2009 Dodge Viper

Just Look at This Old Coot With His New Toy

This is an out of character car for me to wind up with but, it is just so outrageous that I had to buy one. My God, 500 cubic inches, 600 horsepower and 200+mph top speed. How cool is that? But, there's more to the Viper story than that. Those of you that have read these pages will remember that I was on one foot and then the other about buying a Harley and going on and on about saving for tomorrow and denying yourself today. Now wait a minute, I wasn't lecturing anyone, I was recapping how I lived my financial life and concluding that it's time to spend some of that money 'cause there's not going to be all that many "tomorrows" to save for. The last couple of years really drove that point home.

My Dad died a little over a year ago(just after his 99th birthday) and the last thing he taught me was unintended. In a way, I think those unintended lessons we give our children carry the most weight. Kids are pretty smart and model themselves after what we do-not what we say. Well, for me, it came out a little different. It was more like: "Don't do what I say and don't do what I do." Picture this, the old guy had scrimped and saved all his life, saving for tomorrow 'cause "he might need that money someday". For years, his shopping list consisted of TopRamen(10 for a buck),chicken legs and wings($5.00 for a ten pound sack, white bread(4 loaves for a buck) and el cheapo canned tuna(that tuna would gag a cat). He would only shop at a local discount grocery store that sold this crap. He wouldn't buy new clothes 'cause he would "never get the wear out of them." Kicked and bitched and moaned over every nickle-dime phone charge and fuel bill. Flatly refused to pay some bills contending that those charges were outrageous. Of course I ragged on him about this silliness but I might as well been talking to the wall.

So anyway, the last year of his life, he asked(told) me to take over his financial affairs and manage his caregiving. Managing his caregiving is a whole different story and I won't bother to recount the frustrations and anxiety that generated. Suffice to say that the last year of his life, I had to arrange 7 by 24 caregiver attention for him in his home and that cost him over $100,000. I was named executor of his will and it fell to me to mop up his financial affairs. First thing to do was go through his house to see what the family wanted and what went to the dump. Lo and behold, I find an envelope stuffed full of Savings Bonds(over $200,000 worth) that he and Mom had bought about 30 years ago. He had forgotten about them. Now, in addition to this, he had his house and about $250,000 in the bank. Mr. TopRamen could have bought that stupid discount grocery even allowing for his outrageously expensive medical care. Living on chicken wings and wearing 50 year old clothes when you had those bucks? Saving for tomorrow when you are in your late nineties? Just how many "tomorrows" were you expecting bud?

That's the first part of the lesson but the second part is what really depressed me. Turns out his estate had to pay taxes on the interest those bonds earned all these years(about $35,000 in tax)and will have to pay tax on the capital gain resulting from the sale of his house. THEN, the heirs have to pay tax on their inheritance(what's left of his estate after the tax man takes a big chunk). JESUS! Save your money for the IRS, Dad. Eat TopRamen so the tax man can stuff his face-no bloody way. Now, I know that this all makes some sort of wierd sense. After all, the interest on those bonds was income to his estate and the monetary and in kind distributions to the heirs is income to them. Therefore, it's all taxable. Yeah, I know it's the tax law but it's just seems so wrong to me.

So, how do I summarize Daddy's last lesson? How about this? It is a good idea to save and invest for tomorrow if you can reasonably expect a tomorrow. However, if you conclude that your time on this earth is drawing to a close or is at least limited, you are silly not to enjoy some of that cash since the Government will scoop up a big chunk of what you leave behind. Hey, I will be 70 shortly and don't have the greatest heart so, I give myself another 10 years and I think that's generous. Since I have got more than enough money to see me through the next decade, the application of Daddy's last lesson seemed appropriate.

One last thing. You recall that I lectured my Dad about spending some of his money to make his last years a bit more comfortable and of course, he would have none of that. So my ultimate threat was to tell him that, if he didn't get rid of it, as soon as I got my hands on my part of his money, I was going to buy a VIPER. I told him that the car had 600 horsepower and could hardly pass a gas station. This just got him wild but didn't change his mind. So partly, in a wierd way, this car is a bit of a memorial to dad.

Now, let's get back to the Viper. The first thing I like about this car is the very idea of it. Imagine, a mainstream car company in this era of child booster seats, increasing gas prices, traffic cameras and environmental concern, deciding to make something so totally politically incorrect and in your face about it. That's the first thing: this car is an in your face affront to the Prius drivers and bicycle riders and I am disposed to love it just for that reason. As an aside, I am getting a really warm place in my heart for Chrysler. Some lunatics live there. The minivan and K car crowd pretty much drown them out but every so often, the loonies pop up and squirt out something like a Viper or the Gangsta car. Good for you Chrysler, allowing a few of your troops this latitude. Secondly, while I don't think it is a pretty car it's damn appealing. You know, if I squint a bit, I see suggestions of a Mercedes SLR race car and an E-Type Jag in it's body and those were some super automotive designs. But, bottom line, it's not "pretty" in the feminine way the E-Type is. Maybe you could say that if the E was a glamorous super model, the Viper might be a roller derby gal. Hell, it couldn't be sleek and pretty-not with those honking great gills in the hood and front fenders but, then again, it was designed to go terribly fast and those vents had to be there. Thirdly, the damn thing was hand built. Imagine that today, 40-50 people hand assembling a "production" car. People have actually touched all the parts of this car and fit them together. No robotic arms have touched this puppy and that's super neat. Lastly, it was conceived and built in America. That's good cause it demonstrates that the USA can kick automotive ass if it wants to.

OK, so I like the idea of a Viper but, never driven one-had no idea whether I would even fit in one. So, what did I do about that? Bought one on EBay that's what. Was well into my second martini the other night and on EBay looking at Vipers. There was a blue one for sale but it was in Florida. Log way to go and a long drive or a couple of grand to ship it back. So, sorry blue one but, I will pass. Then, TaDa, there's a red 2009 coupe in Bend, Oregon(about 350 miles away). One day left on the bidding and a couple of bidders but no hectic bidding activity. So, I E-mail the seller, he E-Mails me back with his phone number. I call him with some questions. He mentions that he is lowering the "buy it now" price by a grand. So, screw it, I bought it. PayPal my deposit to him and finished my martini.

Now, to get to Bend, I pretty much had to fly. Something I haven't done for about three years. I just cannot stand or understand that airport security so, I drive wherever I want to go now. I'm not sure but, I think that a lot of folks now choose not to fly because of that foolishness but anyway, to pick up a Viper, it's worth it. Got to the airport and immediately was assaulted by all the public address announcements that list what you cannot do. On and on and on. Don't do this don't do that and whatever you do-don't smoke. So, I get in the security line for "screening" and notice a big sign that says something like: "The electronic body scanning equipment we use is not harmful but, it is not mandatory. However, if you refuse to be scanned, you must undergo a thorough body search". That's what the sign said-thorough. Sounds like you are being intimidated into plodding through the body scanner. Well, I decided to turn the tables on these folks a bit.

When it got to be my turn, I said I didn't want to go through the scanner so, they directed me to a side area where there was this honking great big black guy all duded up in his security duds with his rubber gloves at the ready. I walked up to him and fluttered my hands a bit and said that I wanted a very thorough body search. Well, his eyes got as big as silver dollars and then I said "Now search me as thoroughly as you would like". He hardly touched me after that exchange. I wanted to say: "That was nice, can I go through screening again?" But I thought better of it.

Some Good Things

So, on to the Viper. Some really neat things on this car at first glance. Imagine, the pedals are set up properly so you can heel and toe. Wow, on a Dodge? Those people in the SRT group must have really gotten off the reservation. A nice adjustable dead pedal as well. Super bolstered seat that fits me to a T. Slots on the seatback so you can easily install shoulder belts and red, man that car is a red red. It just pops. Very nice paint job. Somebody cared. Sitting in it gives me a cozy and safe feeling. No, it's definitely not roomy inside but, there's just enough room. The cozy feeling is hard to explain; comforted or wrapped up might be better terms. I just know that I am not going to rattle around the interior when we take some corners, accelerate or brake. Maybe, it's designed so that you become part of the car when you get behind the wheel. Whatever, the car gives me a nice secure feeling.

A Few Nits

There's a couple of not-so-nice things that I noticed immediately. Heater controls right out of a minivan, some stupid stickers on the B pillar and driver's window warning you that (a) a hot exhaust pipe can burn you(duh), (b) some components of the car might cause cancer and lastly, an outrageously loud seatbelt warning chime. Please Lord, save me from people that want to protect me, please, please, please. Thankfully, that insane dinger can be silenced. Then there's that silly little nav system with a screen the size of a postage stamp. You also have to depress the clutch pedal down to the floor before the car will energize its starter motor. There you go again, trying to keep me safe. Why my God, I could start the car in gear and run right through an SUV full of pregnant women if it weren't for that interlock. I bet there's a switch somewhere I can bypass to get rid of that nuisance. But, none of this matters. The rest of the car makes up for these nits.

First Drive

OH MY GOD. Have I made a big mistake? Rides rough, noisy, doesn't like stop and go and tramlines like crazy. Well, take a deep breath Claude and give the car some slack. Let's see, of course it's not going to be softly sprung and nearly all of that noise is "good" noise(exhaust, gearbox and rear end). Lovely gears happily meshing in a nice oil bath. A V-10 exhaust noise takes a bit of getting used to. It's raspy and ragged. Not the lovely "whoop" of a V-12 or the purr of a straight 6. Very harsh, raspy noise and quite loud but, sounds beefy. So, that's OK. Doesn't like stop and go traffic and 25mph speed limits? Well Geez, what did I expect? The engine is pretty highly tuned and the car is geared way up. The tramlining? I don't know about that. Maybe I need to look at alignment-we will see.

Through traffic now and into 6th gear. Cruising along at 60mph and the tach is broken. No, wait a minute -it's not broken, it's just reading about 1,100rpm. Well Christ, this is insane. Idling at 60? No wonder it bucks a bit. I have been driving for about a half hour now and am on the open road. Nice smooth two laner with no traffic and the car seems to be feeling pretty happy. Steering lightens up and the engine smooths out. Pleasant drive until I look at the speedo-110mph. No, a little too fast for this old man on this road. Back down to 60 and the car starts to grumble again. Much happier in 5th gear at that speed. Bend, Oregon is a high desert town-about 3,000 feet above sea level and I am now starting to descend into the Columbia Gorge. Miles of very twisty road to negotiate and wow, does the car come alive on the twisty bits. Super cornering. Oh, this I really like. Great brakes. Nice balance. Incredible grip and precise turn-in. Pretty soon I am taking those twisties at an insane speed and the car is still not really breathing hard. Just about goosed a pickup truck that was pottering along ahead of me on a blind curve. Man does this thing brake! I don't think I will ever find the limits of this car and, if I do, it will probably only be miliseconds before I smash into a guardrail or slide over a cliff and kill myself.

So, to summarize. What a car! Not for around town. Not for long road trips. Not relaxing. Useless as a commuter car. You need to be on your game when you drive this puppy. I think it could cheerfully kill you if you let your mind wander. But, I think I might have found a new love. Puts a grin on my face every time I start it and hear that ragged V-10 bark. I am not even going to talk about the grunt this car has. It has lots. Press on the gas and it's sorta like the car shifts into warp drive.

Created on ... March 20, 2012