American Muscle Car Showdown:
Dodge Viper Hennessey Venom 650R vs. Chevrolet C6 Corvette ZR1
Ten years of development, in the context of modern technology, constitutes a monumental shift in speed, efficiency, and flexibility. The Dodge Viper Hennessey Venom 650R was released into the wild in 2001, the same year when people marveled at the color LCD screen on a cell phone, and when “phone” was still an accurate moniker.
Fast-forward 10 years. The Chevrolet C6 Corvette ZR1, with its behemoth 638hp supercharged LS9 ‘crate’ engine, was unleashed upon us around when an iPhone 4S – capable of obscenely-quick web browsing, high definition video capture and immersive 3D rendering – graced our pockets.
In those same 10 years, could Detroit’s engineers have possibly matched the breakneck pace of smartphone technological development?
We gathered in the foothills of LA, at the base of one of California’s most revered roads, to put these two legendary cars through their paces and find out.
Check out the [Tunnel Run Video] at the end of this report. 🙂
After a quick warm-up run through the base of Angeles Crest Highway, we pulled off to a convenient spot to swap keys, and capture some stunning photography of these two beasts.
Hennessey Viper Venom 650R
Not one for subtlety, the 650R stuck out like a sore thumb at the side of a canyon road regularly graced by all types of flashy supercars. Its outlandish styling and aggressive aero package affords a commanding presence, only enhanced by a shade of yellow paint that could turn the eye of a CHP helicopter pilot circling miles away.
Rarely have I encountered a car so universally-adored by car enthusiasts from all persuasions. From nearly every passing car window, an outstretched thumb emerged, signifying a ubiquitous respect for the yellow beast.
C6 Corvette ZR1
Not to detract from the presence of the ZR1 – its handsome, yet aggressive styling has aged remarkably well – modern, yet undeniably Corvette.
I distinctly recall the state of the auto industry when the ZR1 was announced. Its baby brother, the C6 Z06, had been shaming supercars on the world’s most revered circuits and the thought of an even-faster variant seemed almost absurd. But if there’s one thing we could count on, it was the propensity of Detroit’s auto engineers to keep pushing the boundaries of absurdity. And, the ZR1 wasn’t a one-trick pony. Sticky, track-focused rubber, gargantuan carbon-ceramic brakes, and lightweight carbon fiber body panels ensured that the ZR1’s bite measured up to its bark.
Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Drive
My stint in the ZR1 was my first behind the wheel of any Corvette. Who needs schooling when you can skip straight to graduation? Time at the helm of several 700+ hp road cars and 200+ hp superbikes has afforded me a healthy dose of respect for these widow-making machines.
Settling into the ‘Vette’s’ cockpit left me less-than-impressed, with seats more at home in a La-Z-Boy® showroom but interior appointment and quality were mostly on-par with other grand tourers of the era.
Pulling onto the road, I slotted the transmission into second, punched the accelerator, and bathed in a glorious wave of chassis-twisting torque. This LS9 pulled HARD and while whine from the blower was subtle, a thunderous V8 wail from the tailpipes did not disappoint.
Stomping hard on the brakes into the first set of corners, the carbon ceramic stoppers nearly yanked my eyeballs from their sockets. Not as impressive, was the excessive pedal spacing and throttle travel required to achieve a sufficient heel-toe blip, meaning smooth corner entry was a chore.
The car felt impeccably balanced mid-corner, inspiring boundless confidence despite a distinct lack of steering feedback through the wheel. A set of just-scrubbed Sport Cup 2 rubber only further emboldened me, effortlessly delivering all 600 lbf-ft at corner exit. We snaked our way through countless switchbacks, eventually dead-ending at the main road.
A quick stop for lunch afforded me a little time for reflection. The Corvette delivered on its powerful pretensions but left me cold with its driving dynamics. With seats more suited to grand touring than serious track duty, it became tiresome to throw through the twisties for more than a few minutes. There’s no denying the ferocity with which the Corvette can attack a corner, given its astronomical levels of grip and balance but I didn’t find myself having much fun behind the wheel as I never felt truly engaged with the drive.
My turn in the brutal Venom 650R was fast-approaching and daydreams of a perfectly-weighted hydraulic steering rack and instantaneous, naturally-aspirated, throttle response danced through my head.
Hennessey Venom 650R Drive
Shimmying my way over an exhaust shroud capable of frying an egg, I slid into the Venom’s cabin, immediately reveling in the torso-hugging bolsters of its serious sport seats. As expected, the appointment of the cabin was spartan, with only a driver-focused dash displaying the bare essentials and period-correct plastics sporting cringe-worthy panel gaps. Overlooking the lackluster interior aesthetics, I assumed my driving position, only to find the pedals about 6 inches left of their logical position. It became apparent that this would be a quirky car to manage.
The engine roared to life with a satisfying, deep drone, and even the slightest stab of the throttle added a few thousand revs to the ‘tacho’ – Oh, how I missed the response of a genuine throttle cable!
A surprisingly light clutch pedal and logically-placed gates meant piloting the Venom at slow speeds turned out to be a walk-in-the-park. With what felt like boundless mechanical grip, the 650R dispensed corners with so little drama that I nearly forgot I was driving an irreplaceable 17-year-old car.
While the chassis control wasn’t on-par with a late-model supercar or even the ‘Vette’, once the suspension had settled into a corner, it felt as though the tires would never let go. Its 650 horses were intoxicating, propelling the car to license-losing speeds in no time, while goading its driver to keep the pedal matted.
Any attempt at conversation inside the cabin was overwhelmed by the wail from the exhaust pipes, though words could scarcely do justice to the mechanical symphony of the glorious V10 at full tilt. We eventually exited the road at a spectacular overlook for some final photography and final thoughts.
Separating these cars was ten years of development of the classic American recipe – big motor over the front axle and a manual transmission sending power to the rear. Most evident in comparing these two was the monumental leap in cabin quality and appointment, though neither candidate was really known for its creature comforts. Given both cars’ rated output of 600+ HP, a straight-line showdown would likely come down to driver skill and willingness to roast an unfortunate clutch plate.
When the road got twisty, the Vette was undoubtedly more poised, balanced, and confidence-inspiring. But I found myself far more engaged in the drive of the yellow beast. Its playful chassis and brutal throttle response forced the driver to be acutely aware of every input and every bit of feedback from the car. Ten years of development had produced a ‘Vette’ capable of a higher skidpad g-force rating, but not a higher level of enjoyment.
Compounding its universal enthusiast appeal, outlandish styling, and razor-edge responsiveness, I’ll take the Venom – and you can keep the ten years.
Counterpoint by ThomasM
Starting with electronic traction and stability control, and gaining momentum with the now ubiquitous e-throttle and e-brake, without direct cable pedal linkages, the debate about drivers’ cars and analogue vs digital driving experiences has reached near militantly dogmatic levels.
“The McLaren 123ABC is so fast!”
“So? It feels like driving a video game. Give me a REAL car.”
Like with all dogmatic rhetoric, there is truth on both sides and neither have a monopoly on salient points.
The Hennessey Venom 650R, based on a Gen-2 Dodge Viper, is, without a doubt, a pinnacle final-Gen analogue car; so analogue the 2001MY is the FIRST YEAR with ABS. With no other drivers aids other than huge swathes of sticky rubber and hydraulic power assisted steering. This particular Venom Viper is especially rare, sporting full Hennessey aero including the front nose piece that gives the overall car a unique and ultra aggressive full attack mode look. Shod with NOS Motorsport BBS modular 18″ wheels and R compound Toyo R888R’s, mechanical grip should be equal to factory 1g+ Vipers…
A ginormous 8+liter V10 normally aspirated stump puller, tuned to 650hp and 650lbf-ft of torque (hence the 650R moniker) keeps weight over the steering wheels while power is delivered through the rear.
Lively, seemingly loose and just a little soft for the power levels, the Venom 650R is SOOOO much fun in the hands of the judicious and the skilled. Deadly in the hands of the ham-fisted or uninitiated.
Long time enthusiasts know all too well the too common euphemisms for poor engineering and irony, but “Loose is fast” goes the old saying, and the Flying Banana seems to epitomize that school of thought without a hint of irony. Again, in the right hands…
Driver’s cars aren’t cars that make you look good, mistakes, sloppiness and lack of skill notwithstanding…
Driver’s cars are cars that reward great driving and PUNISHES you for mistakes and sloppiness…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and better. The great debate of our times – digital vs analogue…but lest we forget, even at this stage of our human evolution, millennials notwithstanding, we are STILL analogue creatures…
Visceral, intuitive, natural. Just as Kevin discovered.
The Viper was discontinued by Chrysler in 2017. It was a “last of its breed.” Get them while you still can and experience what reality really is, without the filters.
VIDEO: Viper Venom 650R vs Corvette ZR1 Tunnel Run
Author’s Biography: KevinB
KevinB is a 29-year-old auto enthusiast – a Mechanical Design Engineer by day, and serial side-hustler by night. By age 4, he could spout the make and model of any passing vehicle, and by 12 he was an expert in the inner-workings of the internal combustion engine. His love for all things motoring expanded into the two-wheeled world at age 17. He currently owns a 2014 Porsche 911 GT3, and a 2018 Ducati Panigale V4, and has somehow managed to retain his driver’s license.
When he’s not daydreaming about cars or motorcycles, you’ll find him at the gym or yoga studio, on a backpacking trip, or walking shirtless on the beach to maximize Vitamin D, whilst listening to the latest book or podcast on nutrition and healthy living. He currently resides in Santa Monica, CA with his girlfriend of 8 years, and the world’s cutest Dachshund-Yorkie mix: Vincent.