I was the Motorsports Director of the Motor City Viper Owners car club when a message came into the club’s email account. The sender posted that he was in need of a “presentable early model Viper.” Normally, I would have ignored one of these notes thinking a politician wanted a car to ride in for a parade or something like that. Not to mention someone seeking an “early generation Viper” generally has a red car with the side pipes found on the first Vipers in mind. I have a graphite generation II Viper with no side pipes; but for some reason, I followed up on the inquiry.
I sent an email explaining that I have a gen II roadster, same body style as the “early model years” but no side pipes like the first Vipers. I immediately received a response back explaining that the car was needed for an event honoring none other than Bob Lutz. He was speaking at a black tie event hosted by the French American Chamber of Commerce, which was honoring him at a gala held at the Orchard Lake Country Club, Michigan. The plan was to surprise Bob by having one of each car, that he was instrumental in the development of, on display. The cars were to be placed in a semicircle on the lawn off the club veranda to surprise Bob when he arrives for a private cocktail hour prior to the main event. No politicians check. Some one-on-one time with the ultimate car guy, check. Cocktail hour, check. “Yeah, we’ll be there.”
As the event drew near, we received additional information; we were to arrive at the event a half hour before the 6:00 pm scheduled arrival of Mr. Lutz. We were directed how to get our cars out on the lawn and to park next to a display board describing each of our cars. We were also told that Jean Jennings, President and Editor-in-Chief of Automobile Magazine, was going to attend with a photographer and may do an article about the evening.
My wife, Lai Ha, and I arrived at the country club at the prescribed hour wearing our Sunday best, and we were directed out to the lawn. I have to admit, as I carefully drove across the manicured lawn, the thought of dumping the clutch and doing a big donut across the club lawn did cross my mind – for a moment. In addition to our Viper parked on the lawn with us was an Opel Cadet, Chrysler LHS, Corvette ZR1, Camaro convertible, several late model Cadillac’s and, of course, a Volt.
When Mr. Lutz arrived, he smiled a broad smile as he saw a resume of his life work in front of him. I was later told that he said he has done many of these types of events before but never have they gathered examples of all “his” cars in one place before. We were all asked to stand by our car, and he made his way to each of the owners for photos and spend a few moments with each of us.
When Bob approached us, he said “ohhhh Viper! These are great cars, I’m glad they got an early one. Did you see the new one? They’re going back to this style. I’ll never forget how we came up with the name. We modeled the car off the Cobra. We asked Ford if we can have that name but, of course, they said FU, so we were on the plane one night home after a long day. We had just decided to do the car, and we were having cocktails throwing out snake names when someone said Viper. We said that’s it! It’ll be Viper.” Bob thanked us for bringing our car, he posed for several pictures with us and he signed the poster board they had made for us.
As the main event started, we admired the cool cars as we mingled with other car owners, and members from the French American Chamber of Commerce (did I mention my wife is Chinese and I’m Irish?). We found ourselves talking with one of Bob’s assistants from days gone by and enjoyed the many stories she had to tell.
In addition to the Bob Lutz event, our Viper was invited by CEMA to be a feature car in front of the Walter P Chrysler Museum representing ’02 model year at the clubs annual car show which featured two seaters. In our years of Viper ownership, the car has been our ticket to do many things we wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to do and the Viper is the ticket to move you to the front of the line.