The Year was 2010, the first half of the Epic Viper Road trip was completed. I no longer wanted to be in the Viper. Fortunately, we had access to another vehicle while in California. Not wanting to drag out the trip to San Diego we had to make into a 3 hour drive, we took our alternate vehicle. Our purpose was to meet up with Gene, the owner of a red RX-7 we featured previously. Fortunately, the drive to and from was uneventful. The next day however, it was time to embark on our trip back home, putting another 700 miles in on the V10 that has had it’s bouts with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, to make it home in time before work the next day, the drive had to be done in the day time.
First things first, a drive to the coast is not complete without a drive on the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway. The Viper actually kind of fit in here. We even had a few people staring which is pretty amazing considering the amount of $100,000 and up cars that surrounded us throughout Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. We eventually made our way up the coast and turned inland to Anaheim to scout out a car show and get one last breather before the trip began.
We did a requisite tire pressure and fluid check, adjusted some misaligned items in the engine compartment, and headed out. We usually have to make a minimum of 2 freeway changes to get to I-15 that takes us home. We didn’t make it to the first change. We had to pull over and see what this Check Engine light nonsense was all about. Frustrated and already sick of the sun beating down on us, I started fiddling with everything. There were two air box covers that weren’t on quite right. I adjust one covering the air filters, and the other one had a crack in it, but could be put back in place at least temporarily. So we did so and hit the road…again.
Whatever we did was working finally. Another thing that was working was the electronic road signs telling us the freeway was closed 30 miles ahead. It happened to be just outside the only town for miles around. We kept getting closer to the closure and saw more and more signs telling us we weren’t getting through. I’m as stubborn as a mule though, so I was determined to fight through, but when we got 2-3 miles away from where the first sign said the closure was, we pulled off to get more water and come up with a strategy. Most of my strategies involve getting food before the commercials end, so it was time to turn up the boost on the brain. Seeing how nothing had changed in the engine compartment and the motor was fine, we used what we could get at the convenience store, duct tape, and made sure the cracked air box was good and sealed. To this day, I’m still not sure what the air box goes to as it shrouds whatever is inside in mystery. Whatever it is, it alleviated our problem.
We peered out to the freeway and saw it was moving at normal speeds and since it had been an hour or so since we saw the first sign, we figured we’d go for it and maybe experience a little slow-down. Boy were we wrong.
We left our safe haven and hit the deserts of California. No getting off the freeway for some time now, we were committed. Soon after we left, we were stopped in bumper to bumper traffic in 104-degree weather and the sun beating down on us. We were stuck, and traffic was moving along at just a slow enough pace that I couldn’t shut the motor off and let it rest. Soon, the side effects of a 16 year old V10 baking in the sun with no air moving over it were realized. The water temp gauge started to climb. Normal is usually around 190-200. We were hovering at 220 and slowly heading towards the red which when pegged reads 250-degrees. It was time for us to make a sacrifice and turn on the heater.
With the heater on, the temp descended back down to 190 and held itself there comfortably for awhile. What wasn’t comfortable was the sun mixed with a steady blow from the heater. Every once in awhile I’d have to crank the heat up a little more to keep the car happy. I started sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat. After about one and a half hours of getting scorched and moving about 6 miles, I was determined to leave the freeway, even if it meant off-roading the Viper. Fortunately speed picked up a little bit so I didn’t have to resort to that. We were now cruising at roughly 10mph and soon I saw an exit. There it was in the distance, Yermo! Never had I been so excited to see a run-down old town. After crawling for a little while longer, I bolted off the freeway. A rush of hot air came flowing around the windshield and into the cabin. Heat stroke was setting in and I was dying to find the first gas station to get a nice cold drink of water. We drove through Yermo and never saw one. We turned back and looked again. Nothing but old houses, abandoned buildings, and a burger joint that only had tables outside. Finally, we found a little market. We pulled off and used our little muscle strength to stand in front of a refrigerator full of water. The market did not have air conditioning, but it was better than the last 3 hours of the sun outside. We sat in the shade and drank our water and just relaxed for a bit while we tried to find alternate routes around this mess. Our only hope was a frontage road along side the freeway. It was far enough off the freeway that we didn’t know it was there, but close enough we could still see how traffic was moving. We hit the frontage road and found that a few other people had the same idea. I’ve taken a car to 150mph on a track before and spun a go-kart through a fence at 80mph, but there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as doing 90mph on a tremendously neglected road with potholes abound. The road was about to end, but the traffic was now moving faster and there was one more on-ramp we could make.
Back on the freeway, we were at normal speeds again. That is until everyone decided to stop again. And then we hit 50mph, then stopped. Traffic would work itself out momentarily, then it’d rob us of our freedom moments later. This became irritating, but were only 20 miles away from the next town. We could make it, right?
Fortunately, I fashioned a cover to keep me hidden form the sun’s scorching rays with an extra t-shirt I had in the trunk. The sun was starting to set and provide some much needed relief, but it was still there, so we stopped in Primm, NV for some more water and a top off of fuel. This lasted us past Vegas and into Mesquite before we decided it was time for food. An Air Conditioned McDonald’s felt like I’d just dumped ice down my pants on a hot summer day! We spent a few minutes relaxing and then I dug through my bag in the dark to find my phone charger as the phone threatened me that it would shut itself off. At this time we found out that the power socket in the Viper doesn’t work. Time to conserve battery in case we got stranded.
The motor was holding up great, partially helped by the fact that the weather was rapidly dropping shortly after departing Nevada and heading back into Utah. That extra t-shirt that saved me from the sun earlier, was now my only means of keeping my arms from turning into a frozen treat. In some canyons it dropped into the 30’s and an open convertible going 75-80mph with a partially functioning heater is no place to be at these temps. We tried to warm up after making a stop an hour or so later and I contemplated sleeping in the Viper again. Again, I chose an energy drink and the thought of a nice bed just 3 hours away. Time to hit the gas and power through this cold and get back to towns with a more reasonable 50-deg. temperature.
The roads were eerily empty and there were times where I saw no cars for 1-2 miles which has never happened on the 25-30 times I’ve been on this stretch of road. It actually made me slow down, I’d suddenly realize I was only doing 65mph in a 80mph zone. Once we got back to civilization, the city lights reminded me of the excitement of Christmas morning as a kid. I had a small burst of energy to fight off my fatigue as I was covering the last 40 miles. I pulled in to Mike’s driveway at about 1-1:30am. We said goodbye, and I made the 10 minute drive home. It felt like 30 minutes, but it was good to see traffic lights and street lights instead of infinite darkness. I came home, pulled the car in the garage, said hello to the dogs and my wife, and proceeded to feel sick for the next 3 days. The wind noise stopped pounding my ears a mere 5 days after the trip. Never again will I push the Viper into that many miles in that short amount of time in that kind of weather. On a positive note, the Viper managed 23.3mpg over the whole trip.
Words by Trent Bray, Photos by Michael Chandler
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