Review: 2004 Dodge Viper - I drove a Viper and I'm still alive.
Produced from 1991 - 2010, and then again from 2013 - 2017 as a fifth-generation SRT specific model, the Dodge Viper has always, like countless other book fair poster-wielding 6th graders would attest, held a sort of mythical allure to me.
The aggressive styling, replete with impossibly fat tires, side exhaust, no ABS, and no safety features, the Viper’s dangerous attitude, like so many things in life, has been inexplicably tempting for decades.
Fast forward to 2021, when the unthinkable happened. A few weeks ago, In my relatively small suburb of Salt Lake City, I was driving home in my world rally blue BRZ when I noticed the unmistakable shape of a Viper in the most unlikely of places: my neighbor’s driveway. I would not have been more surprised if I woke up with my head sewn to the carpet as I was to see this red wedge parked outside his house.
See, this neighbor of mine is, well, as he put it, “so tight he squeaks when he walks.” Just what was a Viper doing in his driveway? Memories of being a young Boy Scout, bounding down the freeway in his old Ford Centaurus Luxury van (recliners included) flooded my memory, and the thought of what a 500 hp V10 would do in his hands struck fear into my heart. Surely, the terror that would reign would be something hitherto unseen in my quiet neighborhood.
As I waited with bated breath for the inevitable ripping of the V10 exhaust note to come down my street, it never came.
Starting to believe he bought it as a garage queen, I asked him the next day at church if the Viper was his. “It’s my son’s,” he said. “Want to drive it?”
Gleefully, I accepted. This was an offer I couldn’t pass up.
Overlooked in Viper lore, the third-generation Dodge Viper has been my favorite Viper ever since it was so recklessly featured by Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy in the 2008 action movie, “Wanted." Finally getting behind the wheel was something of a dream come true.
The 2004 Viper is small inside. Cramped, even, especially for the passenger. The fit and finish is a half-step above that Fiero turned Countach conversion you saw at your last Cars and Coffee. The clutch is so heavy my wife can’t stop staring at my left calf muscle. While not as raw as the first and second generations, this Viper was what everything you’d expect from the nameplate.
Then you start it and oh wow it makes a crazy sound. Thinking our water heater must have exploded, my neighbors came outside to see what was happening. They couldn't have been more amused.
Kept below 5,000 rpm, and once I became accustomed to the cast iron clutch, the Viper was surprisingly easy to drive and made for a nice cruise around town. The rear tires are so fat, and the suspension bits so stiff (age hasn’t helped, either), the Viper slams over any small bump, leaving the interior panels to shake and rattle like a nervous teenager picking up his first date.
Lean into the power band, and the snake comes alive. It rips. It’s violent. I loved it -- and so did everybody else. The attention you get in this thing is insane, garnering lots of thumbs-ups and picture snapping. Not since my DeLorean have I driven a car people have been so thrilled to see.
After driving the Viper for an afternoon, I can report that there isn’t much to report. It is exactly what you’d expect. It’s a basic, single-purpose weapon for the streets and the track. The hood is so tall when you pop it I almost needed to get a ladder to shut it. And yes, you will probably burn your legs on the exhaust.
Of all the Viper generations, the third and fourth generations (produced 2003-2010) just might be the sweet spot in the used car market. This particular example was found locally, and the dealership had it on their lot for several months. This example, a one owner, with 40,000 miles, was a rare find. Originally listed for 60k, the buyer was able to make it out the door for 40k. It’s a lot of car for 40k, despite its imperfections. Had I known this was in Salt Lake for this price, I would have considered picking it up myself. Unlikely to depreciate much in the coming years, I think the buyer got a deal.
With its monstrous V10, side exhausts, vented hood, and unmistakable styling, there are few things like it, especially for the price.
It was fun while it lasted, Viper. Thanks for not killing me!
Jason Bell is a lifelong car enthusiast who loves sharing his passions as a teacher, writer, speaker, and social media manager. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @thejasonbell on Instagram. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.