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Desktop Drives: America’s Drift Heroes-The Heavy Hitters

The automotive world is inherently a global arena, with many manufactures and many cultures spread across the globe. Despite this global nature, it is impossible for certain regions to avoid being associated with certain aspects of car culture; more than just their resident car companies. A few examples include associating drag racing with America and its muscle cars, precision driving like rally and circuit driving with Europe, and drifting with Japan. Starting this week, ‘Desktop Drives’ will try to push the borders a bit, conducting a four-week comparison run between American cars that happen to make decent drift machines. This week we will be going straight to the top of the pecking order, comparing America’s only two purpose-built sports cars: The Chevrolet Corvette and the Dodge Viper. *Note* All drifting should be done on closed roads and private courses.

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Already I am sure; some readers are chomping at the bit: “What about the Shelby!?!” or “The Camaro is better than the ‘Vette!”. Those people are missing the point. This week, we are looking at the most pure-bred sports cars on offer in the States. The base models here don’t tote around boosted fours or V6’s. No, here even the cheapest customer walks away with over 450hp, an appropriately macho cylinder count, and all the hardware to back it up. While two choices might not seem like the most freedom, we should be grateful while we still have that choice. Starting next year, the Corvette will be lonely at the top, with the Viper slated to end production. Until then, the Viper has a few more punches to throw, and today, we will be looking at which of the two makes a better car for drifting around corners. For the sake of this ‘Desktop Drives’ series, the cars ability to slide their rear around corners in a controlled, good-looking manner, will be the main consideration, with paltry things like livability taking a back seat.

The Contenders

both-cars
Both cars pictured as configured for test

Both the Viper and the Corvette have a good formula for sliding around corners: They are both rear-drive, with plenty of power and push on tap, as well featuring a sporting history. While the basic formula might be similar, it is the execution which sets these American Heroes apart. The Corvette offers three separate sub-models, the ‘softest’ entering the market with 455 horsepower for $56,445. The top-dog Z06 throws down 650HP and 650lb-ft, for a base price of $79,400—although a $90,000 Corvette is not outside the realm of possibilities now. The Z06 also sports wider wheels and tires, even more massive brakes, a sportier suspension, and wider body work to accompany all the hardware. While this sounds fantastic, the middle child holds the sweet spot in my mind; both for this comparison and in the overall lineup. This middle child is the new for 2017 Corvette Grand Sport. Featuring the Z06 body and suspension work, with the normally aspirated V8 from the Stingray—adding a dry sump system as well—the Grand Sport is not to be scoffed at. Starting at $65,450, this model will be the focus of this dream comparison, with its 460hp LT1 V8 and its ever-so-slight power bump from the included sports exhaust.

The Viper is a simple case of more. More cylinders, more displacement, and of course, more cost. Starting at a base price of $92,490—actual MSRP is listed at $87,895, but destination fees and tax are not kind—the Z06-baiting ACR Viper is listed at $123,390 delivered. However, just as the Z06 isn’t the focus of this comparison, the be-winged ACR will sit on the sidelines, and let it’s ‘softer’ sibling take the fight to the Corvette. A zero-option Dodge Viper not only keeps things simple, and still fun, but also places the price-gap between the two cars at a lower point than it otherwise might be. Even with no options, an 8.4L V10 with 645HP lends the Viper plenty of punch to worry the Corvette.

2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport

Base Price w/Destination: $65,450

Price as Built: $72,525

MPG: Up to 17 city / 29 highway

Horsepower: 460HP/465lb-ft

Dimensions: 178” L x 77.5” W x 48.5” H

Curb Weight: 3,428lbs

2016 Dodge Viper SRT Coupe

Base Price w/Destination: $92,940

Price as Built: $92,940

MPG: 12 city / 19 highway

Horsepower: 645HP/600lb-ft

Dimensions: 175.5” L x 76.5” W x 49” H

Curb Weight: 3,374lbs

 

Dodge Viper: A Swan Song

Drifting, and its official body Formula D, are perhaps the best environment for a spectator. Events like circuit racing and rally can take place far from the spectators, and while drag racing is more personal, it normally isn’t all that dramatic. For non-car people, it all adds up to loud noises and a bunch of people driving in a straight line. Drifting is not only very dramatic—smoke, tire squeal, exhaust flames, speed with apparent danger—it also takes place in a very limited field of engagement, namely a corner or a few. Because of this, drifters tend to take pride in their unique appearance of their cars. Bright colors, large wings, and dramatic body lines are all important, not only to stand out while drifting, but also to entertain anyone who happens to be watching.

jdm-drift
An example of a ‘classic’ JDM Drift car. Certainly won’t miss this in the crowd.

The Dodge Viper delivers by looking the absolute business. Long hood, beefy wheels, low roofline, all in a package shorter than the Corvette. This adds up to a much more unique experience than the Corvette: The chances of seeing a retiree driving a carbon copy of your car is almost nil in the Viper. If it seems strange that I am focusing on the looks of the Viper while drifting, there is a reason for that. On paper, the Viper does not look to be the ideal drift car. It’s large engine certainly has the power over the Corvette, but the Viper is also wearing 355 section-width tires in the rear, which is a significant amount of rubber and friction to overcome. Also, working against it is the rear-differential. While it is a limited slip differential, it is made by a company called GKN, known for their track-specific applications. This means that while wheel slip can be controlled and slides can be achieved, the primary function of the differential is to keep it on the track surface. This combined with the suspension and tires means that all 645 horses are working overtime to achieve slides. For sustained drifting, there are better options.

I should note, that while this is comparing the stock cars, with a little work, it is certainly capable of being a drift car. Nick Hogan drove Vipers in Formula D for years, and can be seen HERE.

viper-rear
The Rear End, Showing off those Side Pipes
viper-interior
Viper Interior. Look at that Drift handle for the Passenger!

Corvette Grand Sport: American Hero

Ok, Ok, all of you people who are now shouting about the Z06, and its 650 supercharged horses, I have one word: Heat. Heat is the enemy of anyone who seriously tracks their car, especially while drifting. Often while drifting the engine maintains hard revs, in strenuous operating conditions. Heat only complicates matters, and can seriously damage engines at worst, and sap power at best. The new Corvette Z06 uses a smaller, faster spinning supercharger to achieve hood clearances. While operating with a positive displacement of 1.7L is impressive, it means the supercharger unit must spin 5,000RPM faster than the old supercharger on the LS9 engine. Small area coupled with fast spinning turbines add up to more heat. Enter the Grand Sport. With it, you receive all the suspension and cooling improvements of the Z06, along with the body to house them, coupled with the dry-sump LT1 naturally aspirated engine. While the extra 200 horsepower of the Z06 would certainly be appreciated to break the Z06-spec 335 section-width rear tires loose, it is not required. The differential also allows for more slippage than the unit in the Dodge. For sustained track and drift use, this combo looks to be the most capable and reliable combo among the Corvettes.

While the importance of fashion was mentioned with the Viper, the Corvette brings to the forefront the importance of seats. Seats are one of the most important performance aspects of a car. In any sporting driving, being securely fastened is not only safe, but also allows you to forget about having to support yourself. Once hooked into a car, you simply steer the wheel, without having your body moved about. In drifting, this is especially important. The optional sport seats, $2495 of about $7,000 in options on this car, look spectacular, both visually and in function. With the addition of a harness bar and harness’s, the Corvette’s seats would be ready for anything. The remaining options on this car include the Data recording package—to catch those sweet drifts, yo—the removable Targa top, and various other visual modifications. While the Targa is not required, it would be a shame to get a Corvette without it, and in fact can be a major aid while drifting by providing tall drivers unlimited clearance for helmets.

Videos of drifting Corvettes can be found all over the internet, but currently there is a private seller parting with their C6 racecar(!) sanctioned for Formula D. If that isn’t drift pedigree you can buy, I don’t know what is.

corvette-2
Corvette Rear.
corvette-seats
Those wonderful looking seats

The Verdict:

At the end of the day, what I say doesn’t really matter: your choice is being taken out of your hands. After 2017, if you want to by a high-powered rear-drive sports car of American origins, you are stuck buying the Corvette. While I say stuck, this is a little misleading. Given the choice now, with my non-existent money, I would purchase the Corvette. I would purchase this exact Corvette build in fact, patriotic paint job and all. With the Grand Sport package, drivers have the confidence of the Z06 body, suspension, brakes, and cooling behind them, enabling very hard, sustained driving and drifting in stock form. Saying that, those who chose the Viper, are choosing a different route.

Whereas the Corvette is the serious track-rat, featuring all the cooling that needs, the Viper is the glamour car. That is not a bad thing. Going around a corner sideways, the Viper is by far more dramatic, V10 belting in all directions through the side pipes. With more power, and of course more cylinders, the individual excitement of each drift will probably be higher than in the Corvette, both for drivers and spectators. On top of that the classic low, long lines of the car look damn good at any speed. Deciding which car is better takes a personal reflection: for drift days at tracks, it is the Grand Sport, whereas for a drift and dash, the Viper takes the spotlight, while it still can.

corvette
God Bless America(n Horsepower)!

 

Stephen Hyden View All

I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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