GOSHEN, CT – Bob Wachtel of Goshen has owned his 1999 Dodge Viper GTS for nearly as long as the sports car model was built. The Viper debuted in 1991 and the first generation went on sale in 1992. It lasted through a fifth variant until 2017, although there were years when it wasn’t produced.
Wachtel purchased his Viper in 1999. “I’ve had the car ever since,” he said while standing his driveway next to the low-slung silver coupe. “I’ve never had a car this long.”
The 10-cylinder, two-seat Viper was designed to evoke memories of the Shelby Cobra from the 1960s with raw power and aggressive styling. Over the course of its existence, the engine in the Viper went from a mere 400 horsepower to 645 horsepower.
Wachtel first spied the Viper at an automobile show in New York City. “They had a ’98 in silver and I fell in love with the car, so by ’99 I wanted the car. They still had silver available so I got a ’99,” he said, calling it “reminiscent of the Cobra but (with) a lot more comfort items in it.”
Wachtel knows a bit about Cobras, too, as he once owned an original and later purchased a Cobra replica.
While acknowledging he “wasn’t always mechanically inclined,” he had “a few hot rods” in his youth before getting his first sporty new car – a 1965 Ford Mustang fastback. “I had to wait a year for it because it had a K engine it and a four-speed. And I fell in love with the car. It was very fast and very underrated,” he said.
The K engine was a high performance version of Ford’s 289-cubic-inch V8. Only 3,500 Mustangs with that engine were built for the 1965 model year, according to the Newport Car Museum in Rhode Island. The museum also reported that the model came with only a three-month or 4,000-mile warranty instead of the standard 12-month or 12,000-mile warranty.
Wachtel kept the Mustang until he got the itch to build a Valkyrie kit version of a Ford GT40. He sold the Mustang for $3,000 and bought the kit.
“It took me about 2½ years to finish the car and it was very rough; the quality of the fiberglass (body),” Wachtel said. “And it stunk and it had pinholes all over it. But I left the body outside for about a year and a half so that the weather would cure it just by the rain and the snow and the wind.”
He used Chevrolet Corvair underpinnings to mount the body on and used another K engine to power it. He picked up like-new rear independent suspension, front cross member, brakes, steering components and more from a salvage yard for “maybe $400.”
The biggest hurdle may have been dealing with the department of motor vehicles in his then-home of New York. He was asked to fill out an affidavit for an assembled vehicle. “I had to go back several times until I got everything straightened out, and finally I got it registered,” Wachtel recalled.
Wachtel put the GT40 kit car to good use, even driving it from his home in Brooklyn to Canada and back. It, too, got replaced. This time by a used 1966 Cobra with 427-cubic-inch V8. Other cars along the way have included a 1968 Mercedes Benz 280SL , a gull wing Cheetah kit car and a Cobra replica.
Wachtel put 65,000 miles on the Cobra replica before replacing it with the Viper.
“This is the most comfortable sports car I’ve ever had. I can’t complain, and I’ve never tuned it up. Just changed the oil frequently and it’s never been out of tune,” he said. “It just drives great. It’s got instant power.”
What the Viper doesn’t have that many Vipers do are wide decorative stripes. “I never cared for stripes on cars even though most of the Cobras and most of the Vipers always have stripes on ‘em, but I don’t care for that. I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb,” he said.
Despite being built for a quarter-century, a total of only about 31,500 Vipers were ever produced. That’s fewer than the number of Chevrolet Corvettes produced in the 1999 model year alone. That year, Dodge put out 1,249 Vipers, a combination of RT/10 convertibles and GTS coupes.
The Viper may have been less popular but Wachtel is nonetheless satisfied with his trouble-free and well-crafted Viper. “At that time Chevrolet and Ford were probably more popular than the Chrysler products. That’s about all I can say ‘cause I think the car is truly a hand-made car,” he said.