Last week Chrysler sent letters to a number of colleges ordering them to crush the remaining Dodge Vipers that they have in their custody, in accordance with the agreement entered into by the carmaker and a number of vocational schools when Chrysler donated the cars. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Internet got wind of this and blew a head gasket. How could early preproduction Vipers be ordered to the crusher when they’re… early preproduction Vipers?
One example in particular, now sitting on death row at South Puget Sound Community College, seemed like a prime candidate for a Presidential pardon. It’s a 1992 hardtop example with the VIN stated to be number 4. Students at the college as well as students of muscle cars will recall that Dodge didn’t market a hardtop double-bubble Viper until 1996, when the car was given a mild facelift, making this particular example even more special. And this particular car had always been something of a celebrity at the school, with students and visitors enjoying getting their picture taken with it. Granted, the car has been disassembled and put back together a few times (all in the name of science!), but it remains an interesting piece of Chrysler history, especially with its reported $250,000 estimate if it were offered at auction.
As we reported last week, a petition had been started to try to persuade Chrysler to give this example a reprieve. And as we’ve pointed out, despite the hair pulling generated by this impending action, the destruction of non-road-legal prototypes has always been a normal practice in the industry. Not only do car companies regularly destroy preproduction prototypes because they’ve have served their purpose, but also to keep them off the road and protect the company from liability. This is due to the fact that these prototypes are often hand-built to test various systems before or after a car is certified, and only take to the roads on manufacturer plates, operating in a legal bubble that is very different from vehicles one buys in a dealership. Once preproduction vehicles have served their purpose, they’re either destroyed for the reasons outlined above, or donated to automotive engineering programs at colleges and universities, where they’re prohibited by contract from being used on the road. The reasoning being that an road accident involving a private party driving a non-road-legal preproduction car could expose the automaker to significant liability in court.
Crushing pre-production cars is a normal practice in the industry, but do early Vipers like this one deserve a longer life?
Almost immediately before the Internet collectively spat coffee on its screen after learning of the impending fate of some 93 Vipers, Chrysler issued a statement insisting that no historic Vipers would be reduced to cubes one yard across. In a blog post titled “A proper end to a Viper’s school days,” the company said the following, in part:
“We definitely understand and appreciate the historical significance of the Viper. And, we are sure to maintain any of the legendary models and designs for historic purposes. It’s our heritage so of course we take great pride in preserving it.
However, none of the vehicles at the schools fit into this category.”
And we do understand Chrysler’s position. The only reason donated cars scheduled to be crushed caused such publicity is because they’re early Vipers. Minivans and sedans with equally low VIN numbers get picked apart at engineering schools all the time and are crushed afterward, but their fate doesn’t get thousands of people upset.
Despite the fact that the matter is almost certainly settled, barring a last-minute call via an old rotary phone to the owner of an auto salvage yard who will have his finger on the button that operates the crusher, we thought we’d present a number of alternatives. These are purely hypothetical alternatives for similar situations, alternatives with varying degrees of legal and economic practicality.
1. Donate the cars to car museums in the U.S. and overseas willing to take them;
2. Sell the most unusual examples on a bill of sale, without titles, to collectors;
3. Remove any non-conforming parts from the cars are sell the remains to dismantlers;
4. Donate the remaining roadworthy cars to a foreign country
What would you like to see done with the donated Dodge Vipers that Chrysler has ordered to be crushed?