The Dodge Viper Is the Last of the Truly Insane Sports Cars

LAST WEEK, DODGE ANNOUNCED a new version of its Viper sports car. The Viper ACR—for American Club Racer—is the best, strongest, fastest version of a machine that is already insanely, impractically capable. And it is a throwback—the last of a kind—to the way every fast car used to be.

The Viper is to automobiles as a nine-pound sledge is to carpentry: too large and brutal for the job, but ridiculously entertaining to wield. It is long and low, with a massive V-10 and a hood the length of an aircraft carrier. With stability control off, keeping a Viper’s rear tires intact is about as possible as building a particle accelerator in your basement.

And then there’s the ACR. It’s all that, and more. The letters are a rarely used Dodge acronym; when applied to a production machine, they signify a car aimed squarely at the track. Unlike some car companies, where performance badges are applied willy-nilly, Chrysler doesn’t throw ACR around. There were two Dodge Neon ACRs, and there have been two previous Viper ACRs. No more.

Nor is the capability mere hype. ACRs typically feature stiffened suspensions, aerodynamic tweaks, minimal options, and other changes that make a car a pain in the ass on the street. Consequently, they sell in microscopic numbers. Dodge doesn’t care, because it’s a halo car for a halo car—a cred-building version of an already low-production machine.

The ACR is also designed to appease Viper Club of America members. According to stereotype, those people are:

1. Fanatical about the car.
2. Wealthy as a Clampett.
3. Built like John Goodman and possessed of multiple top-heavy ex-wives.
4. Half-insane body-building Texas ranchers (anecdotal, but I’ve met two).
5. Crazy for special editions.

VCOA members see the Viper as a religion, and they love track days like nobody else. And the stereotype hints at the car’s personality. Legend holds that the Dodge was designed to be a modern-day Shelby Cobra—big power, big stones, big risk of killing yourself—by a group of men that included Bob Lutz and Carroll Shelby. It’s also a leftover from the 1990s, when automakers still made strange decisions for the sake of cool. In that regard, it’s like the final Toyota Supra Turbo, with its obnoxious wing and extraordinary engine, or BMW’s first-generation M Coupe, which looked like a shoe.