The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Three

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Let’s take a moment to be honest with ourselves. Is the kind of lazy, sloppy, corrupt writing that plagues automotive journalism really a problem? When MotorTrend reviewed the current Viper, Lieberman ranted that “luxury and driveability have been sacrificed” and that “driving the manual is hard” and that the Viper is “hot inside”.

None of that is even remotely true. I’m not even sure Jonny is stupid enough to believe the lines they’re having him read. I think the “creative” team at MT understands that videos like this get a lot of YouTube clicks. A click from someone who hates you pays the same as a click from somebody who likes you. That’s the business.

So what? So what if MotorTrend slanders the Viper? In the immortal words of our next President, what difference does it make?


It probably made some difference to the Viper, which is being canceled in 2017. I believe that negative reviews had quite a bit to do with that, and that uninformed reviews had even more to do with it. Viper reviews typically fall into one of two categories:

* the Lieberman-style review above, where some pansy who lives in California and uses skin moisturizer complains that the Viper doesn’t match the Flying Spur Mulliner for interior luxury features and is therefore exactly like driving a Hemi Dart with a stripped interior;

* the TopGear-style review where they praise the car’s raw speed and power but state that “This car should stay on the track and only make the briefest forays onto public roads… It’s loud, it’s harsh, it’s super fast, it’s a massive amount of fun. But it would be a miserable thing to commute in”

I think the second kind of review does more harm than the first, because it perpetuates ideas about the car that are simply incorrect. Many of us could commute in a Viper without any difficulty. I’ve put about 9,000 commuting miles on my 1975 CB550. I assure you that the Viper ACR is absolutely up to the task of matching a ’75 Honda as a commuting device. But it would also be fine for any commute that doesn’t involve a lot of seriously broken pavement and/or steep parking garages. If you could do a particular commute in a C7 Vette or a BMW Z4, you could almost certainly do it in a Viper ACR.

So how many people simply took the Viper off their lists because they were certain that it would burn, deafen, or rattle them? I bet you that the answer is “enough to make the difference between switching the line off and keeping it going.” And that is also the answer to the question of whether or not incompetent and lazy automotive journalism does anybody any harm. In this case, it’s going to put every worker on the Conner Avenue factory line out of work. It’s also going to deprive a lot of people of a chance to buy the greatest trackday car ever built. It won’t affect Lieberman or Pat Devereaux; they’re still going to be flying first-class around the world to drive $300,000 cars and stay in five-star hotels. It only affects the men who build these cars and the men who are capable of driving them to their limits.

Alright, enough bitterness. This comment also popped up on the same article, and I’ll leave it here because it cheered me up a bit at a time when I could use some cheering up.

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I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’m a fan of old-school auto writing and I try very hard to bring some of it to all of you. Thanks for reading.

56 Replies to “The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Three”

  1. MrGreenMan

    You are spot on that it’s some sort of geographical prejudice.

    What’s a commute? Not everybody spends all that time crawling along bumper-to-bumper traffic in an urban area to work. Not everybody gets in the car and parks it for two hours to go four miles in a California rush hour on a freeway.

    Because of a really good deal on rent, I currently get to enjoy a 40 minute commute, straight down a very large Michigan highway. The average speed is 40+ mph. If people are thinking that day and do the science, they realize that the lights are synchronized into three stretches.

    Since I’m near all the proving grounds, I’ve seen people commute in Corvettes, in Vipers, in Hellcats, and in Porches. I’ve even seen people commute in Ariel Atoms and in side-by-side trikes from Polaris.

    Given some of those stretches of US-23 as you roll into Columbus (as a sterotypical midwestern city that hasn’t collapsed yet), even as traffic tightens up, the Viper would be perfectly at home rolling into work.

    Reply
    • jz78817

      “Because of a really good deal on rent, I currently get to enjoy a 40 minute commute, straight down a very large Michigan highway. The average speed is 40+ mph. If people are thinking that day and do the science, they realize that the lights are synchronized into three stretches.”

      8 Mile Rd. used to be famous for that, if you knew how to pace yourself from Harper Woods out you’d hit every green until at least Grand River.

      But I think the timing has been allowed to drift over the years. a week ago I was coming back east on 8 Mile, and from the stretch between roughly Telegraph and Mound I think I stopped for nearly every red.

      Reply
      • MrGreenMan

        I have seen the same as you have – it’s like something that was managed in the past, so it’s almost right. On M-59, you have to do 55 the whole way to really catch all the greens between Pontiac and US-23, even though it’s a 50 and a 45 in some of that.

        Reply
        • One Leg at a Time

          You are correct – this used to be managed in the past. Lights were mechanically synchronized to keep traffic flowing, as much as possible. (I actually had a Traffic Engineering course in the early 90’s where we learned the process.) This changed with the advent of the electronic sensors – lights are responsive to the presence of an automobile, but that throws off the built-in timing. I am not even sure that they still use sequencing.

          Reply
        • DeadWeight

          It’s possible to time M59 from I94 (or nearly so) to M53 with maybe two lights catching – but only if traffic is super light (so only very early in am, as in 3 am).

          As to Jack’s piece: Jack, you’re one of the best writers-upon-things-automotive on the scene today, because there are so exceedingly few real writers-upon-things-automotive today.

          It doesn’t hurt that you’re somewhat immune to presstitution – that takes down 99.789% of reviewers who accept trips, hotel rooms, food/wine, golf/ski/whatever junkets that “strongly influences” their pronouncements and verdicts.

          Reply
          • VolandaBajo

            “Presstitution”…I nominate DeadWeight as the author of the best neologism of the year.

            But Jack, I hope you were trolling when you said “the next president of the US”.

            As problematic as trying to figure Trump out may be, the serial liar family that collected almost a million dollars a month over the last two years for speeches to banks and Wall Street firms (but who refuse to release the contents of those speeches to the public), would surely be the final coffin in the nail of America, and especially of any idea of American exceptionalism.

            Nominate me as the most troglodytic person you know if you wish, but I am more than willing to take a chance on the fact that Trump is far more and far better than the image of Trump that the spin doctors are trying to sell to the American public.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            Oh, Bark and I are both Trump supporters.

            But Hillary has access to more money and more power than Mr. Trump. Fuck, dude, she’s had people killed.

          • Ryan

            Telegraph is the same from 94/Van Born nearly all the way to Square Lake.

            I made it from Downriver to Rochester in a little over an hour. Not bad for Friday near rush hour.

  2. jz78817

    Honestly I think the Viper’s biggest problem is that they forgot what the Viper was supposed to be. For this one they set out to make it a better C6 Corvette. Which they did, and then were immediately caught flat-footed by the C7.

    Plus it didn’t help that the C7 ‘Vette and Viper looked so damn similar. Even the interiors have the same integral “grab handle” on the right of the center stack.

    ps where are those comments from? R&T doesn’t have any on their site anymore, and I don’t see them under the article posting on FB.

    Reply
    • Josh Howard

      Actually, it’s funny you say that they tried to make a better C6. This can’t be further from the truth. I was in the studio looking at sketches and such during development and got to see a pre production interior. The emphasis was on creating a high quality, more comfortable exotic that would be made in Detroit. Think more Ferrari and less Corvette. Seeing several in person, I agree that is what they did. The problem is, it’s too little too late. I love the car but can’t afford even a used one. All I can do is drive it in a video game. Sound familiar? If they could find a way to get to GTR volume, they’d be so much better off.

      Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      The similarities between the Viper and the Corvette, which were played up by the press both with the previous and current generation, mostly exist when you look at photos of the two cars at certain angles, I think.

      The proportions are so different, and the driving experience is so different, that I really don’t think there’s much overlap there. It’s like the ’71 C2 Corvette and the Opel GT; they look similar in photos from the period and then you stand next to ’em and realize they’re massively different in proportion 🙂

      Reply
  3. Jesse Shaffer

    I agree that an ACR could be daily driven by anyone with the will to do so! Maybe Ralph Gilles focused too much on chiseling at the iconography of the car’s styling and engine instead of making either markedly better. Dozens of revisions were made to what is still essentially an aluminum version of a truck engine for the last generation alone. Do you think committing to the V10 helped to condemn the car to history?

    Please write more things like this. I am so sick of reading cell-phone accessory reviews masked as auto-journalism.

    Reply
  4. Pseudoperson Randomian

    Cars have gotten good enough that little you have to say about the differences and drawbacks actually matter to regular consumers, in the same sort of way that little you have to say about a ~30W mobile core i5 and a desktop core i7 will actually matter to the average consumer. A car is a car is a car. It’s a commodity.

    That’s why you end up with nonsense. But it might also be likely that that the nonsense is the glue holding the entire industry together and not letting it devolve into a mad race to the bottom.

    Reply
    • everybodyhatesscott

      I think there’s an old Jack or Bark article about how you have to spend a lot of money to get a bad car these days and the example was a Maserati. Maybe my memory is failing me cause I can’t find the article.

      Reply
  5. Hogie roll

    Hey Jack, have you ever considered any older vipers? The ’97 GTS with the hot cam will assuredly be a collectible.

    Reply
  6. Ronnie Schreiber

    ” It only affects the men who build these cars and the men who are capable of driving them to their limits.”

    I’ll have to check my article on the Conner facility to get the exact percentage but a significant fraction of the employees there are women, including at least one section leader.

    The people who work there tend to be very long term Chrysler employees so I suspect that for many of them retirement is an acceptable option. Still, to even qualify to work there you needed to have a perfect attendance record so Conner Ave is staffed by some of the very best autoworkers in the Detroit area. They rotate jobs so quite a few employees there can do just about everything that is done there. They are obviously proud of their work and it’s a shame that the facility is closing.

    If there ever was another candidate for the Nate Altman Avanti II treatment, it’s the Viper. I hope to expand on that in a post at TTAC.

    Reply
  7. E. Bryant

    One problem is that the automotive market offers products that are far more diversified than the backgrounds, expertise, and interests of the journalists which review them.

    There is also the issue of applying a constantly-shifting – and often inappropriately established – frame of reference to every project review.

    The result is that some journalists can perform a half-decent job of reviewing midsized sedans or luxury crossovers or the occasional sport hatch, they are simply unable to provide a proper review of something far outside the mainstream… such as the Viper.

    I see even the ACR version of the Viper as being relatively mellow, as it almost certainly rides better and runs quieter than my 3/4-ton diesel truck. It’s far more tame than my modded ZL1, despite being far superior in any number of performance metrics. It’s probably way easier to drive than the shitboxes in which most of us started our driving careers.

    Journalists need to stop exaggerating differences just for the sake of making their review seem important.

    Reply
  8. ZZR

    This same disgraceful pansy-ism is destroying the sport-touring bike market too. BMW quit making its wonderful ballistic K1300S in favour of the idiotic sit-up-and-beg S1000XR (a stonking motor tied to a stupid mission brief). Ducati axed the lithe and satisfying ST4S in favour of the putrid Multistrada, the BMW X6M of the motorcycle world.

    It’s only a matter of time before the Hayabusa and ZX14R, which are incredible sport-tourers, are killed off because people think it’s too hard to ride “all hunched over”. Other riders are stunned that I put in 700-mile days on my ZZR1200, like I’m Ernest Fucking Shackleton hiking over South Georgia Island in flip-flops and a t-shirt.

    I used to commute on a 95HP two-stroke race replica that got 25mpg; essentially the equivalent of driving a Viper into downtown Toronto every day. It was often frustrating, for sure, but the sight of that thing and the sound of its ring-a-ding exhaust note at the end of the day was therapeutic.

    Maybe the silly wee dickheads who fear the Viper’s slight discomfort (I mean, have they driven a European Ford from the early sixties, FFS?) got breast-fed to six years of age and driven to school until they were twenty? We are going to miss the hell out of artifacts like the Viper; the cancellation of which is just another step on the way to us turning ourselves into ‘intelligent’ veal.

    Reply
    • Yamahog

      What sort of bike was that? Some Yamaha RZ500 or NSR400?

      And some of the journalists are really weak. I heard guys 5’10” complain that the SV650S was too cramped for commuting – news to me (at 6’3″) and my day trips out to cabins 300 miles away.

      Now, journalists can’t decide whether the seat heights of adventure bikes is too tall (compared to street bikes) or too short (compared to dirt bikes).

      Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I’ll tell, you — I rode my VFR 247 miles in six hours (with a break for dinner) on Tuesday night and my back still hurt the next morning. Getting old sucks. Makes me think my ZX-14R is gonna be a neighborhood vehicle.

      Reply
      • ZZR

        ^^ It was a Suzuki RG500

        ^ I’m nearly 50 and 6’3″ with a 34″ inseam, but I’m not all busted up like you. I ride with a bunch of guys who are older (between 50 and 70), all with big-bore sport-touring bikes like ZX14s. The VFR is way too compact for me seat-to-bar, whereas the ZX14 is pretty roomy. The worst part of the ZX14R might be slightly high pegs, which can be eased by installing Buell pegs. The FZ1 seems like a good compromise, but they’ve been killed off in favor of faux-adventure bikes too.

        Reply
          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            I’ll be curious to see if it arrives here. I’m thinking my best bet is to buy a leftover FZ-1 or ZX-14R.

  9. jstyer

    I daily a 993 that is at lower than Cup height, straight pipe exhaust, no interior carpet or sound deadening whatsoever, a CAE shifter, 6 point harnesses, roll cage, 800lb springs, buckets, and NO AC… In Houston weather. On Houston roads. Year round baby. Every day.

    The difference in comfort between my car and a viper is approximately the same as the difference in comfort between a sky diver and a Gulfstream G550.

    Honestly after a couple weeks you don’t notice it at all… My wife has commuted in it for 10 days while I took her car on a work trip. Didn’t hear one complaint from her other than the AC.

    Journalists who say you can’t commute in ANY modern production sports car are just candy-ass bitches.

    Reply
  10. Paul Alexander

    A HAND BUILT, V-10 powered race car for the streets, from an OEM, with a warranty. Built in America. And holds nearly every significant lap record for a production car. For $100,000.

    Who’s going to miss that?

    Allow me to go young for a second: smdh

    I can’t imagine these things not going for bonkers money in 10 years or so and everyone saying, ‘It’s a shame they don’t make anything like this anymore.’

    Reply
    • tresmonos

      We can always drive by the parking lot where Conner Ave Assembly once stood and lament the old days where hackney hipster journalist whores weren’t part of the marketing machine.

      Reply
  11. Frank Galvin

    When I do offer a few cracks about Lieberman – it’s usually about his craft-beer, faux bohemian excursions that 99.9% of us will never take. I had to take notes on the clip above, trying to get his angle. What the hell is he trying to accomplish? Is it what Deadweight suggests, presstitution i.e. curry favor with Merc by taking potshots at Dodge? Or, is it that he’s like every fucking hack teacher I had in school that just had to offer a cornucopia of negative comments to a report card despite the work being done right?

    One of the things that was great about (the old) Top Gear and portions of the British motoring press, is the emphasis on “fit for purpose” and “value for money.” Lieberman spends a great deal of time taking ridiculous swipes at Viper for what? The manual is “long and archaic”, it’s “weird and old school.” Christ, he’s no different than the other hacks that jizz their pants when some euro douche mobile ditches the auto “box” (note – quit calling it a fucking “box”, its not something one goes down on during foreplay), and adds in the “silky smooth” manual (again – enough with “silky smooth”, it’s not a silk camisole riding up a woman’s back).

    Then it’s onto how loud it is, how inhospitable, that one sacrifices comfort and livability, that because of it’s engine size, guys are going to “compare dongs.” Really Johnny – get bent. Oh, and the Prius comparison was a nice touch. Look, had this been a proper review – comparing the 300k Merc to the 100k Viper, the good reviewer would have noted the Viper’s creature comforts available at low entry point; Uconnect, Harmon Kardon, Nappa leather, Alcantara, power seats etc. So, if one was comparing Lutz’s successor to the original Shelby – how could a reviewer not gush over the fact that this trackday special has available for 200k less? I can see Clarkson and Hammond drifting this thing around the track – absolutely giddy and willing to overlook some heat because hey – top of the line stereo, air con, and giant V-10.

    But then again – Clarkson et al. never had to worry about who was paying for the next junket.

    Reply
    • arbuckle

      The video looks like it was made back in 2013, which is when Diamler was providing M/T with “long-term” brown E63 wagons and any Black Series car they wanted.

      Lately FCA is giving M/T Hellcats like they’re wet-naps at a barbeque joint so I’d guess if the video were made today it would be more complimentary of the Viper.

      Reply
  12. Pingback: Dodge kills the Viper

  13. Hank Chinaski

    Re. viper payments:
    I know it’s pissing in the ocean in today’s economic conditions (negative interest rates v. inflation and a rigged casino market), but socking away FU money might be on your list of alternatives.
    Telling your own Mike Lumburgh to shove it, ideally at a point in one’s life before dementia/debility takes over, is priceless.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Never gonna happen. I don’t make enough money to ever be fiscally independent. Even if I saved $100k a year for the next twenty years — that’s what it costs to have one solid triple bypass, then you’re broke again.

      Reply
    • Yamahog

      Keep preaching!

      I remember some of the deals floating around during the recession and ever since then, I’ve tried to save half my paycheck. I drive a car that was made when Clinton was in office and I see many of my colleuges and neighbors moving into newer cars and trucks and bidding up the price of homes fueled by low interest rates and low down payment requirements. Though now more of the participants in the market carry non-dischargable student loan debt.

      If I keep my job next time the economy takes a hit, I’m going to be the ultimate carpet bagger.

      Reply
    • DirtRoads

      Heh — I just read that. Had to wonder, how many bazookas have you fired, Mr. Kuntzman? How can you make such a statement? And it’s loud? Oh. My. God. Call OSHA.

      What a last name.

      The AR-15 is pretty damned tame next to a 12 gauge or .300 WinMag, or even a .44 mag. Grow some hair on your chest, dude.

      Reply
  14. scs

    Even though I don’t commute anywhere except home to the airport and back, I would drive a Viper ACR every day, everywhere, for the rest of my life, very happily. Love the car, love the grandstand-play attitude Ralph and the rest of his crew took with the car. Loved my ACR Neon, love what ACR means, literally and philosophically. Looking at the collection of Vipers at Chrysler’s media day today at Chelsea made me sad, but happy that I’ve been around for the entire history of the car, from the first time Bob Lutz explained to a small group of us what he was trying to do on a tiny budget, to see what the car has evolved into. Sad that a crapload of my colleagues don’t get it.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      “Loved my ACR Neon, love what ACR means, literally and philosophically.”

      THANK YOU FOR THAT.

      Reply
  15. Hezz

    My memory may be wrong here, but I remember when the Viper launched Dodge had to decide whether to follow through on plans for a downmarket V8 version. The V8 version would have enabled much higher volume, but they decided it would dilute the image of exclusivity. The first Viper I saw in a dealership was in 96, and had 50K in dealer markup on top of MSRP.

    Fuck ’em. Dodge tried to sell a blue collar supercar on image and prestige, and it eventually failed. The old money kid will always impress the girls at the club much more reliably with a more exotic marque than Dodge. If they had gone the other way, the C5, C6, and C7 would have had direct competition at the low end, and maybe the Viper would have lived. Maybe I would have owned one.

    This post is at least 20% poor boy sour grapes, I know that.

    Reply
  16. Power6

    I know you aren’t just some lame commenter on TTAC but geez man why do people get all up in arms about a review. I doubt anyone who likes a Viper is going to be swayed, the owners are like a cult. If you are swayed by a review, well that says all you need to know about a guy doesn’t it. Didn’t Farago say your words are little soldiers going out to die…didn’t he also hire Lieberman lol. Its just a video, a point in time, a comparison to a specific car. You are the last person I’d expect to start in on that “not the same target market” crap.

    He didn’t say the Viper has a crappy manual he was making a rather out of place, but personal statement. He actually praised the direct linkage. He said the footwell is warm, nothing to do with side-pipe burns, it just is that way in a Viper, only my limited experience but that is what the instructors also noted way back when Skip Barber ran the SRT track experience, has that changed?

    Well good to know people are still wasting precious hours debating inconsequential stuff on the Internets. I’ll spend that time doing something else so maybe I can afford a Viper someday! I would totally drive it all the time. Don’t get me started on that ha, these Internets would have you believe you can’t daily an STI its too track focused, better get a Golf R LOL.

    Reply
  17. ninjacoco

    Meh, our job isn’t to look after the jobs of the good, hard working folk in Michigan who put the car together. If a car is legitimately crap, call it crap. Lieberman’s review isn’t problematic because of that; it’s because he doesn’t seem to understand what the Viper is for or why it exists.

    Of course it’s old school! Of course you do your own shifting! Of course it’s a rough ride, with few creature comforts! That’s the charm. That’s the appeal. There are people who want that, and it’s not him. That’s fine, but he doesn’t seem to acknowledge that there are folks who’d see those things as selling points.

    If you want your balls to be individually swathed in an entire cow’s worth of leather each and whiiiiirrrrrrred into a pot of ball-jelly by an Electro-Lux MassagerTron at the press of a button, get the fancy SLS Black Series for three-times the Viper’s price and…wait, what? Who is this review actually for, anyway? I know there are buyers who get both because well, both are good cars. But J-Liebs’ kvetching because he doesn’t get the appeal of a manual anymore over paddles doesn’t seem to do much. I got far more relevant, interesting information about both cars out of Pobst’s track laps than, well, anything the rest of Motor Trend ever does. (Pobst is a national treasure, though.)

    It’s the same kind of hackery as the fellow who complained that a Mirage was too bare-bones. That’s. The. Point. The Mirage isn’t there to set the world on fire; it’s to provide basic transportation at a reasonable price. Of course a car three times more expensive, with more creature-comforts, and geared more towards a luxury buyer than a trackrat is going to be an easier, more refined, more comfortable drive. That’s the point, innit?

    It’s sad that I feel the need to give some kudos to MT for actually rolling with something that doesn’t sound like a Dodge advert, though. That’s rare. Too rare. It should happen more often, but in the hands of someone who perhaps gets why the cars exist a little better.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Well, MT shits on the Viper so they can suck the cock off the mass-market stuff.

      Dodge PR understands that it’s better for the magazine to boost Caravan sales at the expense of Viper volume than the opposite.

      Reply

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