Snaking, braking and shaking my head through the 2.2 miles and 11 turns of California's Laguna Seca raceway is just about the surest way I know of to keep my ADHD under control. And driving a 2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10 Coupe around Laguna Seca pretty much scares up 1,000 percent of your concentration. And to be honest, fun doesn't get any more fun than this.
It's especially true that the $83,995 Viper SRT-10 can only really show off its best stuff at a track. The rest of the SRT (for Street Racing Technology — they're the Chrysler Group's in-house performance-tuning nuts) lineup is a blast on the track, but you can also approach their speeding, sticking and stopping limits on your favorite twisty two-lane stretch of public pavement. In everything from the super-Neon known as the SRT-4 to the Charger SRT-8 to the upcoming Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, driving at ten-tenths is something you can flirt with. Not so with the Viper SRT-10 Coupe, it's got the same eerie "racecar-for-the-street" outlaw aura that the Ferrari F40 had. No flirting here, only commitment.
Torquing the Torque
That divine commitment starts with the Viper Coupe's showpiece: an aluminum-block 8.3-liter, V10 torque machine. The engine's 510 horsepower recommends it highly, but now it's got 535 pound-feet of pure accelerative torque — the lion's share of which is on tap from as low as 1,500 rpm — that inspires the rear-drive Viper to swallow up straights quicker than anything I've ever driven. Five hundred thirty-five lb-ft of torque. I think that that's enough thrust to throw the planet off of its axis, but I'm not entirely sure. It feels like it, though.
Sifting such ungodly power through the heavy-duty six-speed manual gearbox, with the engine's 10 cylinders sounding like a construction crew speed-hammering overtime at the Gates of Hell, makes it easy to believe SRT's claims of a 0-60 of under 4 seconds and a quarter-mile time in the low 12s.
Checking in at the corners is a lightweight, but beefy, aluminum suspension setup of double wishbones all around, front and rear antiroll bars, and coil-over shocks. And like nearly everything else about the Viper, the wheels and tires are massive: 18-inch forged-alloy wheels in front, 19s at the rear, clad in Michelin run-flat tires, sized — get this — 275/35ZR-18 (front) and 345/30ZR-19 (rear).
It is in this handling arena, that the Viper SRT-10 Coupe acts most like a racecar. It's either on or off, big-league style, with little margin to play with. If you insist on playing tail-out like Gurney or Villeneuve, low- and moderate-speed corners do afford you some throttle-on mitigation thanks to a speed-sensing Dana limited-slip differential. A Viper that snaps away at high speed, however, is pretty much a bad idea no matter what your last name is.
Extra-massive Brembo brakes — 14-inch ventilated discs at all four corners, with dual-opposing calipers at each wheel — suck speed away from the heavy coupe so quickly, you can feel the mass trying to pull free of the bounds of gravity. And the pedal feel is racecar solid, with short travel and immediate, positive response.
The Crowning Achievement
Let's take a moment now, turning our thoughts to the "coupe" part of the Dodge Viper SRT-10 Coupe. As a convertible, the Viper is a gnashing, angry snarl. But the SRT-10 Coupe's fixed "double-bubble" roof, like that of the Viper GTS Coupe that preceded it, finishes the design. Now, from the Viper's louvered, 10-acre hood to its kick-up rear spoiler and shrouded, wraparound taillights, nothing breaks up the scary, sexy lines formed in composite and steel.
From Where I Sit
The only thing diminutive about the Viper Coupe is its two-seat interior. The topless Viper seemed more accommodating because it offered all the headroom in the universe. The coupe closes that option down. The long-legged especially, will need to adjust the super-supportive form-fitting seats to find an acceptable headroom/legroom balance point. The pedals are set slightly left of center, and they're tightly grouped, so wear your thinnest pair of driving shoes. How tight was it in the footbox? There were times I swore the brake and accelerator were stacked right on top of one another. Made for awesome heel-and-toe work when I got used to it, however.
There was no sweat getting used to the Viper's seats and steering wheel — both were thick, grippy and leather-wrapped. And staring dead-on into the huge center tachometer reminds you why you came here, as do the 220-mph speedo and the red pushbutton starter.
The Last Lap
Laguna Seca never stood a chance. To thread the SRT-10 Coupe through the track's hairpins, uphill/downhill sweepers, and the infamous "Corkscrew," is to turn your adrenaline tap wide open. When you nail a lap, you feel perfect; and when you duff one, you feel like a donkey. The 2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10 Coupe punctuates those feelings, and really brings them home, with its race-bred mechanicals and track-trued specs.
I still have nightmares, and I still wake up laughing.
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