Courtesy of Bonhams
  • Well-preserved second-generation Viper
  • One of 100 GTS-R specification cars
  • About 10,000 miles
  • 488-ci, overhead-valve V10 engine
  • Electronic fuel injection
  • 460 hp at 4,600 rpm
  • 6-speed manual transmission
  • Four-wheel independent suspension
  • Four-wheel disc brakes
  • Aerodynamic package
  • White with blue stripes
  • Racing harnesses

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1998 Dodge Viper GTS-R coupe
Years Produced:1998
Number Produced:100
Original List Price:$85,200
SCM Valuation:$97,500
Tune Up Cost:$200
Chassis Number Location:Plate at base of windshield
Engine Number Location:Lower right-front cylinder block
Club Info:Viper Club of America
Alternatives:1971 Chevrolet Corvette LS6 coupe, 1987 Buick GNX, 2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Centennial Edition
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 166, sold for $90,720, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Amelia Island auction at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club in Amelia Island, FL, on March 8, 2018.

When it launched for the 1992 model year, the Dodge Viper was just like America at its best — big and brash. Akin to the Terminator on four wheels, it boasted a huge 8-liter, truck-derived V10 engine and a pugnacious roadster body that just barely covered the enormous engine and wheels. Unlike today’s sophisticated supercars, the original Viper was miles away from offering any semblance of balance between performance and civility.

Instead, it was all performance. With the big engine’s reported 465 foot-pounds of torque (later upgraded to 600 ft-lb) and a lack of today’s ubiquitous stability control, one clumsy jab of the right pedal could turn the Viper around, giving occupants an excellent view of where they’d just been. And the ride quality was little better, delivering a kidney punch over every pothole and a karate chop over every pavement crack.

We owe a lot to that original, untamed Viper. It put Dodge on a pathway that now rewards us with cars like the Challenger SRT Hellcat and Demon. Like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” album, after decades of assault on American might by overseas competitors and governmental regulations, it flew the flag for unabashed, 1960s-style Yankee performance once again. And the Viper also represented a viable U.S. competitor for Corvette, whose creators had recently launched the “King of the Hill” ZR-1. Although in truth, the Viper was a far less sophisticated piece.

One giant leap for Viperkind

I have never heard anyone describe the original Viper roadster as pretty, or even nice-looking. But that changed in 1996 when the Viper GTS coupe arrived. The goofy, Halloween-pumpkin face remained, but replacing the roadster’s awkward mid- and tail sections was a svelte hard-top structure that, spiritually, seemed to have been lifted straight off of Peter Brock’s lovely Cobra Daytona coupe.

All of a sudden, the Viper was a GT racing contender. And contend it did in many series, most notably at Le Mans with the French Viper Team ORECA. During this time, the ORECA Viper coupes battled with the Pratt & Miller-built factory Corvette C5-Rs. As a side note, a highlight of my car life was at Le Mans in 2000, standing in the hot pits at night, when the Viper and Corvette came in simultaneously while battling for the GTS class lead. Possessing 18 heathen cylinders and displacing some 15 liters between them, they were like giant gladiators waging a deadly battle amongst an array of field mice. Incidentally, Viper won that contest, and the FIA GT World Championship five out of six years.

Real racing aero

Fast-forward two years, and Dodge created 100 race-replica GTS-R Viper coupes, one of which is featured here. In a sense, they were a modern-day equivalent of the Cobra 427 S/C, in that they featured various racing-derived modifications fitted to a street-legal chassis.

This wasn’t just for show, as including these components homologated the Viper for additional racing series. Aerodynamic mods included a front splitter, plus canards reminiscent of the Chaparral 2C of 1965. Naturally, a rear wing was fitted, as were special rear ducts. The rear diffusers now common on performance road cars (and even EVs and hybrids!) were not yet in vogue. Appropriate for the time, replica BBS racing wheels were fitted.

Finished in Stone White with Viper Blue stripes, this GTS-R logically channels the Team ORECA Vipers, and also the long-ago 1953 Cunningham C-4RK. But the GTS-R wasn’t just for show, as subtle engine upgrades bounced the output up to 460 horsepower — a 2% gain over the standard 450-hp Viper GTS. Meanwhile, inside, the GTS-R served notice of its serious intent with multi-point racing harnesses and even a fire bottle.

Bargain or blunder?

Nearly 20 years have rushed by since this Viper GTS-R was sold to the first of four owners. However, even after such a long time, its $90,720 sale at Amelia Island shows a gain of just 6.5% above the original $85,200 MSRP.

It’s interesting to compare this with other American exotics, most particularly the four-cam 1990 Corvette ZR-1 and the supercharged 2005 Ford GT. Originally listing for $58,995, the first-year C4 Corvette ZR-1 is valued at a mere $21,000 today — a 64% loss. In contrast, the 2005 Ford GT retailed for $149,995, and now trades for about $305,000 — more than double its original MSRP.

This quick balance sheet shows the one-year-only Viper GTS-R occupies a flat “middle zone” in return between the deserving but still unrecognized ZR-1 and the strongly appreciated and valued Ford GT.

How come? Here’s how I see the strikingly different long-term returns for the Corvette, Ford GT and Viper.

First, the Corvette. The ZR-1 came to market like Chuck Norris entering a biker bar wearing a tuxedo — well-dressed and fully equipped for the fight. Nonetheless, the aluminum block, 32-valve, Lotus-designed and Mercury Marine-built V8 engine was a far-out proposition for the Corvette faithful at the time. And besides, it was expensive. Its sales suffered then, and its value continues to suffer today.

The Ford GT traded on historic provenance, thanks to Ford’s four consecutive Le Mans wins from 1966 to ’69 — especially the magical ’67 event with the Ford GT40 Mark IV, which was powered by an American 427 engine and was driven by Americans A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, ran American tires and was fielded by Shelby American. The reincarnated Ford GT of ’05 thus hit the salesroom floor running, saw price bumps immediately, and never faded. Although not every Ford GT is a $400,000 car today, gaveling at $300,000-plus is a common result.

And that brings us back to the well-kept, 10,000-mile Viper GTS-R sold by Bonhams. This model has a lot going for it, including racing-derived bodywork, a factory power boost, the distinction as a one-year-only offering, and very limited production.

The 2018 American Car Collector Pocket Price Guide pegs the car at a median value of $97,500 — a price this car missed hitting by 7%. Considering that the sale price was well less than a third of a 2005 Ford GT’s value and well under the MSRP of the final-year 2017 Viper GTS, the 2018 Corvette ZR1 and even the 2018 Tesla Model S P90D, I’ll call this classic snake well bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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