Dodge Viper owners ‘frustrated’ over car’s demise

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — Dodge Viper owners aren’t thrilled with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s plans to kill the V-10 beast in 2017 but many understand increasing safety and fuel economy regulations driving it and others like it into the sunset.

“Obviously we’re frustrated but we’ve got to realize reality,” said Motor City Viper Owners President Bruce Heckman. “We’re obviously very sad about that but on the other hand, we don’t mind not being the most common car on the road. There’s a uniqueness about the Viper. You just don’t see one every day.”

That uniqueness, a little slice of “American muscle,” is what many owners say drove them to the venomous vehicle in the first place.

Jeff Doolin, owner of a custom 2016 Viper, said it has been his “dream car.” He sold his 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat for the Gunmetal Pearl Viper.

“Everybody bought the Hellcats. They’re a dime a dozen now. We got rid of one of them and picked this up,” said the 35-year-old Eastpointe resident whose wife still drives a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. “It’s the only American muscle car. It’s a true icon without getting exotic. You can’t beat it.”

Heckman and Doolin were among more than 50 owners to showcase their rides Thursday night at the Motor City Viper Owners car club’s annual Viper Club Car Show at the Northwood Plaza on the southwest corner of Woodward and 13 Mile in Royal Oak.

The show was the first since the automaker in June announced the 2017 model year will be the last for the American sports car.

The viability of the Viper has been under discussion for some time following slow sales, price cuts, regulations and the company announcing plans to shift U.S. production away from cars.

More than 30,000 Vipers have been built in Detroit since its debut, first at the Mack Avenue Assembly Plant from 1992-94 and at the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant since 1995. The car was not produced from July 2010 to Dec. 5, 2012.

Several owners who spoke with The Detroit News on Thursday night said if the Viper is once again resurrected, it must remain an American-built, track-focused sports car.

“It has to be built here,” said Bob White, owner of three Vipers, including a white 2016 Dodge Viper ACR with blue and red stripes with “USA” on the racing spoiler. “This car was conceived, designed and built right here by my neighbors and your local folks. … This is not German. This is not Japanese. This is an American sports car.”

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in January said the company, which also owns Italian brands Alfa Romeo and Maserati, has access to other architectures that could be used to develop a car with equal weight and “significantly improved performance.”

Dodge and SRT boss Tim Kuniskis, Fiat Chrysler head of passenger car brands for North America, on Tuesday did not directly comment on the possibility of the Viper being resurrected anytime soon.

“The car is a great car for the brand but right now it has run its course,” he told media Tuesday after unveiling the 2017 Challenger T/A and 2017 Charger Daytona special-edition models.

Kuniskis said he is “pretty clear on what” current Viper owners could want in the future, citing its top-of-the-range Viper ACR as the hottest-selling model.

Many owners Thursday night were skeptical about a future Viper potentially not being powered by a V-10 engine — a key characteristic of the vehicle since its introduction. Doing that could prove difficult, as several brands have started downsizing and turbocharging or electrifying engines instead of installing V-8 and V-10 engines.

Some Viper owners were open to the possibility of a V-8 supercharged engine in a future Viper, however, they said it would have to prove it deserved the Viper name. Others also were open to a future generation moving from a front-engine to mid-engine platform.

“I like the big displacement engines,” said Rick Reuter, owner of 1994 RT10 and 2009 Viper models. “A V-8 supercharger I could probably do.”

Fiat Chrysler has not announced the end of production for the Viper at Conner Avenue. However, it’s expected to go through mid-2017. Kuniskis said the plant “is booked” through March.

It remains unclear what will happen to the 392,000-square-foot Conner Avenue plant and its 75 workers, including 60 hourly workers represented by United Auto Workers Local 212.

Fiat Chrysler officials since announcing the Viper’s extinction have repeatedly declined to comment on the future of the facility or employees.

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Twitter: @MikeWayland