In This Corner...
We want to first thank Steve Simmons for allowing us the use of his 67 Hemi Belvedere II for this test. That the car is one-of-eight, three with a 4-speed, makes his car worth more than we'll be able to invest in a car anytime soon. The fact that Steve thinks nothing of driving and enjoying it makes him our hero. "I don't neglect or abuse it-I won't take it to K-Mart and park it next to everyone else," Steve says, "but I do drive it. It goes to shows, to our club meetings, just around town. These things were meant to be driven, and if you don't drive them, you're not doing them any good. It's a good car, and I enjoy it! If you can't drive and enjoy them, get out of the hobby." It takes big brass ones for an owner with a rare car like this to strap it onto a chassis dyno for a bunch of magazine yahoos, and we're in his debt.
Steve bought his car in the early '80s and restored it from the ground up. Sharp-eyed readers will notice a couple of deviations from other Belvederes, though-it has a GTX-style tape stripe instead of a chrome trim at the belt line, there's no vinyl roof, and it has GTX exhaust tips. "I talked with the original owner, and he said this is the way it came," says Steve. "It was a 'spring special' built late in the year in 1967. It was supposed to come through with a vinyl roof, but didn't. The original dealership that sold the car told the first owner thay would install the vinyl top for him, but he wanted to car right away and said not to bother."
Also of note is the fact that Steve found very few inspection marks on the car. "I figure by this late in the production year, the assembly line guys knew what they were doing, and each and every thing probably wasn't checked off. What inspection marks I found were replaced, but I didn't find that many."
The day of the test, Atlanta was experiencing record heat. After we were done, Steve drove his car back home, and here's why he's our hero: It was 101 degrees, not counting humidity, and we managed to hit rush hour traffic. Steve doesn't have A/C in his car, and the vinyl seats didn't help matters. While we felt bad for Steve during his 1 1/2 hours journey, were were more worried about the Hemi overheating, and asked if he'd like to stop anywhere and let the car cool down. "it's fine-don't worry about it!" Steve said. "The needl'es about half way up-right where it's supposed to be." Indeed!
And In This Corner...
There's no doubt it-The Viper is an awesome car, and all brand loyalty aside, it's the best performing American-made sports-car there is. Or ever was. It corners like a go cart, has point-and-shoot acceleration, and its six forward gears all combine for a ride like no other. Anyone who doubts that the production Viper is, in fact, a factory race car need only look to the full belly pan that keeps everything under the car our of the wind for less aerodynamic drag, and the fact that the bulges in the GTS coupe's roof are there for helmet clearance!
With a 6th gear overdrive of .50:1, cruising at 100 mph (prudently only on a closed course) registers only 1,900 rpm on the tach. Freeway off ramps can be taken confidently at twice the posted speed, and the P275/35ZR18 front and P335/30ZR18 rear Michelin Pilot ties on the 18x10/18x13 aluminum wheels never give a hint of braking loose under hard cornering.
You don't sit in a Viper; you wear it like a glove. The first five minutes in one is spent adjusting the seat, steering wheel, and pedal assembly to your liking. Yes, we said pedal assembly. On the bottom of the dash, below the steering wheel, is a knob that adjusts the pedals forward or back several inches, depending on the driver's stature. The transmission tunnel sits about rib-cage high in the cock-pit after you're seated with your legs out in front of you Indy'car style. It's really like sitting on the floor.
Changes we noticed between the red '99 R/T 10 roadster and the Blue '97 GTS coupe we had a couple of years ago include more generous padding in the seat cushions, and a radio that didn't increase its volume relevant to the ambient noise, such as the engine singing at 7,000 grand or the wind rushing by at 105, both of which were welcome additions. At 6-foot-1, once change I would like to see is to move the windhield-mounted rear view mirror down to the top of the dash board, vintage convertible style, so that it's a straighter shot out the back window, instead of the roof support blocking half the mirror's line of sight for us taller folks.
If we were buying, we'd opt for the GTS for several reasons. First, it seems smoother at higher speeds. Though we never went past 120 mph in the roadster, there wasn't any doubt we were hauling due to the prodigious wind noise, Like all convertibles, there's more wind noise due to the fabric top. However, on our well-abused media test vehicle, wind leaks at the seals were so bad even at normal highway speeds that after 1,400 miles, our ears were ringing as if we had just returned from a Nine Inch Nails concert. The '97 GTS had none of these problems. Some of it can be attributed to the fast back styling of the GTS-the wind rolls the back of the GTS, but there is a lot of turbulence over the deck lid, right behind the removable rear window, on the roadster. Finallly, there was the leaky problem all convertibles have. We were caught in a five minute downpour north of the Florida border. A stream of water ran down from the windshield header that left us scrambling to move maps and cameras out of the way. Had the shower not left as suddenly as it came, we'd have had to stop under an overpass. Then again, this stuff is really only a problem for people who are going to be driving the car on a daily basis which, let's face it, most Viper owners aren't going to be doing.
We have one last thought about the Viper that we even find hard to believe ourselves: The Viper is more car than 99.9 percent of the people driving them need. Its performance limits far exceed those of most drivers. That anyone actually needs to buy the go-fast add-ons available or send it for supertuning is laughable. It's like the difference between having $2 million in the bank or $10 million: At that point, your life doesn't change a bit-it's strictly a power trip. After spending the better part of four days and 1,400 miles in one, we'd recommend that every Viper owner attend a 3-day driving school and consider that your first bolt-on.
Other than that, all we can say is we want one-bad!
Shootout At A Glance
|Performance ||'99 Viper R/T 10 ||'67 Hemi Belvedere II|
|Peak Rear Wheel Horsepower||362 at 5600 rpm||315 at 4,900 rpm|
|Peak Rear Wheel Torque||410 lb/ft at 3750 rpm||354 lb/ft at 4,200 rpm|
|Rear Wheel HP/Cubic Inch||0.473||0.470|
|Rear Wheel Torque/Cubic Inch||0.840 lb/ft||0.838 lb/ft|