Yesterday somebody posted something about “what’s your car story.” I thought it was a cool idea so here’s part of mine.
In 1999 I was in 7th Grade and a part of an organization called Civil Air Patrol. You can look up what they do because honestly I don’t remember what the actual mission was – hell, it was affiliated with the Air Force and I’ve spent the last 9 years wearing Army green (well…Army digital grayish greenish whatever color).
Seriously...is it gray? green? Whatever it is, it’s not camouflage. Thank God it’s on its way out.
I remember we talked about finding black boxes from downed Airplanes, I had to take tests about planes, we wore uniforms, we exercised, and mostly we volunteered at community activities. Not much sticks out to me as particularly memorable, except for one specific event we volunteered at.
Images from Houstonmopars.org (surprised they had archives of this! rush of memory!)
The Houston Mopar Club was having a show and race day at the Houston Raceway Park. I was 11 and had no clue what Mopar meant, but I liked cars and it was a chance to hang out with some of my friends so I signed up to help out. We did things like hand out registrations, guide cars, help park, etc.
When I got to the show I was blown away by all the cars, but one type in particular was easily my favorite and I was so excited that several were in attendance: the Dodge Viper GTS. This was my absolute favorite car.
I broke my neck on the way to church every Sunday trying to see the gorgeous blue and white GTS parked outside the Dodge showroom for just a second as we drove by on I-10. I think my dad and I were one of only a handful of people that consistently tuned into the, in retrospect, awful TV show “VIPER.” If you haven’t seen it then go youtube some episodes, but have a 6-pack ready. I recently watched a few episodes, but fortunately I am old enough to drink, otherwise there is no way I could sit through the terrible acting. I also picked the Viper every time on whatever Need for Speed game we had on our computer.
Needless to say, this car was everything I thought a car should be. I was ecstatic at how many Vipers were present, but honestly I was too shy to even get too close to them. I was afraid the people that owned them would discount me as a stupid kid (I was a pretty shy kid in general).
I remember watching the drag races and did not care one bit about the classic cars everyone seemed to fawn over, but when the Vipers hit the strip I was awestruck. Then one of the most memorable events of my childhood happened; one of our group leaders told us we could ride back in one of the cars after they completed a run.
I remember the group of us lining up and I begged the group leader to let me ride in a Viper. He said that we had to ride in whatever car corresponded to our place in line. I unashamedly begged the kid in front of me to let me ride in the silver Viper GTS that had finished the run on his turn. Thankfully, the kid in front of me was car-apathetic and had no problem with it.
I slowly approached that gorgeous, angry beast and my palms were sweaty as I got closer. I was so happy I didn’t get stuck in a Neon. The driver got out and opened the passenger door, warned me about the hot side sills, and told me to climb on in. My first reaction was amazement at how low I was sitting to the ground and my second was how I could feel every bump in the road! We drove back to the staging area and it was over way too fast (insert obvious first timer joke here). I got back to whatever job they had me doing, but could not stop thinking about the Viper.
Fast forward to adult-hood and I’ve sat around several campfires, garages, and bars where friends have asked me what my dream car is. I always told them the same thing: Gen II Dodge Viper GTS. Not a Ferrari? Nope, not realistic enough. Porsche? No, I’m in the Army, not a dentist. Corvette? No, not a dad yet. The reason for its dream car status was because I was left with a memory when I was 11 years old of how cool that car was. Nothing that has come out since then has hit my car emotions quite like the Viper.
Recently I sold another dream car, a Lotus Elise, after two years of ownership and 13k miles. I made some money on the sale thanks to the Doug Demuro rule of Elise ownership (in my defense I bought it before I knew who he was). I have broke even or made money on some other cars I have sold so my wife generally trusts my car purchasing decisions.
I was left with a space in my garage and a decent amount of cash in my pocket from the recent Elise sale. My wife and I are in the process of becoming foster/adoptive parents so my initial thought was to get something practical, but of course fun. So, I looked at the Subaru Crosstrek and the Mercedes GLA250 (I was seriously 95% sure I was going to get the GLA). I also jokingly threw out the idea of getting a Viper to my wife who was initially less than thrilled. Then in one of my conversations with her where we were weighing the pros and cons of different potential vehicles she said “just get the Viper.” That was all I needed; I had been secretly perusing all the car listing sites for the last two weeks anyways to get a feel for the Viper market.
A few weeks after my wife gave me the green light I had a one-way ticket to Houston where I purchased a 2002 Dodge Viper GTS. I then drove it home 700 miles in one day on not the greatest tires. I never understood what they meant when they said older Vipers want to kill you, but I quickly comprehended the statement. I respected the car, though, and felt like we were getting to know each other. When I got to Montgomery it started to pour and I drove about 5 under the speed limit in the right lane with semi-trucks passing me. This thing was not going to beat me on our first day together.
I safely made it home that night, ordered new tires within a week, and haven’t looked back…that is until someone asked me recently why I picked the Viper of all cars and I was able to tell them this story. The story of the kind Viper driver that let an eleven year old ride in the passenger seat of his pride and joy for a couple minutes.
That guy has no clue the impression he made on me and I don’t think that any of us really ever know when we might plant the seed of automobile-enthusiasm in others. So, fellow Oppos, show kids your cars; let them open the sunroof, push the “start engine” button, have them “ooh” and “ahh” as you rev it up – you never know the passion you might inspire in them. Plus it’s just plain rewarding to see little kids smile so genuinely.
This was a lot more emotional to write than I thought it would be. Hope you all enjoyed a little of my story. And, if by whatever chance the owner of that silver Viper from the 1999 Mopar show is reading this, thanks for letting me ride in you car!
My best friends chilling in the old tires - and they are both 55 lb dogs.