The truth about driving a supercar every day

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
May 30, 2023 | Dodge, Dodge Viper, Viper, supercar | Posted in Features | From the Oct. 2014 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by J.G. Pasterjak and Tom Suddard

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First, a ground rule: We’re going to do our best to get through this entire story about a shiny, bright-red Dodge Viper GTS without a single use of the word “douchebag.” Starting now.

In fact, we recommend abandoning all your negative beliefs about Viper ownership immediately. While there may be some truth to the stereotypes, for the purposes of this exercise let’s pretend we’re all objective, levelheaded grown-ups.

We wanted to know if you could drive a supercar every day. Simple premise, right? After all, cars have gotten exponentially better over the years, with more reliable systems that constantly massage the experience to make it accessible for everyone. So we rounded up the most exotic hardware we could find in the press pool–a screaming-red, 640-horsepower, six-speed, 8.4-liter 2014 Dodge Viper SRT–and unleashed it on a week of mundane tasks.

Life Far From the Edge

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First disclaimer: This is not a track test of the Dodge Viper. And before you scream at us that we’ve wussed out, please open the February 2014 edition of GRM for a complete track review of this car. No, this is about real life, and real life rarely visits the race track. Real life is full of trips to the grocery store, humdrum errands, drive-thru windows, high curbs and low-attention-span drivers. Taking a Viper to a race track is easy. We know it excels between the apexes and the braking points. But how would it do between the Applebee’s and the Barnes & Noble?

Acquisition

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For us, acquiring a Viper was easy. Well, relatively speaking. Press fleets usually have lots more Grand Caravans than exotic sports cars, so scheduling a week with a Viper involved some extra complexity. And when a journalist borrowing the car before us had a run-in with a curb–perhaps a testament to the fact that self-restraint is one of the most important requirements of supercar stewardship– our weeklong slot got pushed back while a new wheel was sourced.

But once it showed, the handover was barely more ceremonious than if it had been a Camry or Accord. The drop-off happened at our home instead of at the office, sure, but everything else was standard. Keys, signature, quick rundown of a few buttons, and “Have a nice day, sir.”

Once the attendant from the media motor pool cleared the area, though, something unusual happened. We immediately became acquainted with several neighbors who never thought to walk across the street when a Hyundai Elantra was in the driveway.

Early Verdict

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We’ll cut to the chase a bit, because the purely objective part of our query was answered rather quickly. Can you drive a supercar every day? Absolutely. Technology has progressed to the point where reliability is barely an issue anymore, and driving even the most powerful car–like this 640-horsepower monster–is so easy even a journalist can do it.

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The biggest day-to-day physical hassle is pure ingress and egress. The Viper’s wide sills–hiding red-hot exhaust pipes–require a rather ungraceful exit. The real irony is that the people who have lived long enough to afford such a machine are the ones who will have the biggest trouble getting in and out.

Say what you will about the Viper’s styling–you can call it impractical or overdone or audacious if you want–but there’s no denying that the shape oozes energy. There’s also no denying that the C-word will come up in any Viper discussion with people even somewhat knowledgeable about cars. And while it’s hard to discuss the Viper without discussing the Corvette, the real story is about their differences rather than their similarities.

Both are world-class sports cars, but they get there in very different ways. The Viper is Malcom X to the Vette’s MLK. Magneto to its Professor Xavier. They have similar goals, but one doesn’t care how many kneecaps it has to break to achieve them.

And people seem to understand that on a primal level. The last Corvette we had got some attention on the road–a few smiles and nods–but driving a Viper is a whole other level of stepping into a fishbowl. Cars cut across three lanes of traffic on the highway to get a closer look. It seemed like a camera was pressed to a window in half the cars we encountered on the road. Kids smiled and waved. Attractive women looked profoundly disappointed, yet still somehow intrigued, when they saw who was driving. Most of all, people reacted. The first lesson we learned about driving a supercar every day is that everywhere you go, it’s an event.

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“How much?” and “How fast?” were common questions, but just as common were personal anecdotes. A guy at Lowe’s started a conversation that culminated in him getting a little misty reminiscing about the TVR Griffith he had when he lived in Ireland. “The Lucas electrics meant you could only have lights or wipers, but never both. So we’d just turn the lights on and try to drive fast enough to blow the rain right off the windshield.”

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He related this story while we were packing 60 feet of ¾-inch PVC, a lawn pump, and various fittings into the $120,000-plus exotic sports car. He seemed unfazed by our resourcefulness, or by the fact that we could easily get the 5-foot sections of PVC into the car and close the hatch, proving conclusively that a Viper can assist you in multiple forms of laying pipe.

Day In, Day Out

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For a solid week, we drove the Viper every day, acting as though it were our only car. It’s doable. As our week neared its end, we realized that the pressure doesn’t come from the actual logistics. With its big hatch and deep trunk, the Viper easily swallows a couple hundred bucks’ worth of groceries.

Nor does it come from any inherent finickiness or complexity in the machinery. Most Viper owners report that well-maintained cars are reliable and drivable. Several consumable parts are shared with other cars in the Chrysler lineup, and even at 640 horsepower—a figure so high that Viper race cars are detuned up to 20 percent to compete in some pro series—the 8.4-liter V10 is still rather understressed.

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No, the real burden of the everyday supercar is the emotional one, and we think this is where so many supercar owners either fail or miss the mark altogether, earning themselves the scarlet “DB” in return.

See, we met a lot of people when we were driving the Viper. It’s impossible not to. Kids, adults, car people, non-car people, old ladies, bikers, cyclists, priests, rabbis–no one could walk or drive past the Viper without reacting. Some simply waved or took a picture, but some stopped and engaged with us, telling us stories like the TVR guy, asking us questions, taking pictures (we got very good at using the camera controls on every major smartphone), and generally just wanting to bask in the Viper’s radiating heat.

So the real question is not “Can you drive a supercar every day?” but rather “Can you handle the burden of driving a supercar every day?”

For most modern cars–even hyperexotics– they’re going to start, run and drive every day. But driving them means that you are now an ambassador for the concept of cars being more than just appliances.

And here’s the thing: This doesn’t just apply to supercar. We bet any of you with a really clean first-gen CRX get a few questions from time to time. Or anyone with an autocross trailer loaded with tires and tools. You’re the connection between a world where cars are fun, and the world where they’re not. If you drive a Viper every day, but can’t stand that people are always asking you about it, then you’ve earned your douchebag title. Yeah, we said it.

Driving a supercar–or any other attention- grabbing ride–comes with the burden, or rather the responsibility, to spread the message that cars can be fun, exciting, sexy, frivolous and entertaining, and that’s totally okay. There’s nothing wrong or antisocial about it.

Most of our week with the Viper taught us that extreme machines have the power to stir emotions in just about everyone. It’s our job to make sure those emotions are nurtured in a positive direction. In other words, driving a Viper does not make you a douchebag. Being a douchebag makes you a douchebag.

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Comments
dean1484
dean1484 GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
5/1/18 5:32 p.m.

Really good read and I completely get what you are saying about you better be a people person if you have a car that is of this type.  I have had some attention getting cars over the years and I always enjoyed it. 

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
5/1/18 5:46 p.m.

I HATE when people talk to me about my car when I'm out and about. The 911 is about as far into the realm of obvious cars as I'm willing to go. I much prefer my supercars to be wearing minivan skin. 

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
5/1/18 6:04 p.m.

Interesting take.  

My big fault with exotics is the absolute waste they are on public roads.  Not many people will walk up to a DB7 driver for some reason, but when I drove it, all I could think about was how loafing the car was.  Even at 80mph.  If I went to 100, it was still over 80mph from it's peak.  Big deal.

Certainly nice to look at.  But very pointless.

(some will recall that I worked on the DB7 V12 from 1996-1999)

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
5/1/18 6:08 p.m.

I've never owned a supercar (but have driven Vipers on track), so can't comment on that aspect, but I did draw crowds everywhere I went in my old Fiat 600D.  You literally couldn't even drive it to the store without people coming up and talking to you.  Everything from how cute, to what is it, to i had one of these when i was in the military stationed in Italy.  "We could cram 396 people in it and drive to the next town" kind of stories would follow.  I also used to let people sit in it and take pictures.  Then there was the constant thumbs up driving down the road.  You couldn't be shy and drive it.  Its popularity went across all class levels, men, women, kids, didn't matter.  I'm pretty sure barnyard animals also liked it if they could talk, or had thumbs.  devil

Sonic
Sonic UltraDork
5/1/18 7:16 p.m.

As usual, JG is right on.  I’ve had to get used to this with my NSX, I just be polite and talk to people or wave or whatever.  It’s worth it to drive the most engaging car I’ve ever experienced.  

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
5/1/18 9:05 p.m.

That is one thing I miss about the classic Mini. Driving that car around on the occasional errand was always fun. 

dculberson
dculberson UltimaDork
5/1/18 9:09 p.m.

I used to have an old ambulance (1966 Pontiac Bonneville "consort," or short wheelbase hearse/ambulance combo) with the Ghostbusters logos on the doors. When I first got it, it had a bunch of Ghostbusters-esque stuff strapped to the roof. It got an enormous amount of attention.

(What it was like without the rooftop stuff.) People would shout at me, a few women flashed me, I had someone get out of line in a drivethrough to come talk to me. I had someone ask to pump my gas. That sort of thing. Absolutely for the wrong kind of person it would be hell but I grew to like it. People always smiled. It wasn't negative attention.

My favorite was selling a 1972 Corolla to a nice guy from Florida, of Indian descent. I picked him up at the airport in the Pontiac, and as we drove through downtown Columbus, I kind of noticed him sinking lower and lower in his seat. He finally said "This kind of car is not for me. I do not like this much attention." I was just so used to absolutely everyone staring at the car it just didn't phase me. It was funny to get that new perspective on it.

I was young when I got it, just 20, and it was a bondo queen. So a few years of actual regular use in Ohio without a garage led to a lot of rust. I mean a monumental amount of rust. I just didn't have the skill to restore it myself or the money to pay someone. When I sold my first house after 13 years of fun with it, I sold the Pontiac. I still miss it but hopefully it's living a good life out in St Louis with the collector I sold it to.

markwemple
markwemple UberDork
5/1/18 9:25 p.m.

I don't consider my 911 or the Viper to be a super car. Sorry. Way too low tech and just not enough performance. A 911 turbo is the baseline, along with a 458.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UltraDork
5/2/18 6:23 a.m.

I think I might be immune to this but will need to start driving a supercar to confirm- nobody ever talks to me when I'm driving a fully stickered up rally car, so I may have some sort of vehicular invisibility power.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
5/2/18 7:05 a.m.
markwemple said:

I don't consider my 911 or the Viper to be a super car. Sorry. Way too low tech and just not enough performance. A 911 turbo is the baseline, along with a 458.

No, no 911 is a "supercar" in the eyes of the general public, regardless of raw performance - they are simply too common.  Part of what defines a supercar is rarity, and the Viper for better or worse qualifies, even if a base 911 can beat it by some measures. 

My Mini definitely attracted the most attention of any car I've owned or driven regularly, followed by the ex's Volvo 1800ES (which I drove quite a bit), my '72 GT6 and then the '79 Spitfire.  If I could afford to buy and own a Ferrari, I would definitely drive it a lot.  Probably more than I drive my '06 MINI.

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