Fantasy and Reality

August 20, 2013—The Viper roared to life at 6:15 AM on Friday morning and settled into a nice, lumpy idle as I waited for the engine to warm slightly. I plugged one end of the RF transmitter into the cigarette lighter and the other end into the iPod. The morning was cold and damp and while I initially second-guessed my decision to not bring a jacket, I knew the sauna that is the Viper interior would be fully heated soon. A quick call to Ben revealed that his friend, Carlo, who would be joining us, had not arrived yet. Frustrated and eager to get going I told him that we’d meet somewhere on the road.

Dodge Viper at sunrise

Dodge Viper GTS before sunrise


I like leaving Los Angeles before rush hour to get some miles on the odometer and to avoid traffic. This is especially important when you’re driving a V-10-engined monster that has a tendency to run warm. I ended the call, threw the phone in the small glovebox between the seats and let the heavy clutch out slowly.

There weren’t too many cars on the road yet and I managed to make it to the Pacific Coast Highway in about five minutes. The plan was to run up PCH all the way to Monterey with the ocean on the left, mountains on the right and sun up high and behind. The sun would have to wait as a solid fog hung over the bay and everything was shrouded in a gauzy grey; it was the antithesis of the stereotypical SoCal summer day but it would be great for keeping the Viper, and myself, cool.

Dodge Viper at Neptune's Net

Neptune's Net-- A Los Angeles car guy landmark


The overcast lasted until I turned inland just past Gaviota State Park. Despite the issues with the throttle position sensor the day before leaving, the Viper ran well. As an aside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to convey how effortless passing is in a car with a conservatively-rated 490 pound feet of torque. And while saving fuel in the Viper is like picking up a penny while “making it rain,” I do tend to keep the car in sixth gear above fifty mph. But when passing slower cars, especially when putting myself in the path of oncoming traffic on a dashed yellow line, I generally downshift to fourth to complete passes as quickly as possible.

So imagine that you’re cruising along at sixty miles per hour on a two-lane country road. In front of you is a Prius whose driver brakes every time they run over a cat’s eye, which is frequently because those cat’s eyes come out of nowhere! You downshift to fourth to pass—the revs spike to about 3,000 RPM—and you bury the pedal in the carpet. The thrust shoves you deep into the seat. In a couple of seconds, you’re clear of the Prius and doing about eight-five, ninety miles per hour. And that’s if you’re only passing one Prius. Then you brake hard because you don’t want to be arrested when the terrified Prius driver phones it in and suddenly the big brakes are helping to leave a seatbelt shaped imprint on your chest.

Dodge Viper at a Drive-in movie theater

In Lompoc


When I finally had to stop for gas in Santa Maria, I was already sweating profusely. In this case it was my fault, I hadn’t used the air conditioning yet although it's basically worthless, only cooling your right knuckles. I called Ben to see if he was still waiting for Carlo or if they had actually left. They were on the 101 to make up time, had already received a speeding ticket for doing ninety in a sixty-five (but reduced to eighty) and were roughly as equidistant to San Luis Obispo as I was. We’d meet at the Madonna Inn for breakfast.

Fueling complete and determined to arrive first, I flattened the throttle and left an “eleven” in front of the Chevron while a couple of kids fumbled for their cell phones. Cutting through the small towns leading to Pismo Beach was a delicate balance—I was trying to maximize speed but didn’t want wind up with a citation to match Ben’s. I did see one cop in an alley, but unfortunately for his municipality's coffers, I hit a red light just before I would have flown by.

Viper and 911

The incomparable Madonna Inn


We met as planned (and I did barely beat him) and had breakfast. I’d love to tell you that the rest of the drive was an epic battle to Monterey with the notes of the V10 and flat6 singing through the mountains marking downshifts, brakes lighting up as they erase speed cheating each cliff, and death, of its due. But the sad reality is that the Pacific Coast Highway from Cambria to Monterey is a two-lane “highway” clogged with lumbering RV’s and appliances cars driven by people whose last thought would be using a turnout. Beautiful? Yes. Fun? No.

Dodge Viper at Bixby Bridge

The fantasy


Don’t misunderstand; it is still a winding road with many opportunities to wring your engine, brakes and steering out. But it’s a fantasy, because just as you clear traffic and settle into a good rhythm the following straight defecates a roadblock at you in the form of a Ford Aspire moving marginally faster than jogging speed.

Viper and 911

The reality


Predictably, the drive became even more tedious as Monterey approached. The fog that had vanished inland thickened again, as did traffic. We slowed to a crawl nearing Pebble Beach. Still our arrival was as grandiose as one might hope as a Maserati Quattroporte led us and a McLaren MP4-12c trailed us. Our supercar parade was directed to one of the greens-cum-parking-lots and after stretching for a minute I headed off for credentials... more on the drive and events, soon! [kiWO]