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Jay Leno’s 1996 Dodge Viper GTS Still Knocks His Socks Off

Large amounts of horsepower are easily available in Dodge dealerships these days. But while the brand offers a high-powered sedan, coupe, and even an SUV, it doesn’t have an actual sports car. At least, not anymore—not since the Dodge Viper was canceled. And as Jay Leno recently demonstrated with his 1996 Dodge Viper GTS, the old snake still has a powerful bite.

The 1996 Dodge Viper GTS: more refined than the RT/10, but still very raw

The original Dodge Viper debuted in 1989, and went on sale in 1992 as the Viper RT/10, Motor Trend reports. It drew influence from the original Shelby Cobra, The Drive reports, and was similarly stripped-down. The Dodge Viper RT/10 has no roof, no A/C, not even door handles. It’s basically a cabin with a Lamborghini-designed 400-hp 8.0-liter V10, a 6-speed manual, and tires, MT and Car and Driver report.

A blue-and-white 1996 Dodge Viper GTS at the Indy 500
1996 Dodge Viper GTS | Dodge

The 2nd-gen 1996 Dodge Viper GTS is a bit more “civilized,” Petrolicious reports, though only in comparison. Although a roadster was still available, the GTS is the coupe model, Hagerty explains. And it comes with amenities like A/C, power windows and locks, adjustable pedals, and a driver airbag, The Drive reports. It’s also the first Dodge Viper available with an OBD system.

However, the 2nd-gen Dodge Viper didn’t just get more luxuries—it also got more performance. The GTS model has an upgraded 8.0-liter V10 with 450 hp and 490 lb-ft, Automobile reports, and upgraded suspension. The car is also stiffer and lighter. Because it only weighs about 3400 pounds, the Viper GTS goes 0-60 in 4 seconds, Car and Driver reports. And keep in mind, the Dodge Viper didn’t have standard ABS until 2001, Automobile reports.

But the Dodge Viper isn’t just about straight-line speed, hence its reputation as a ‘widow maker.’ It’s a genuine sports car, with the track victories to back it up. The 2nd-gen model was the basis for the Viper GTS-R, which won its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998, 1999, and 2000, Automobile reports.

Jay Leno’s Dodge Viper GTS is fun, fast, and surprisingly practical

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Jay Leno owns a 1st-gen Dodge Viper RT/10 and enjoys driving it. But the 2nd-gen model, with its double-bubble roof and blue-and-white color scheme, “knocked [his] socks off” when it came out. And even 25-odd years after he bought his 1996 GTS, he still has fun with it.

The 1996 Dodge Viper GTS isn’t without its quirks, Autotrader reports. For one, there’s no in-cabin hood release; instead, you can just walk up and pull the two external releases. Speaking of the hood, it’s a one-piece clamshell that costs about $15,000 to replace. The windshield wipers don’t wipe simultaneously. And if your battery goes flat, the electronic door locks don’t work—though there are emergency mechanical releases inside.

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However, the Dodge Viper GTS is also somewhat practical. Besides the door locks and roof, it has decent rear storage, even with the built-in spare tire. The A/C works well, and it’s comfortable enough for long-distance driving. Plus, the coupe’s level of fit-and-finish is noticeably better than in the original roadster.

The black interior of a 1996 Dodge Viper GTS
1996 Dodge Viper GTS interior | Bring a Trailer

But the Dodge Viper GTS’ real draw is its performance—and on that front, it absolutely delivers. The V10 has “endless torque,” Hagerty reports, the steering feel is incredible, and the manual shifts sharply. It handled even better than the contemporary Corvette Z06, Car and Driver reports. It isn’t a Hellcat, but the Viper was a bedroom poster car for more reasons than just its V10.

Now might be one of the best times to get one

A close-up of the 1996 Dodge Viper GTS' V10 red-covered engine
1996 Dodge Viper GTS engine | Bring a Trailer

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The 2nd-gen Dodge Viper GTS is more valuable than the 1st-gen RT/10, Road & Track reports, but it’s not the most expensive variant. And while the coupe isn’t exactly cheap, prices are still fairly reasonable. But they’ve been going up over the last few years, Hagerty reports. So, if you’ve been eyeing one, now may be the time to get behind the wheel.

The rear 3/4 view of a blue-and-white 1996 Dodge Viper GTS
1996 Dodge Viper GTS rear 3/4 | Bring a Trailer

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Ultra-low-mileage examples aside, Hagerty estimates a good- to excellent-condition GTS typically goes for $45,000-$55,000. That’s roughly the average price on Bring a Trailer. And while some Viper-specific parts, such as the tires, are tricky to source, as a whole it’s a fairly robust and reliable car, R&T reports.

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