‘Supercar’ and ‘affordable’ are rarely paired together, especially when classic and/or used models are involved. It’s a similar story—or at least, some think it is—where reliability is concerned. However, some supercars buck that trend. For example, the Dodge Viper. Although it has a reputation as a ‘widow maker,’ when it comes to buying and maintaining one, a used Viper may be more attainable than you believe.
The Dodge Viper’s early years
Throughout its production run, the Dodge Viper’s formula never changed: front-mounted V10, a 6-speed manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive. However, the later versions have more features, some extra civility, and, more importantly, more performance, Automobile reports.
The 1992-1995 1st-gen Dodge Viper, the RT/10 model, is essentially a modern Shelby Cobra, Car and Driver explains. These 1st-gen models are the definition of bare-bones: no ABS, no standard A/C, not even exterior door handles or roll-up windows, The Drive reports. And the interior plastics are “Fisher-Price” level, Car and Driver reports.
But the Lamborghini-designed 8.0-liter V10 has 400 hp and 465 lb-ft, which lets the 3534-lb roadster go 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds. And despite the Dodge Viper’s reputation, 1st-gen models on modern car tires feel almost Miata-like, Car and Driver reports.
The 1996-2002 2nd-gen Dodge Viper has few more creature comforts, such as an optional fiberglass top. The 2nd-gen cars also have conventional rear-exit exhausts, rather than side pipes, so people don’t burn their legs upon exit, The Drive reports. Plus, this is the first Dodge Viper to have a coupe trim, the GTS, which has A/C, power windows, airbags, and locking doors. And ABS came in 2001, Hagerty reports.
The 2nd-gen Dodge Viper also has more power. Initially, the V10 made 410 hp and 488 lb-ft. The GTS, though, has 450 hp and 490 lb-ft. The RT/10 roadster didn’t get the extra output until 1997, which is when it also received the airbags and power windows.
Going into the 2000s
The 2003-2007 3rd-gen Dodge Viper was initially only available in SRT10 roadster form, MotorTrend reports. But along with wider rear tires, a stiffer chassis, and lower curb weight, it also has more power. Under the hood is an 8.3-liter V10 with 500 hp and 525 lb-ft. And in 2005, the coupe returned with 510 hp and 535 lb-ft.
The 4th-gen 2008-2010 Dodge Viper has, you guessed it, more power. The V10 displaces 8.4 liters and develops 600 hp and 560 lb-ft. It also has a new 6-speed manual, upgraded suspension, and a standard limited-slip differential. The Viper also has a new exhaust design to lessen the heat coming into the cabin, Driving.ca reports.
The 4th-gen Dodge Viper also revived the ACR, Automobile reports. The 2nd-gen version has less weight, more power, BBS wheels, stiffer suspension, and brake-cooling ducts. The 4th-gen ACR follows a similar route. It doesn’t have extra power, but it does have upgraded tires and brakes, a front splitter and rear wing, and carbon-fiber dive planes. The Hardcore Package (actual name) removed the radio, A/C, and carpets, but added even more aero features.
Finally, there’s the 2012-2017 5th-gen Dodge Viper, which briefly used the SRT name. This generation is the most civilized, offering features like leather upholstery, backup cameras, power-adjustable pedals, as well as standard stability and traction control. The 5th-gen Viper is also even lighter, thanks to greater use of carbon fiber and aluminum. And, yes, its 8.4-liter V10 is more powerful, with 640 hp and 600 lb-ft.
The 5th-gen Viper also features some hard-core variants. There’s the TA trim, which has stiffer suspension, Pirelli P Corsa tires, upgraded brakes, multiple aero features, and a carbon-fiber engine brace. And as a final hurrah, 2016 saw the release of the Dodge Viper ACR, which has enough aerodynamic aides to lower the top speed from 206 mph to 177 mph. But those aides are what helped it become the fastest manual-transmission RWD car to lap the Nürburgring, Road & Track reports.
With proper care, used Dodge Vipers are fairly reliable
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Given that a used Viper is still a supercar, potential owners may be understandably apprehensive about maintenance and reliability. Luckily, barring some age-related wear and tear and a few recalls, the Dodge Viper is a fairly stout car, R&T reports. It’s one of the least complained-about Dodges on CarComplaints, though admittedly that might be due to its rarity. But it helps that throughout its run, the Viper borrowed from a shared parts bin. However, there are a few things to watch out for.
Firstly, 1st– and 2nd-gen Dodge Vipers have a clamshell hood which is very expensive to replace. Ditto many of the early cars’ other exterior pieces, such as doors, tires, wheels, and bumpers. And the 2nd-gen GTS models’ doors can sag due to the extra weight of the equipment, but resolving that is just a matter of tightening the hinges. And other maintenance items are similarly straightforward.
Overall, the Dodge Viper’s powertrain is very robust, Hagerty reports, but there are a few quirks to keep in mind. 1992 and 1993 models suffer from piston ring issues, though these have mostly been resolved by now. And some later 1st– and 2nd-gen cars can develop leaks as their gaskets and other rubber components age. The power steering pump pulley can similarly fail, R&T reports.
Plus, that large V10 sheds a lot of heat, as does the exhaust. Many owners fit high-flow catalytic converters and upgraded radiators to compensate, Hagerty reports, which are both worthwhile daily-driving modifications. And it’s not unusual for an engine that size to consume some oil.
Later used Dodge Viper issues
For those who want to track their cars, Gen 3 Vipers can suffer oiling issues during track use, though a simple solution is to swap in a Gen 4 oil pan, ViperClub forum users report. And over time, the oil lines, window regulators, and power steering lines can develop leaks, ViperAlley and DriveViper forum users report.
As for the last-gen SRT and Dodge Vipers, there were several recalls for 2013-2014 models, ExoticCarHacks reports. Some were fairly minor, such as the power seat controls and airbag sensors. But there were two vital engine-related recalls. However, by this point used Vipers from this generation should have had this recall work done.
The raw early models are also some of the cheapest
Because the 5th-gen Dodge Viper was the last and the most refined model, it commands noticeably higher prices. 1st– and 2nd-gen examples, in contrast, are noticeably cheaper, though 2nd-gen Vipers are starting to rise in value, Hagerty reports. And the 3rd-gen models are arguably the “most underappreciated,” Hagerty reports.
Apart from special edition variants like the ACR, though, a used Viper can be a surprisingly affordable purchase. You can find a good-condition 1st– or 2nd-gen roadster for less than $40,000 on Bring a Trailer. And as of this writing, there are several sub-$50,000 GTS coupes listed on Autotrader. That’s certainly cheaper than getting an actual Shelby Cobra.
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