- Nate Kuhn
The Automotive White Whale
Like many of us here, there are many cars that I absolutely and unequivocally love. While I have definitely found an enormous level of contentment with my humble Scion, there’s obviously “bigger” fish in the sea that tug at my heartstrings.
I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s - possibly peak era for the automotive wall poster. Mine was filled with the lines of Pininfarina designs, 60’s Euro sports cars, American Muscle, 90’s JDM and more. I have always had a knack for finding interest in many different categories of cars. I had posters all over - and in between the posters were hand-cut clippings from the brochures I’d get from the annual Auto show in Chicago. There was hardly 10 square feet of bare wall in my entire bedroom growing up, my youth literally surrounded by automotive photography.
If there were a top five that were the ones that captivated my eyes, heart and imagination the most, they would be (in order of release):
1: The 1984-1994 Ferrari Testarossa (later called the 512tr but let’s be honest - it’s a Testarossa).
2: The 1990-1996 Nissan 300ZX
3: The 1992-2002 Dodge Viper (technically 2 generations, but they’re the same basic design in terms of poster cars)
4: The Ferrari F355 - Possibly the best looking Mid Engined car of all time to my eyes.
5: The Ferrari 550 Maranello (this car saw technical improvements and minor visual tweaks but the original configuration looked the best to me).
Now, As I mentioned in an earlier article ( https://www.everydaydriver.com/single-post/redefining-the-dream-car ), with age comes the perspective and reality that MOST of your dream cars won’t ever really be attainable. Others that are less precious will be largely junk piles by the time you can get a chance to own one. There’s honestly a weird black hole that forms in the middle that only a handful of cars reside in.
One bookend is the proper exotics - the Ferraris that started out wildly expensive are still wildly expensive. Sure some can be had for far less than originally listed at, but it’s not exactly approachable from a “normal person” standpoint. They are nearly as far from a plausible purchase to me now as they were when I was a teenager.
On the other bookend are the cars that are readily available. Things like the Nissan 300zx are absolutely within reach. Except they fall into two basic camps - they're either clapped out high mileage cars that at some point in their multiple owner history were not taken care of very well and are ROUGH for 10k which I don’t want to buy, or the occasional Bring-A-Trailer specials that are showroom new and have a price that reflects that. Neither are really WORTH it to me - I don’t want a 90’s project car in the way those cheaper ones would be and I refuse to pay collector price for a car that I want to drive often - and one which the performance has been eclipsed by newer stuff and makes it less exciting and not really worth it in the end.
So that knocks out a lot of the lifetime dream cars. But I have continuously been plagued by the temptation of one. The one that somehow straddles the middle of these two typical bookends. The one that shines brightly from the black hole between nuggets and exotica. The Dodge Viper.
Oh, the Dodge Viper. My irrational love for this car is second only to the absolutely insane car that it is. Admittedly, my personal design proclivities usually favor smooth flowing lines over hard edges and pointy features so it’s not much surprise how much the Viper resonates with my eyes. It is a STUNNER of a car. Crazy proportions, concept-car looks and an engine that is absolute comedy. My Uncle had one of the first ones off the production line, and getting to ride shotgun a few times as a 12-yr old did nothing to lessen my obsession with it. When it first came out it made everything on the road look ancient and even now nearly 30yrs later I feel it still looks terrific in person. It is one of my all time favorite car designs in history and while performance figures and capabilities have advanced dramatically, unlike many cars of this era (and ones before it) the Viper is still kind of a beast.
Over 25yrs the Viper was tweaked and wildly changed - the middle cars not having the visual appeal of the 90s cars but improvements on performance, handling and capability got stronger. The last iteration seemed to hit the sweet spot - looking more like the first car with performance that eclipsed the predecessors by a wide margin. They all have their appeal. But the old ones just do it for me and for a price that is indeed within reach.
93-96 cars can be had for $30-35k - less than the average new car sale in the U.S. It’d be a stretch for me to put one in the garage at this point in my life but the fact that I CAN have one if I want one is simultaneously exhilarating and haunting.
Most days, I am happy to ignore this potential dream car in the garage. I am VERY happy with my FRS. Year after year it continues to be a terrific tool for Autocross and Track driving in ways a 1994 Viper Roadster would not be. Another factor that puts my FRS above the Viper is the fact that it’s cheap to run and use as a normal car whenever I want it to. The Viper is DREADFUL in both respects - it doesn’t even have exterior door handles so you can’t park it and walk away from it. Then, as far as consumables go, a set of tires costs FOUR TIMES as much as it does for me now. The list of reasons it would be a bad idea to “trade up” is long and pretty obvious.
But now and then, I just get the itch. The notion that I COULD buy one of my all-time favorite cars and it gets under my skin. I start searching. I start rationalizing. I usually bend the ear of my friend Eric - who has gone through this dance numerous times with me - and he now just says no.
As any good friend should, he used to entertain the idea. We’d talk through it - but now he knows it’s not happening and just cuts the corner to the finish line of this crazy train of thought and reminds me that I already unequivocally made up my mind that I won’t buy one so let’s just remind ourselves of that fact and move on. I’d be lying if this cycle didn’t re-occur every 4-6 weeks for the past few years. I feel very fortunate to have the garage lineup I do given my lack of rich-person income, and the truth is that a Viper would have to be an ADDITION to my current stable (not to replace anything) for it to make sense at all. It's not happening.
So for eternity, the Viper is my White Whale - My own personal version of an automotive Moby Dick. I have an unhealthy obsession with this car, and the relative affordability (in that unlike some McLaren or something) I COULD actually have one even though It would be a terrible idea in every single way. Well, except the ability to go into my garage and stare at it. Looks are free after all. Those quintessential coke-bottle curves with nary a single hard line anywhere on it still speak to my imagination and make my eyes dance over the surfaces every time I see one. Great lines and brute force never really go out of style. OH, and of course, v10 engines also don't really 'get old'.
Part of me wishes the early Vipers would actually go up in value enough to be out of reach so I could stop torturing myself as much and as often as I do. If the floor of these things was bumped up to 45k and 55+ for a fairly nice one I'd just ignore them like I do so many other exotic cars. It’s the whole “within reach” factor that haunts me. I know I’ll never buy one but somehow that being MY wise choice vs financial impossibility gets to me. Am I actually asking these to no longer dip into the 30-grand market?
Do any of you have a White Whale car? Something that is within reach but has eluded your grasp for a while? I’d love to hear about it - and hopefully not feel so alone in this ridiculous obsession.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report on our YouTube channel -www.thecyclereport.com - The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.