six-lug wheel hubs may create the impression that the Viper has a one-ton payload capacity, but massive amounts of torque and Indy car-sized contact patches call for serious reinforcement.
The exhaust no longer exits through side pipes, as on the earlier models, but the Viper is still loud and hot inside. The good news is that the heater works very effectively in cold weather. The question is whether the air conditioner can keep up with the heat welling up through the doorsills and the sun baking in through the large rear hatch.
The hatch area is not as roomy as the Corvette's but it is roomy enough to almost consider the Viper a practical sports car. There is plenty of space aft to haul several five-gallon jugs of racing fuel to the track. In an emergency, you could also carry half a dozen grocery bags in the back.
The Alpine stereo rocks! Who would have expected it? It seems a wonder the Viper has even a rudimentary radio, much less this killer, amped, subwoofered boom box of a stereo. Radio reception is decent, which is surprising considering its single strand of antenna embedded in the windshield. The dashboard features traditional round analog gauges, with orange on white graphics. They are clear, legible and nice-looking.
The pedals are positioned perfectly for heel-and-toe downshifting. But there is no dead pedal and no space for the left foot. It is awkward for long drives, or for racing. Nevertheless, the Viper proved more livable day-in and day-out than expected.
The competition-style seats are very comfortable and supportive. They are much better than the seats in any new Porsche. The five-point harness is cool to have; I had to resist the urge to don a racing suit and helmet. But the full harness proves to be a nuisance to use around town because it is so restrictive of movement. Fortunately, the Viper also has a conventional three-point harness for daily use.
There is a mile of headroom, thanks to the Dan Gurney-style roof bubbles. They leave plenty of room for a helmet. The foot well is quite deep, as you might expect from a car with a hood as long as the Viper's, so the car can probably contain NBA-grade altitude comfortably. Getting out can be challenging, though, if you lack the motivation of, say, a mid-race oil fire.