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Judging by the phalanx of cameraphone-toting teenagers around us, I doubt that the National Trust car park at Beachy Head often hosts such an automotive spectacle.
One car, the Lamborghini Gallardo, is clearly recognisable to some, but the Porsche Carrera GT and Dodge Viper draw mystified gazes, until a badge ID exposes the brand – if not the model – of the Stuttgart car.
The outrageous-looking American remains a curio.
Either way, they’re ogling a trio with combined outputs of 1495bhp and 1261lb ft, and with nearly 19 litres of total displacement.
But what truly sets this threesome apart is that those figures are generated from no fewer than 30 cylinders, divided equally between the three cars and standing as testament to a layout now in its death throes.
Today, the V10 torch is carried only by the Lamborghini Huracán and Audi R8, whose glorious engines are derived from that of the Gallardo.
And in the contorted web of car-brand ownership, Lamborghini was previously owned by Chrysler, whose Dodge arm gave the world its first V10 production car, the Viper RT-10, which at the moment is managing to make the two supercar heroes here look somewhat demure in comparison.
That Chrysler tasked Lamborghini with developing the Viper’s engine shouldn’t suggest there’s any link between the Viper’s and the Gallardo’s powerplants, which other than cylinder count and all-aluminium construction are as different as spare ribs and porchetta.
The American unit was derived from the iron-block Magnum V10 used in Chrysler trucks, with Lamborghini contributing the brains (engine management and cooling, plus re-casting in aluminium), while Dodge supplied the brawn (a 7997cc engine with good ol’ pushrods operated by hydraulic lifters).
And, proving that there really was no substitute for cubes, even with a lowly 49bhp per litre its sheer displacement delivered 400bhp at 4600rpm and a mighty 450lb ft of twist from just 3600rpm.
But the Viper was far more than big-cubes-on-wheels.
Inspired by Chrysler president Bob Lutz’s desire to shake off the company’s dowdy image, the Viper was revealed in concept form at the North American International Auto Show in 1989 and went on sale in January 1992.
With its tubular-steel frame dressed with unstressed resin-transfer-moulded panels, overall weight was kept to 1522kg.
It even did without such niceties as doorhandles, a roof or side windows in the name of lightness, with a Heath Robinson-style cloth targa panel and sidescreens supplied if you were really desperate to shield yourself from the elements.
Practicality was not what the Viper was about, though.
Bob Lutz’s dream of a Cobra for the ’90s brought European levels of chassis sophistication, with independent rear suspension by double wishbones and a trailing link, and double wishbones up front.
Drive was sent to the limited-slip-diff-equipped rear axle, and fed to the road through huge, 335-section tyres on 13in-wide rims. Grip overkill? No, as we’ll soon discover…
Turn to the Gallardo and contrasts don’t come much more stark.
It clearly represents a different age and price point (it was launched 11 years after this first Viper, and at £117,000 still cost around 50% more than the Dodge did in third-series form), but its design and engineering ethos was aimed squarely at Ferrari buyers rather than those hankering after a Corvette or even a TVR.
Lamborghini, under Chrysler, had already had two shots at replacing its ageing Jalpa predecessor: the first in 1988 with the V10-powered P140 show car, and then again in 1995 with the Giugiaro-designed Calà concept.
But it wasn’t until Audi purchased the company three years later that the project received the funding it deserved.
Audi’s Luc Donckerwolke provided the svelte and relatively compact design, which used an all-new aluminium body to keep weight to a minimum.
Power was transmitted through all four wheels via either a six-speed manual gearbox or Lamborghini’s optional paddle-operated ‘e-gear’ automated system.
Then there was Sant’Agata’s quite unique take on the V10. The 4961cc, all-aluminium unit was mounted longitudinally amidships, with a dry-sump system employed to keep it as low as possible in the engine bay.
The Gallardo needed to beat Ferrari at its own game, and with 492bhp and 376lb ft it made the V8 360’s 400bhp and 275lb ft look almost puny in comparison.
It weighed more, at 1520kg, mainly due to its 4WD system, but bragging rights were now definitely sitting with Bologna. Not here today, however.
The Carrera GT was born from the remnants of a stillborn Porsche racing programme, which morphed into an ambition to produce the most complete supercar ever.
Regulation changes had rendered the V10 engine in its unnamed 2000 Le Mans challenger obsolete, so the unit was redeployed in what was to become Porsche’s first card-carrying hypercar since the 959 of 1985.
Viewed here, you somehow know it’s a 200mph-plus car (205mph, to be precise) without being told.
The low, aggressive stance, small glasshouse and long rear deck set it apart from anything else on the road, then or now.
And yet it’s still suffused with distinct Porsche DNA, inside and out, making it relatable to even the most humble Boxster.
It introduces yet another V10 drivetrain configuration.
Like the Lambo’s, the Carrera GT’s engine is mounted longitudinally between the cabin and rear axle, but it drives only the rear wheels through a six-speed manual ’box allied to a small, low-mass, carbonfibre-reinforced clutch, of which more later.
The big numbers are peaks of 612bhp and 435lb ft, with a fairly astonishing 302lb ft of that available from idle.
The all-aluminium unit sits within a carbonfibre-reinforced plastic tub dressed with carbonfibre panels.
Even the seats are a carbonfibre-and-Kevlar mix, weighing just 10.3kg apiece and contributing to an all-up kerbweight of 1472kg.
Costing £330,000 when it arrived in the UK – and only 49 did, out of a production run of 1270 – this was a Porsche that could deal with the brazen affront posed by high-end newcomers such as the Pagani Zonda, as well as searingly powerful range-toppers from the establishment, such as Ferrari’s Enzo.
And, yes, it was fast: amid a plethora of extreme road-test data for the GT, Autocar achieved a 30-70mph time of 2.7 secs, making it the fastest-accelerating car the title had yet driven between those two speeds.
But we’re not on a test track today, and Mark Sumpter’s Carrera GT, which he has owned from new, looks seriously vulnerable in this environment.
It’s perhaps at its most dramatic seen from the rear, along the expansive engine panel with its mesh inserts covering the 5.7-litre V10.
Raise it, and the GT’s exquisite technology is laid bare: the narrow angle between the cylinder heads, the carbonfibre bracing, the Sachs pushrod spring/damper units – it’s more akin to something you’d see in Silverstone’s paddock than an East Sussex car park.
No detail on the car is remotely devoid of quality.
Drop into the firm, supportive leather driver’s seat and carbonfibre abounds.
There’s an ultra-slim centre stack to your right (all GTs were left-hand drive), from which sprouts a manual gearshift, topped with a wooden knob referencing the same item in a 917 racer.
A larger-than-expected steering wheel faces you, framing a pod containing five overlapping instruments, as per the Porsche norm.
Then you fire up the GT and realise that driving it at anything less than, say, six- to seven-tenths is barely scratching the surface.
I’m advised to only apply throttle once the car is rolling, to avoid damaging the heavy (in operation) and rather abrupt clutch, but doing so is easier said than done when the V10 is already providing north of 300lb ft at tickover.
Pussyfooting around, the ride is unyielding, as if the race-spec dampers and rose-jointed suspension, which clonks over every break in the road surface, have seized up.
But then the road becomes wider, emptier and better sighted, and the GT comes to life.
Compared with the Lambo and Viper, its V10 sounds more frenetic at any revs, but above 5000rpm it takes on an altogether more vicious, urgent timbre, accompanied by explosive mid-range thrust that’s nothing short of mesmerising.
The gearshift is light, quick and precise through a narrow gate and the carbon-ceramic brakes, which were lifeless to start with, are now full of feel and power.
The steering is sublime: it’s not Ferrari-like in its speed, but wonderfully linear and smooth, with just the right level of feel and feedback.
Grip and body control are immense, and only death-defying speeds would allow you to approach a smidgen of the GT’s capabilities.
All of which makes the Lamborghini seem quite tame in comparison.
Andrew Phillips’ first-generation Gallardo is a fairly recent acquisition but, illustrating how usable and well-made these Audi-funded models are, he has already taken it on a glitch-free southern European tour, along with his wife (and dog!).
It still looks remarkably modern, despite being launched two decades ago, yet you can trace its sharp-edged, angular design back to the Countach.
But there’s no sign of that model’s flamboyance when you plop down into the deeply bolstered driver’s seat.
Austerity reigns in the cabin, with the levelled-off steering-wheel base being the only hint of drama.
But despite the unrelenting blackness of the surroundings, ergonomically it’s only a notch down from the Porsche, and you can see why Andrew had no qualms about taking on a 2000-mile journey immediately after buying the car.
That’s borne out when you drive the Gallardo.
It simply requires minimal effort at anything below breakneck speeds, its V10 finding extra urge from 3000rpm and developing a hard-edged and addictive roar from 6500rpm.
While it lacks the ultimate aural theatre of the Porsche, you can imagine schlepping easily across the Italian Alps, its four-wheel drive keeping everything in check, and arriving relaxed and comfortable at your destination.
Andrew’s car has the e-gear system, which needs a quick lift between slowish changes to avoid you and your passenger nodding like Churchill dogs, but it’s otherwise seamless.
The steering is quite mute and relatively low-geared for a supercar, but it’s accurate enough and there’s grip aplenty, bleeding into gentle understeer as you push harder.
In my Viper notes, ‘RESPECT’ is writ large at the bottom of the page.
I scribbled that immediately after driving HPC Classics’ car because the Dodge feels so open about its mission to send you into the scenery if you take one too many liberties.
Handled with care, however, here lurks a thoroughly well-sorted car.
You may not think so initially, as you reach inside for a handle to open the door (a button on the keyfob performs the same function) before making yourself at home in the left-side driver’s seat.
There’s really nothing to the Viper’s control centre: six dials (two main, four ancillary across the upper dash), a cigarette lighter, heater knobs and a couple of foglight rockers. That’s your lot.
The leather-trimmed three-spoke steering wheel is minus airbag and, other than the (very comfortable) seats themselves, nothing else is textured in the broad cabin.
Hard plastic surfaces proliferate, all with rather approximate fit and finish.
Who cares? Release the heavy clutch, and you wonder why on earth the Viper came with six gears, when four would have been ample given the 8-litre V10’s ship-pulling surplus of torque.
The shift itself is surprisingly light and precise, which, along with well-weighted and communicative steering, makes the Dodge feel honest to drive, unencumbered by any electronic interference.
That purity does start to get quite exciting sometimes, because this is still a one-and-a-half-tonne, sub-five-to-60 car.
When you accelerate hard over bumpy or cambered surfaces, it can feel as if the Viper is sprouting devil horns, and every nerve and sinew is focused on keeping it on the straight and narrow. It’s character-building, for sure.
This could never be a straight comparison. More than a decade separates the Dodge from the Lamborghini and Porsche, and while a Viper and Gallardo will now cost from £50-70k, the Carrera GT is worth well north of £1million.
The V10 engine beguiles in all three, but the Lamborghini’s blend of year-round usability and genuine supercar looks makes it the most compelling choice for the money.
Images: Tony Baker
Porsche Carrera GT
- Sold/number built 2004-’06/1270
- Construction carbonfibre-reinforced plastic monocoque, carbonfibre panels
- Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 5733cc 68° V10, Bosch ME 7.11 sequential multi-point fuel injection
- Max power 612bhp @ 8000rpm
- Max torque 435lb ft @ 5750rpm
- Transmission six-speed manual, RWD
- Suspension independent, by rose-jointed double wishbones with pushrod-operated inboard spring/damper units, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes ventilated composite ceramic discs, with servo and anti-lock
- Length 14ft 9¾in (4513mm)
- Width 6ft 3½in (1921mm)
- Height 3ft 8¾in (1166mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 11½in (2730mm)
- Weight 3245lb (1472kg)
- 0-60mph 3.7 secs
- Top speed 205mph
- Mpg 15.8
- Price new £330,000
- Price now £1.3million*
Dodge Viper RT-10
- Sold/number built 1992-’96/6709
- Construction tubular-steel spaceframe chassis, composite glassfibre body
- Engine all-alloy, ohv 7997cc 90° V10, electronic fuel injection
- Max power 400bhp @ 4600rpm
- Max torque 450lb ft @ 3600rpm
- Transmission six-speed manual, RWD
- Suspension independent, by unequal-length wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes ventilated discs, with servo
- Length 14ft 7in (4448mm)
- Width 6ft 3¾in (1923mm)
- Height 3ft 8in (1118mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft (2443mm)
- Weight 3355lb (1522kg)
- 0-60mph 4.6 secs
- Top speed 165mph
- Mpg 15
- Price new £55,000
- Price now £50,000*
- Sold/number built 2003-’13/14,022
- Construction aluminium monocoque, aluminium panels
- Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 4961cc 90° V10, sequential multi-point fuel injection
- Max power 492bhp @ 7800rpm
- Max torque 376lb ft @ 4500rpm
- Transmission six-speed manual, 4WD (optional single-clutch e-gear system)
- Suspension independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes ventilated discs, with servo and anti-lock
- Length 14ft (4300mm)
- Width 6ft 2¾in (1900mm)
- Height 3ft 9¾in (1165mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 4¾in (2560mm)
- Weight 3351lb (1520kg)
- 0-60mph 4.1 secs
- Top speed 192mph
- Mpg 14.5
- Price new £117,000
- Price now £70,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
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