Automotive professors and students at South Puget Sound Community College were in shock Tuesday after being notified their $250,000 pre-production Dodge Viper GTS must be destroyed within two weeks.
“It’s like the day Kennedy was shot,” Norm Chapman, automotive technology professor at SPSCC, said. “No one will forget where they were when they heard the news.”
Steven Glasco, vehicle donations coordinator at Chrysler, confirmed that the complete collection of the educational donation Vipers nationwide must be crushed. He would not comment further on the numbers of vehicles or why the decision was made.
“All I can tell you is we sent a letter to the school,” Glasco said by telephoneTuesday afternoon.
Chapman said he was told by a company official that the destruction of 93 vehicles is the result of two educational Vipers that “got loose” and were involved in accidents, costing parent company Fiat millions of dollars.
Car companies regularly donate damaged, non-street-legal, or unsellable vehicles to high schools, colleges and tech schools to be used for training students. SPSCC has about 20 donated vehicles in its auto shop.
Part of the contract with the donated Viper reads that it will be destroyed if the company orders it to be.
The 1992 Dodge Viper is the fourth produced by the company.
The pre-production vehicle is not legal for street use and was never meant for resale. It has no emissions controls or speed limiters. It features a makeshift hard-top, making it a one-of-a-kind vehicle because the company did not make a production hardtop until 1996.
The Viper produces roughly 600 horsepower on a 2,200 pound fiberglass-body vehicle. It can go from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds.
“It’s a beautiful car,” said student Mike Murphy of Yelm. “It was fun to work on.”
Automotive student Cierra Thomas and graduate Stormy Hudson said they plan to organize a petition asking Chrysler to let the school keep the educational vehicles.
“Chrysler is taking away from our education,” said Thomas. “We shouldn’t be punished for one school’s mistake.”
Chapman admits the Viper has limited educational value — few mechanics will ever have to work on such a specialized vehicle. But it is a prized promotional tool for the auto program, which displays the car at high schools and auto shows around the state.
“Everybody wants their picture taken with the Viper,” professor Bob Riggin said. He said visiting teachers and dignitaries often get to actually drive the car when it’s strapped down to the shop’s dynamometer. “This car belongs in a museum, not in a crusher,” he said, adding that Jay Leno had unsuccessfully tried to purchase the Viper for his personal collection.
Scot Keller, chief curator at LeMay-America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, said he would love to have a prototype Viper at the museum “These are magnificent cars,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want a Viper?”
But, having been a GM executive himself for many years, Keller said he knows that trying to rescue this one would almost certainly be pointless.
“I’m an enthusiast but also a realist,” he said. “In this case, I feel somewhat obligated to protect the industry. It’s easy to say, ‘Those doggone people in the industry.’ But having sat in a number of meetings on issues like this, I see the other side.
“It’s heartbreaking if you love cars,” Keller said, “but it’s the only thing companies can do to keep the cars from getting out there and people potentially being harmed in them because they are not up to standards.”
Chapman said his students will be washing and preparing the car for its final demise. They are not holding much hope that the car will be spared from the crusher. He said he will probably have to call someone to crush the car.
“I couldn’t do it,” Chapman said. “It’s like a family pet.”
Staff writer Rob Carson contributed to this report.