The Viper and the Alfa – Two Different Types of Snakes


As I’m still recovering from rotator-cuff surgery, I’ve become a passenger in the cars in the SCM collection.

This weekend I rode in two of them: the 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce and the 2000 Dodge Viper GTS ACR.

Aside from the snakes they each have in their logos, they have little in common – except that they each offer a distinct approach to motoring.

The Alfa was pressed into service as a frontispiece for the Oregon Ballet Theater’s performances of “Amore Italiano.” Displayed alongside a new Maserati Ghibli and Ferrari California T, brought by Ron Tonkin Grand Turismo, the Italian thoroughbreds were a nice accompaniment to the talented dancers on stage.

As the Alfa was started after a couple of months of storage, I enjoyed the guttural sounds that came from the dual DCO3 Webers as the engine came to life. As with all Alfas of this vintage, the car sputters and snorts, as if irritated from being awakened. As the water temperature comes up, the engine smoothes out and begins to purr.

First 3,000, then 4,000 then 6,000 rpm is achieved without fuss, and the mechanical package begins to go about its duties – propelling a 57-year-old car down the road.

We picked the car up after the Saturday night performance. On the deserted streets of downtown Portland, Oregon, the exhaust note reverberated from the buildings. Despite being underpowered by today’s standards, the Alfa felt fast enough. I was pleased to have taken it out, pleased to be a passenger in it so I could enjoy the car from the right-hand seat, and pleased that it had been displayed as a part of the ballet performances.

The next morning was Viper time. It was a clear, sunny October day with temperatures in the low 70s. One of my favorite wineries is Marchesi, in Hood River, Oregon. We decided to make the 45-mile run out the Columbia Gorge and taste the Sangiovese and Cabernet they were pouring.

As you would expect from a modern fuel-injected engine, the Viper fired right up and settled down to idle. With its aftermarket exhaust, the Viper rumbles in a way that you can feel all the way to the second floor of the SCM office building.

With a 488-ci V10 and well over 400 horsepower, the Viper is blindingly fast. In fact, I always forget just what a monster it is until I put my foot in it the first time. Then, as launches like a jet being catapulted off a aircraft carrier, I hang on and enjoy the ride.

The Viper is a noisy car, and the a/c seems to have two settings – off and arctic. No amount of fiddling with the dials could achieve a consistent, comfortable setting. But that aside, the car simply motors like a conqueror as it moves down the highway.

As we completed our 90-mile round trip, I thought about the two different approaches to motoring the Viper and the Alfa represent. The Alfa was all about finesse, with a 1,400-cc engine working at peak capacity all the time. The Viper is a typically American “brute force” approach to motoring. It didn’t matter which gear you were in while driving the Viper – it simply pulled. With the Alfa, being in the wrong gear for the situation meant hanging on as it bucked and snorted, communicating to you in no uncertain terms yours that you needed to learn to hone your driving skills.

I was pleased to have two days in these two different cars, each representative of their country of origin. If variety is the spice of life, I had a weekend full of spices.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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