Big, brash, and unabashed: Jay Leno talks Dodge Viper

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The last few weeks of Jay Leno’s Garage have been filmed like this week’s episode, with just Jay and a tripod in his shop. He has been picking cars he finds particularly interesting in the collection, and this week it’s a stunning black 1993 Dodge Viper. Jay jokes that it is rare that even he purchases a car and holds onto it long enough for it to transition from used car to classic, but here we are.

 

The first-generation Viper is a car that perfectly suited to its era. It is a no-nonsense sports car that likely could not be built today in the same way it was in the early 1990s. From the V-10 under the long hood to the lack of any driver aids, the Viper is a tantalizing mixture of modern performance and vintage feel.

Jay Leno is a fan, and for years, the comedian thought he had the first black Viper ever produced. He was contacted by Tom Gale, the Dodge designer behind the project, who kindly corrected that Jay’s Viper was the second black car. Gale’s was the first. With fewer than 300 black models produced the first year, Jay is willing to settle for second.

Early Vipers did experience some of the teething issues common with new models. Chrysler came to his shop in the the ’90s and replaced the pistons and rings when the car had just 1000 miles. Since then, Jay says his Viper has been relatively maintenance-free, even with the few upgrades added by Hennessey performance. Another interesting change was a rear axle gear swap from the factory 3.07 ratio to 3.77. Numerically higher ratios makes for more acceleration and less top end speed, which turns the already-wild Viper driving experience that much more exhilarating.

The Viper lived a long production life considering its reputation as a brutish car, and Jay thinks it served as an important a halo model for Dodge. The competition it provided for the Corvette, specifically, helped to advance both models over the next two decades. And who benefits in an automotive arms race? The customer, of course.

 

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