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from a report in the Detroit News:

There's a tragic beauty about the 2008 Dodge Viper that makes it virtually the perfect collector car.

Like Ted Williams in his last time at bat.

Like Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President."

Like the last saber-toothed tiger, roaring at its own imminent extinction.

Massively powerful, beautifully styled, the Viper symbolizes the very best and the very worst aspects of America's relationship to the road: Arrogance for thinking we can guzzle gas by the gallon while the rest of the world measures it in teacups; childish clinging to a bygone era that was truly great while it lasted.

As one reared in the golden years of American motoring, when the rest of the world was still clearing the rubble of war, I share deeply nostalgic feelings for those days when American automakers could afford extravagant means to capture the buyer's imagination, knowing that gasoline cost just pennies per gallon.

Ignorance was bliss. But we can't claim that excuse anymore.

When oil started sniffing the $100 per barrel mark and my neighborhood gas prices shot past $3 per gallon again, the reality that we could be facing a permanent transition to high fuel costs became increasingly undeniable.

For someone who can afford an $83,145 roadster, a measly $1,700 gas-guzzler tax and annual fuel cost of $2,812 is no deterrent to ownership. But you need more than money to enjoy this car. You need a strong sense of denial, perhaps even a cultural death wish.

There are people who will truly enjoy the Viper -- enthusiasts, collectors, people emotionally connected to amazing machinery. Frankly, there's nothing like it made in America, though the Chevrolet Corvette provides the closest comparison.

If the Corvette is a true American sports car, the Viper qualifies as an exotic, sitting somewhere between the 'Vette and a Lamborghini.

While the Corvette can shred the pavement with its 6.2-liter, 430-horsepower V8, the Viper SRT10's 600-horsepower V10 is even quicker, sending the roadster from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds and to 100 mph in about 12 seconds.

City driving doesn't really tell you much about this roadster, except that it has awesomely deep vocal tones and a rather harsh ride. If you enjoy the basso-profundo stylings of Barry White, you'll love just sitting in this car with the shifter in neutral, running the rumble up the rpm scale.

On surface streets, the Viper is actually well behaved. You don't have to restrain it from taking off, and in routine situations, the six-speed stick goes from first to third to save fuel. But on a track or closed road, the car runs like 600 pent-up thoroughbreds.

The ideal surface would be a well-maintained oval track, where you could really work the gears on the straightaways. The chassis is so stiff that road bumps create loud noises and jolting sensations.

The personality of the car is conveyed by its deep-cut side scallops, swept-back fenders, crosshair grille and side-mounted exhaust pipes. Red brake calipers show through the 18-inch front and 19-inch back wheels, as do the massive brake discs. The Viper needs less than 100 feet to reach a complete stop from 60 mph.

Inside, the shifter and boot are mounted to the center console with very visible bolts designed to convey an industrial brawniness.

The seats are low to the road, but well designed for the driver and passenger. The 2008 is available with hard or convertible tops. To start the car, you turn the key, push in the clutch and punch a bright red "Start" button on the dash.

To liven things up, Dodge is introducing an interesting palette of new colors: Venom Red, Snakeskin Green, Viper Violet, Viper Orange and Bright Blue.

This is the ninth year that Dodge has offered the Viper as a production model. Another show car released on the streets, the Prowler hot rod, went the way of the dodo bird in 2002. Even the more subdued Chrysler Crossfire is heading into retirement this year.

Built in Detroit's Conner Avenue Assembly Plant the Viper SRT10 is the flagship of the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) vehicles that follow the mantra: "Race inspired, street legal." Typically, the SRT team takes a production model and re-tunes it for high performance. Viper SRT10 is all performance. There is no milder version.

Not surprisingly, only 4 percent of Viper buyers are female. The median age of the men who will own the car is 45. They have a household income of $173,000 and 44 percent have college degrees; 62 percent have spouses. They are primarily executives or entrepreneurs.

One can only wonder if their other car is a Mini.

WHAT'S NEW: Five new colors, styling tweaks.

PLUSES: Collector value, performance, styling.

MINUSES: Cost, fuel economy, ride.

BOTTOM LINE: Speed freak.
 
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