Iacocca’s Dodge Viper, VIN #001, reminds us of when Detroit built awesome cars

The Dodge Viper is a car that makes little practical sense, and that is at least part of what makes it awesome. The history of the Viper model traces its roots back to one man, Lee Iacocca, and his desire to bring the absurdity of the Shelby Cobra to a company best known for minivans and compacts.

Iacocca believed so strongly in the Viper that at the press conference announcing the car he declared it a classic. The press conference was no BS, no fluff. Iacocca clearly stated that the car was absurd and the company was going to build it. The V-10 under the hood might be cast by Lamborghini, but the Viper is American through and through.

“Viper was the last great vehicle development program in automotive history,” says regional president of the Viper Owners Association Brian Willey. “It was a program that should have never happened. It could have been killed at any moment for any reason.”

Yet somehow the Viper lived on for decades. Over the years the car softened around the edges and grew up from its in-your-face and burn-your-leg early days. Not by much, but advancements in comfort appeared with each generation. It never grew up at heart though, as the monster V-10 can be found under the hood in all five generations of production.

1992 Dodge Viper RT/10

The early cars were and are the most raw, with odd features like a canvas roof panel, vinyl windows that zippered in place, a lack of air conditioning, and no exterior door handles. The 400-hp V-10 provided motivation in spades and demanded an attentive driver, with less than 3300 pounds sitting on massive rear tires and no traction control.

“The whole Viper project was, and is, a significant moment is American supercar history. And there is likely not a Viper more connected to that history than this particular car,” says Hagerty valuation analyst James Hewitt. “The Viper market has not had its big collector day yet despite strong interest, but bringing to auction the first car built from the first generation of an American supercar—one owned by the company chief—it could break ground into a new price level.”

During the same introductory, no-BS press conference, Iacocca admitted he missed out on the Shelby Cobra in the ’60s, but he was not going to miss out on this. A man of his word, he made sure the first car was his. Now Viper #001 is in search of a new owner and will be auctioned by Bonhams in Scottsdale, Arizona, on January 16. With a scant 6500 miles on the odometer, the car never strayed from Iacocca’s ownership, increasing the desirability of an already sought-after example.

Considering it’s a car unlike any other (multiple times over), is this Viper set to open the floodgates for the model in the collector space? It very well could, as the high estimate is set at nearly double that of a standard #1 (Concours) condition 1992 Dodge Viper. A perfect storm of desirability and collectability, this auction is one worth watching.

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