2009 Dodge Viper SRT-10: Note from the Valet Desk
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2009 Dodge Viper SRT-10: Note from the Valet Desk

September 24, 2010

2009 Dodge Viper SRT-10 by Scott Jacobs.jpg

It doesn't matter really matter which hotel it was, since all the resort hotels in Orange County look the same, a kind of faux Tuscan architecture that they must get from somefranchise outlet, like the company that does Starbucks stores. In any case the valet guys were wildly excited to have the 2009 Dodge Viper SRT-10 parked in front of their hotel.

This is kind of interesting, since Orange County here in Southern California is the country's capital of self-indulgence, so there are plenty of cars with breathtaking price tags on the street. And yet the valet guys were way more interested in the Viper than some boring old Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG and they were very disappointed to hear that this car is going away. How can it be that old, one of them said to me.It's like it just got here.

It's a reminder of just how well this car turned out. Not that any of us would have guessed as much when it first started banging around the Chrysler design studios in 1988 (the 1989 concept car is pictured below). And in 1991 when we were all standing there in the old Hill & Vaughn vintage-car restoration shop in Venice, California, as the production car was introduced after years of hype that recalled the Chrysler TC by Maserati, the Viper seemed like little more than a marketing excercise.

1989 Dodge Viper Concept Vehicle by Chrysler LLC.jpg

Phil Hill's old shop was just a mile or so from the old Cobra facility at 1042Princeton Drive and we all squirmed as Chrysler trotted out one ex-Cobra racer after another to help energize the Viper's long-awaitedunveiling in production guise. (We even got a souvenir pencil sketch of the event to commemorate the moment.) Of course Carroll Shelby was there to give the car his endorsement, which even then wasn't exactly a rare thing. Lee Iacocca was still leading Chrysler in those years, and it seemed like yet another publicity stunt from the man who brought us the Ford Mustang -- and the Chrysler K-car.

How wrong we were. Bob Lutz, then Chrysler's product czar, was always a sucker for anything with a big motor (as you'd expect an ex-fighter pilot to be), and he was right. Tom Gale, Chrysler's design chief, might have started out as a humble body engineer at GM, but he was right, as he was with all the great designs he and his staff developed in thelate 1980s and 1990s that ultimately saved Chrysler from the trash heap of history. And the 85 guys that Chrysler chief engineer Roy Sjoberg put on the project of making a car out of some wacky ideas from a bunch of executives were also right.

The Viper has done everything Chrysler hoped. It created a tough image for the company. It gave the company international credentials when it won its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And most of all the Viper became a car that everybody wanted but not everybody could buy, something very different for Chrysler. Since Viper production began late in 1991, something more than 25,000 examples have been built. Think about how much they have accomplished.

We're going to miss this Viper when the lighter, Euro-style Viper now being developed replaces it for 2012. Especially the guys at the valet desk.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

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