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I’m not sure I ever told the story of Automobile Magazine‘s last-gen Dodge Viper and my birthday before this, but it’s a story worth telling.

There was once a deal made by Ten: The Enthusiast Network ages ago, prior to its Discovery acquisition, with the folks from Roadkill and Dodge. The terms of said deal are neither here nor there, but part of the result was the media company owning three cars: a Charger Hellcat, a Challenger Hellcat, and the above Dodge Viper.

  • Car: 2015 Dodge Viper
  • Location: Little Tujunga Canyon Road, Southern California
  • Photog: Jonathon Klein (@jonathon_klein on Insta)
  • Camera: Nikon D7200

Now, the Challenger and Charger became General Maintenance and Mayhem, respectively, while the Viper became the unloved step-child of the now-dead Automobile Magazine — pour one out for David E. Davis’ love child and one of my favorite books around. The staff, apart from a few certified rad individuals, abhorred the big-bore, burly, stupidly awesome machine. What that meant, however, was that the Viper’s keys were often available. On the occasion of my birthday, I figured, “Why not?!” and swiped the keys out of the box that held all our press car’s keys.

At this point in my tenure at the magazine, I’d only been there for a short time and didn’t quite know the history behind this specific Viper. I was also unaware that no one, and I mean no one, had looked after it since it’d shown up on AMag‘s doorstep. So I took the keys, braved two and half hours of 405 traffic on a Friday evening with the Viper’s stupendously heavy clutch, and picked up my wife for a birthday meal. And for that, it performed exactly how you’d expect a 645-horsepower 8.4-liter V10 supercar would. It was perfectly fine, actually, but that changed once dinner was over.

With a delicious burger in my stomach and my beautiful wife at my side, I figured a short romp through the canyons was well-worth the diversion from home. Midway up Little Tujunga Canyon Road, the Viper stuttered, oil pressure dropped to zero, and I pulled the beast over to the side of the road. I shut it off, let it sit, then turned it back on to see if it was just a weird hiccup. Oil pressure returned, but given it wasn’t my Viper, I decided to cut our drive short and head home. Two miles later, oil pressure dropped again and I pulled over.

No oil was leaking, and I didn’t hear any hissing from an overflowing radiator either. I figured it was an electrical short and limped the supercar home, about seven miles total. I parked the car in our garage and planned to call a tow truck the following day. When I returned to the garage in the morning, however, the V10’s oil had gone full horror film, splattered all over the garage floor. My own blood drained from my face as I made the call into work.

After the tow truck took the Viper away, the dealership called a short time after that with the prognosis: The engine, that wondrous masterpiece of ancient truck engineering, cocaine, and gasoline, was dead and would need to be replaced at a cost of $33,000.

Luckily, after some back and forth, the supercar’s warranty covered the new engine. I never did find out what had actually happened, but given it hadn’t been well-looked-after in its life, I can guess.

What happened next was even wilder, but the main thing you should know is that the car, well, disappeared. It was parked in the garage, sat for ages, a few execs drove it around, there was apparently a raffle, and then, one day, it was gone. I had left the company by then, but that car was something special, even though it nearly gave me a heart attack.

The Viper was good, despite what weirdos and chickens say, and this picture still gives me good vibes that I’ll keep with me forever.

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