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One-Off Wonders: The Dodge Sidewinder

This whack V10 roadster pick-up shoulda been a contenda.

December 13, 2000


All I gotta say is that once upon a dream I wished with all my might on the brightest light in the evening sky for Mopar's lab rats to get the go to proceed with this lovely monstrosity. I mean, how could anyone say "No" to a smoothed, slammed, Dakota with a ragtop, Viper V10 power, and vintage Cobra quickness? It would be un-American.
The Year: 1997
The Car: The Dodge Sidewinder
Its Fate: Feasting on Premium in the Halls of Valhalla



Mopar's lab rats have always enjoyed the benefits of a long leash when it comes to conceiving one-off concept cars for the big auto shows. They've also got a remarkable record for turning fantasies into reality. The Viper, for one, began life as a curiosity on the catwalk at Detroit. The PT Cruiser, another pipe dream, went production when the public went gaga. Suffice it to say that Mother Mopar ain't shy when it comes to experimenting with unusual automotive designs. They don't get much more unusual than the Sidewinder, a minimalist Dakota-based drop-top pick-up with a seriously hopped-up Viper plant, race-stark interior, and some sacrilegious GM underpinnings, which Moparnatics don't much like to talk about.
What's the big damage? If you're a Mopar guy, you understand. You're clready chewing on your bumper. For reasons unknown to Yrs. Truly, Mopar's lab rats dropped their Dakota-based on a Trans-Am frame when it game time to get the game rolling. Not that Y.T. has anything at all against the General. But Mopar fanboys tend to froth like mad dogs when the purity of their automotive products is sullied by the introduction of Ford and/or Chevy components. That the corporate powers that be would sanction such an act is a fact that demands some scrutiny. Still, in this case, product was well worth the price.

A radically modified 8.0-liter, 16 valve aluminum block V-10 scammed from a Viper GTS-R nestled comfortably under the Sidewinder's lid. With 640 horse available at 5,800 RPMs and 530 lb-ft of torque on tap at 4,000, this sideways snake could make quite an impression. A guttier version of Mopar's weak-kneed A-518 four-speed automatic gearbox handled the transfer of power out back to a locking differential stuffed with freeway-flier 3:07 gears. The Sidewinder sat low on gargantuan 21" and 22" five-spokes while 15" vented discs were responsible for putting the stall on this barking mad hauler.

This was a serious responsibility.

With a dry weight of 2,700 pounds, the Sidewinder tipped the scales a few bricks short of the Mazda's flyweight RX-7. A New Beetle, a compact, by my troth, displaces more than 2,900. All the pieces were in place: extraordinarily lightweight, a sturdy suspension, and a ravenous, bloodthirsty drive train. Sounds like vittles to me.

Granted, bed turbulence dragged the ride in some. And unbelted passengers faced the crotch rocket pilot's risk of spontaneous unwanted lift-off if they stood too tall or sat too straight. Nevertheless the Sidewinder still more lived up to its cruise missile namesake with supercar-like 3.9 zero-to-60 times.

This was a roadster's roadster, with little in the way of distracting gizmos, lights and fireworks, the kind of gaudy schna that has polluted so many fine recent Auto Shows. Even the gauge pod was utterly minimalist. On-board DVD players? Voice-activated navigational systems? A Sidewinder needs not these things. A hydraulically actuated tilt front-end and lift-off soft-top pretty much made for the beginning and end of this one-off's frippery.

Alas, the Sidewinder ended up in the same boat as marvelous Mopar concepts like the Copperhead. Consigned to oblivion, I mean. Someone was paying attention, however. An observant gearhead might note that General Motors, the folks who graciously supplied the Sidewinders frame, unveiled a rather similar topless pick-up at last year's North American frou-frou extravaganza. The Chevrolet SSR, a drop-top V8 roadster p-up sculpted with a strong hint of nostalgia in mind, is scheduled to begin production as of the '02 model year. I know there's a moral in here somewhere, but I seem to have lost it, along with my ethics.
 

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