How Uncle Killed the Viper

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The Corvette now reigns as America’s only supercar. But there used to be two American supercars – the second one being the Dodge Viper.

It was, arguably, more super.

More outrageous, certainly.

An 8.4 liter V10 (and 600 horsepower) rather than a 6.2 liter V8 (and 460 hp) paired only with a manual transmission. Not just anyone could drive a Viper. Almost anyone can drive a Corvette. And not just because it is available with an automatic. The Corvette you can drive to work, in traffic. It puts up with this sort of duty as agreeably as a Camry.

The Viper in traffic is like a Lipizzaner stallion forced to give pony rides to 10-year-olds at a birthday party.

Getting out of a ‘Vette, you don’t risk burning your calves on hot sidepipes  – because the Corvette hasn’t offered sidepipes since the ‘60s. The Viper had them right through to the end – which was the 2017 model year.

The Corvette’s V8 is powerful, but idles as unthreateningly as the V8 in the Tahoe your wife drives the kids to school with. It ought to. It’s basically the same V8. When the ‘Vette is started up, the exhaust note doesn’t make babies cry – and old people wince, clutch their chests.

When you start up a Viper, on the other hand. . .

That sound is threatening – a guttural bark, like a mechanical Rottweiler whose chain isn’t quite tight enough to keep him from lunging through the gate and clamping down on your throat. And it’s coming at you in stereo – from each side of the car – not in mono, from the rear only as is the case with Corvette. The Viper is appalling a car to the politically correct set as a blackface routine. Which is exactly why the politically incorrect love it so.

But it’s not “safe” – and that proved to be its Achilles Heel.

Well, not safe enough – as far as meeting the very latest federal saaaaaaaaaaafety standards. Specifically, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard # 226 – yes, there are at least 225 other saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaferty standards to be complied with.

FMVSS #226 decrees side curtain air bags for every new car. This in addition to the plethora of air bags already stuffed into almost every conceivable surface/corner of every new car – which has at least four of them and usually six. Now, two more – big ones – mounted in the headliner on either side of the roof, to drop down like a curtain in the event of a wreck – ostensibly to prevent the ejection of the passengers through the (broken) side glass and to protect them from impact intrusion through where the door glass was, prior to impact.

That, in brief is the mandate of FMVSS #226.

The problem – for the Viper – is that there’s no room to spare for the installation of curtain air bags. Putting them in the already low-slung roof would make the car undriveable except by dwarves, due to the loss of headroom for the sake of air bag room.

And that is why the Viper is no longer with us – 2017 was its final year – political incorrectness notwithstanding.

It would have been necessary to redesign the car to accommodate the curtain air bags – which gets into money and Fiat (which owns Dodge as well as Chrysler and Jeep and Ram trucks) apparently couldn’t justify the expense it would have taken to make it so – just for the sake of  complying with FMVSS #226.

Keep in mind, buyers didn’t demand curtain air bags. If they had demanded them, it would have made sense for Dodge to make them available as buyers would have been willing to pay for them.

But the obvious fact is that buyers do not want to pay for them – else it wouldn’t have been necessary to mandate them. This obviousness is lost on the mandate-issuers, who insist that buyers pine for all these saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety “features” which for some inexplicable reason most buyers would never buy, if they had the choice not to.

It’s not just the money, either.

Stuffing curtain air bags into the Viper’s roof probably would have mucked up the car’s lines – and that’s no small thing when dealing with supercars, which sell on their looks as much as how fast they go. People forget that it was also federal saaaaaaaaaafety standards which helped ruin the looks of the American muscle car back in the early ’70s – when Uncle decreed the first bumper-impact standards.

The gorgeous lines of cars like the 1970 Camaro Rally Sport – with its delicate and almost entirely for looks-only bumperettes off to the left and right of an open grill – were marred by 1974 by ugly (and heavy) “5 MPH” bumpers plastered across the face it and every new car.

Sales plummeted. So badly that GM almost cancelled the Camaro (and its sister, the Pontiac Firebird).

People – the mandate-issuers – will say the bumper-festooned cars were saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafer and of course, that’s absolutely true.

So what?

The people buying the cars didn’t demand the ugly/heavy “federal” bumpers and so there was no natural reason to install them. Mandates countermand natural choice. Your freedom to pick what you prefer is suborned and supplanted by the preferences of people you’ve never heard of and who are certainly not your guardians at litum.

How did they acquire this authority?

It’s extremely odd.

Think about it some – as you ponder the last Viper’s tail-lights fading away into the distance.

. . .

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  1. Since the Viper was an old design, why did it need the extra airbags? Why wasn’t it grandfathered? IOW, why couldn’t it just have come with the same number of airbags it had always come with?

    • Hi Mark,

      Old designs still have to “comply” with whatever the new regs are. If the old design can’t be made to comply, it must be redesigned. And if the redesign costs too much vs. what might be earned selling that car, it doesn’t get redesigned. The Viper is a very low volume car and almost all of its parts unique to that model. The Corvette is similar in that respect but it does share a basic engine design with GM’s V8, which reduces development costs. More important, probably, is that the ‘Vette is much more established than the Viper. It’s been around continuously for almost 70 years now.

      • I was curious, because you talked about getting a Chrysler 300 because it doesn’t have all the nanny tech that newer cars do; you said that this was because it was an older design. So when safety regs are updated, the car has to be updated accordingly?

        I was sad to see the Viper go. I couldn’t really afford a new one. I never tried looking at a used one, either. They say that that car is a BEAST to drive! It’s not forgiving or civilized like the Corvette is.

        • Hi Mark,

          A lot depends on the car. The 300 is a big/heavy car and so it can adapt better to the latest saaaaaaaaaafety decrees. The Viper apparently couldn’t. Or, FCA did the math and decided it wasn’t worth redesigning, as the car sold in very small numbers and was probably a loss leader.

  2. The Government acquired this authority by requiring people (by the coercion of the courts and force of guns) to register their cars by filling out an application which then officially declares the car as a “motor vehicle” which is a commercial classification which can now be regulated as it is no longer considered private property. The other clever thing that is done is that the MSO/MCO (Manufacturers statement/certificate of origin) which is the original title is mailed to the various government “Motor Vehicle” agencies where is photocopied, destroyed and a ‘certificate of title’ is then issued to the purchaser of a new car thus destroying the legal chain of ownership to any person who thinks he owns his car. These nefarious actions by our government are slowly becoming more widely known. This is why a cop will tell you that driving is a privilege since “driving” is legalize for commercial operation of a motor vehicle which, by virtue of the ‘voluntary’ filling out of a registration form makes it also a commercial entity This rabbit hole is huge. A federal district court recently declared that drivers do not have an expectation of privacy of the information related to their license plates. Various government entities are deploying cameras everywhere along the roads which means that you are now tracked by your car anywhere you go and there can be no privacy (of course, the same holds with our cell phones which can be tracked, though a warrant is supposed to be required but do you honestly think there are no agencies that will not do this without a warrant?). Without privacy do we have any freedom?. Until the public stands up and revolts, because that is what it will take, this will continue. And since they are slowly taking away our rights to “keep and bare arms”, this too will limit our ability to challenge the slowly spreading government hegemony. Freedom is lost by slow erosion at the fringes…getting it back will take herculean efforts and may not occur until everything is first lost or destroyed.

  3. When our overlords make a decree, they always sell it as a minor temporary law that only affects Muslims, junkies, sex offenders, homosexuals, illegal immigrants, or blacks. The 1% doesn’t mention that the law will become permanent and more draconian.

    No one cares if owning cows are illegal, yoga pants are illegal, teen driving is illegal, or smoking is illegal. The problem is what happens when your job is banned, the government steals your house, tortures your family, or sends you to the concentration camps.

    Are you just going to take it?

  4. They’ve brought back the viper before. For now we have to settle for the challenger demon as the flagship. I kinda miss the chrysler crossfire even though they were slow.

  5. Your comment(s) on the aesthetics of the cars is another reason why car commercials tend to show European models as your additional SAFETY gear ruins the flow of the lines.

    • Hi Gabe,

      Amen. Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety has ruined the good looks of cars. A bikini isn’t nearly as practical as a full-on dive suit, either – but I know which one I’d rather look at!

  6. Did 5 MPH bumpers really make cars safer? Or was it increased safety belt use? Perhaps driver preference for better handling over
    ‘boulevard ride” led to fewer accidents. Heck, maybe a reduction in smokers, who sometimes panic when the occasional burning ash falls on their leg while driving, might be the cause. Is there any way of measuring the effect of any safety device outside the laboratory?

    And when the lab test proves the safety device is actually effective, how does that change human behavior? Kids riding skateboards in shorts and tank tops aren’t going to take on as much risk as the kid covered in protective gear.

    Airbags might save lives in an accident. I’m open to the idea of paying for them if there’s a demonstrable benefit. But I also know that for many drivers that money would better be spent on driver’s ed and regular practical testing, not hardware. Always better to avoid an accident in the first place.

    As for the end of the Viper, since the airbags are primarily a defensive mechanism, shouldn’t the choice to install them or not be up to you (and your insurance company)?

    • Ready, I’ve known two people who were going for a lit cig or the dropped lighter who totaled 2 cars each in doing so, both cars that were hit were parked on the street.

      Not sure if the big bumpers weren’t for the insurance companies more than anything. A friend was in a Monte Carlo one evening along with a few others when an Identical car slid into theirs from behind. Everybody was fairly stunned but the rear car was rapidly driven away leaving the occupants of the stopped car to their own devices. Amazingly, that car didn’t sustain any seen damage. It’s the very reason I’d like to find a “Laguna” front end for an El Camino to replace the front of my 77 although now I suppose it wouldn’t be wise to change an SS into the other model for values sake, esp. since the SS has the tow package making it pretty unique.

      • A buddy of mine used to have little holes in all his pants. I suggested he start wearing wool if he continued to smoke in his car. Back when I smoked and had the CD player I had a few close calls, but only on open highway.

  7. i figured the new law allowing manufacture of 325 vehicles that are exempt from crash regs would let the viper slip thru,

    they only sold 440 last year

  8. In November 2015 my 24 year old daughter, in a new car full of airbags, was killed when a guy ran into her. Maybe airbags save some people, but they obviously aren’t infallible enough to justify making them mandatory and kill off cars people may want which don’t have “enough” of them. Even if they worked 100% of the time, no one should be telling people what the cars they want must have.

    Life is a risk. As it should be. Let people make their own choices and stop using the violence of “law” to force people to accept things they may not want and prohibiting them from having things they do want.

    Governing is just another name for molesting.

  9. It occurred to me last week to look up the actual odds of me dying in a car wreck. In Minnesota, it’s 14000 to one against. In Montana it’s about 4000 to one against. If you factor in ability and judgement (situational awareness, avoiding clover clusters, maintaining my rigs), my personal odds are so low as to be functionally zero. My biggest danger is murder by traffic cop or dozing off in a long straight empty 60mph road. Don’t even get me started on seat belts, factory ones are crap, and in the 30 years I was a first responder I’ve seen people die horribly because of them.

    Point being? We are TOO safe, and more damned rules and cops will kill more people. I calculate that sticking close to the anile speed limits has already cost me 18-24 months out of my 54 years. It’s time to push back hard on the safety nazis. They are in fact taking our lives a bit at a time.

  10. Wait a minute…

    Does not the 2018 Corvette comply with FMVSS #226?? And how about the 2018 Porsche 911?

    If those two have managed to be in compliance, then it was not this reg that killed off the Viper.

    • Hi Mike,

      The Corvette is a much newer design – and designed to be compliant. The Viper is a pretty old design and would require major re-doing to cut the mustard.

      That’s the problem.

      • eric, they should do a major re-design. Once an automaker loses their performance flagship they’re just another appliance maker.

        Of course this is more difficult to do these days since govt. designs cars by proxy and automakers simply produce them and hopefully at a profit. The sound of that V 10 was something that always made me smile…..ok, laugh right out loud for the most part.

  11. Ford killed their cars because they can’t compete with Honda and Toyota. Thank God for the Chicken Tax or the Americans would have to stop making pickup trucks and SUVs as well.

    • The reason why they couldn’t compete is because North American cars are expected to be bigger and more powerful. Both of those things conflict with the EPA regulations.

      As a result they couldn’t make cost effective cars that could compete with those rules in place. Thus you’re proving my point.

      • Godbless the asian imports. They ingrained albeit fleetingly that their cars and sedans were quality, affordable, and dependable for long enough that the market doesn’t buy any different today. Americans only seem to trust North Americans to build a decent truck or SUV and not much else. The circus of gimmicks in trucks to lighten and standardize with hi tech fa**otry and distractions is coming to a boil and it will be interesting to see how long truck drivers tolerate it.

      • If North American cars are expected to be bigger and more powerful then why do Accords, Civics, Camrys, and Corollas sell so well while the the big 3, sorry big 2 now, flounder?

        As Brazos says, Ford and GM still cannot compare to Japanese quality and dependability so they have pretty much given up trying.

        Note the “rules in place” don’t prevent all 4 of the cars I mentioned from being made in the USA thus proving my point.

        • The accords etal are also struggling compared to historical volumes. But they have further to fall.

          Cost structures are different for US and Japanese companies. Much has to do with legacy from the 1960s and before much has to do with culture. Either way it has an effect on product. Also there is the market in Japan that has an effect. Japanese cars IME will be very reliable up to a point in either miles or years where they just start to implode. One thing after another. Fords, my mustangs anyway will have less things go wrong but it will be spread out. But it takes someone like me who keeps cars for an exceedingly long time to see it though.

    • Ford did us all a favor by killing off the 3 ugliest cars ever made. So dung ugly they make Ladas look like works of art. At least Ford trucks still retain some graceful looks. Thank you Ford for killing off some ugly creations.

    • All of those will be more expensive to make up for the CAFE tax. Trump gave a bail out but rolling back the CAFE standards for a time. What he should have done was let them stand.
      Why you say?
      It would have hit the Big Three like a mother-effing brick wall as sales vaporized and the public’s eyes would be opened to the ridiculousness of it all and watch GM/FIAT/Ford burn, then a real cash bail out would be necessary. If people truly wanted electric vehicles they would be buying them. They aren’t and it is glaringly obvious. Maybe the market and last pocket of individualistic hetero’s are still a strong enough force. Maybe they couldn’t afford what is coming down the pipe. Either way, it needs to end.

    • Ford killed off their gasoline powered cars, and will probably do the same to their ICE suvs & trucks eventually for the exact same reasons. There are plans for a fleet of 16 new electric vehicle models that are going to be offered in their place, along with hybrid trucks & suvs by 2022.


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