Everyone knew Dodge Viper fans were loyal and passionate. But that’s a bit like saying a nip from a Garter snake is as serious as a bite from a … well … a Viper.
We, and likely thousands of drivers and pedestrians, got a taste of Viper venom Wednesday when the Viper Club of America – Illinois region, pulled through Southeast Michigan on their way to Niagara Falls.
While organized by the Illinois club, the caravan was open to Vipers from across the globe. Club President Alex Ristanovic said he was expecting upwards of 120 Vipers and 230 or so drivers/passengers would join the rally in total. Some made the journey from as far as Texas and even Germany.
“We have a lot of people who drove, towed and shipped their cars to be a part of this,” Ristanovic said. “It really is pretty astounding the amount of passion we have in this group.”
They rallied in Madison Heights, exchanging track stories, comparing their latest accessories and modifications, and breathlessly chatting up the recent announcement that Dodge will continue to make the Viper in 2010, which will be the most customizable Viper ever.
“It’s a big deal, a very big deal,” Ristanovic said of the 2010 Viper. ”I think that’s why so many people came out for this.”
Of all the drivers, I’d have to say 24-year-old Robert Schwartzli (pictured below), who lives near Toronto, was exceptionally passionate – even for this crowd. He started saving up for a Viper when he was 12, mowing lawns and taking on odd jobs for his Viper piggy bank. He purchased his 2002 Viper ACR two weeks before his 21st birthday and said he waited “desperately” for news about the supercar's future.
“I wouldn’t say the nights were sleepless, but something close to that,” he said. “I was absolutely overjoyed when they said they’d keep making it.”
“He lives the Viper life,” added Bernie Schwartzli, Robert’s father, who followed behind in a Ram, towing the trailer for the vehicle. The family, like many Viper drivers, aren’t just fans of Dodge, but of the entire lineup of Jeep and Chrysler vehicles.
“Once you drive a Viper you want to drive everything else (Chrysler),” Bernie Schwartzli added.
Ralph Gilles, Senior Vice President-Product Design Chrysler Group LLC and a fellow Viper owner (pictured below), says the Illinois club is exemplary of the Viper enthusiasm he’s seen at Dodge-sponsored Viper Club of America events.
“It’s been a phenomenon since Viper came on the scene,” Gilles said. “What’s cool about it is they do it on their own. When the owners themselves decide to celebrate the vehicle that’s when you realize the passion is something substantial.”
Leslie McLaughlin, a nationally certified driver trainer for the Porsche Club, shined up her recently racing-striped 2004 Viper GTS a week before the invitational, her first. While she’s driven Porsches for years, she's a true Viper devotee.
“I’m a moderator on the Viper Club forum, so I
figured I’d better be here,” she said.
“There’s really nothing else like it, either how it looks or how it drives.”
Click here to view a Flickr page with dozens of photos from the event and check back to this blog for more on the Viper rally, including a video of the rally.