However, when you settle into the Dodge to drive, your thoughts will not be on money. Funnily enough, I found myself thinking of this as a massively powerful, hugely updated big Healey: same long nose, same feeling of size, same ultra-low seating position. And the interior reminds you of a very big Mazda MX-5: no challenge or confusion in the cockpit layout, and mainstream manufacturer quality in the materials and fittings.
The cockpit itself is bigger than that of the first- and second-generation models, mainly because a longer wheelbase allows a couple more inches of cockpit length. It’s comfortable now, though still snug, mainly because your backside is lower than the fat side-sills that contain the car’s exhaust side-pipes. When you’ve been going for it, or even crawling around town, the sills get really hot, and there’s a pervading smell of cooking composite, but Dodge swears the system is durable.
It would have been easy enough, on our day out with this SRT-10, to obey the cliché – to find a test track and paint it black with the rear tyres. As seen on TV. However, real people will buy this car, and they’ll want to know it has a practical soul. So we pointed its nose for London, for a day of reality checking.
The engine starts instantly and runs with a flat, even rumble, not the ‘woofle’ of a V8. It’s obviously big: the car rocks to the left when you blip the throttle, yet the response is surprisingly quick and crisp – I’d have expected a mighty flywheel tied to the end of this engine, but there’s little sign of it. A push on the heavy, long-travel clutch, snick the heavy, short-throw gearlever forward into first, and we’re away. Clutch bite is progressive, and the car ambles off the mark. It drives easily at low revs.
The Dodge has a sort of ‘autobahn plus’ gearing, and will do nearly 60mph in first. With five ratios to go.The SRT-10, as everyone knows, is really the Dodge Viper. It was called Viper here, too, for the first few years, but there’s a UK-based kit-car maker which has prior claim to the name. So the big Dodge arrives fully-built from the US, the British importer removes Viper name-badges from seats, engine, instruments and body-sides and sell it us as the leader of a range of ‘race inspired, street legal’ Dodge SRT models, some of which will come to the UK in the future.
We cruise down the M1 motorway towards London from the Viper’s home 40 miles to the north-west in Milton Keynes, just running with the traffic at 80-85mph. We’ve already established that the gearbox is a rather slow-changing affair, but with a precise gate.
The combination of that and the long-throw clutch – and the sheer, massive tidal-wave of torque – discourages you from snapping frequently between ratios. Occasionally I try sixth gear, but the engine is plainly happier in fifth. Sixth is really no use until you’re doing 90-plus, and that’s 95ish on the speedo. Even in fifth at 85mph you’re still 1000rpm under this mighty engine’s torque peak. I know this is a sports car, but you can’t help wondering how it’d be with a nice, modern Aston Martin DB9-style auto, and a pair of paddle-shifts. But the SRT-10 wasn’t born to be that sophisticated.
Even so, its mechanical parts are sophisticated here and there. The Viper recipe hasn’t much changed since 1992, when Dodge decided the time was right to steal some thunder from the Chevy Corvette, ‘America’s sports car’. It has a simple, sturdy steel chassis-frame, clad with highly durable plastic panels.
The chassis supports an all-independent suspension system which uses lightweight aluminium arms top and bottom, and sophisticated DS coil-over shock absorber units. The all-disc brakes are massive Brembos (with anti-lock, though there’s no traction control).