It is common practice for automotive makers to donate vehicles to schools to help in the automotive repair and engineering classes that they offer. One company that has been doing it with high profile vehicles has been Chrysler with the Viper. Not only is it fun to say that students get to work on such a rare car, but it gives Chrysler additional exposure. It is common practice for these vehicles to be pre-production or demo vehicles that cannot be resold to the public. In order to prevent them from eventually falling into the public’s hands, the automaker demands that the vehicles are crushed when they are no longer educationally useful. South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) recently received that order, and apparently they have an extremely rare Viper that has historical value. Word of the crushing has raised a lot of questions, and the Internet has exploded with criticisms and demands to save the car.
The story was originally reported in The Olympian, the newspaper in Olympia, Washington. They state that the Viper in question was the fourth one produced by Chrysler and is extremely rare. They claim that Chrysler is demanding that that vehicle, and others (totalling 93) be destroyed in the next two weeks. They claim Chrysler’s reasoning is because they are being sued by people driving these vehicles and getting into an accident.
We take a look at the article, the questionable claims, and possible actions. As we dug more into this story, we discovered there is more than meets the eye. Here’s what we found.
Even though some may consider every Viper produced rare, but the Olympian article states that it is actually VIN #004 of a 1992 Viper. The article’s picture then shows what is purportedly the Viper in question.
This is clearly a picture of a Viper GTS, as indicated by the badge on the fender. The article goes on to say that the vehicle has a “makeshift hardtop, making it a one-of-a-kind vehicle.” To Viper aficionados, the roof on the pictured Viper is clearly a fixed-top, non-removable room. This vehicle was not available until 1996, as a second-generation model. That is the time they introduced the GTS hardtop along with the SRT/10 removable roof version.
All first-generation Vipers were SRT/10 versions that look like the following picture. Also, most of those vehicles produced were red in color. Even the original SRT/10 Viper had its own television show.
If the Viper at South Puget Sound Community College was really the fourth Viper to roll off the assembly line, it would definitely have resembled the vehicle above, and not the blue GTS that is shown in the photographs. Also, the original Viper did not come with a roof, which would make the claim that it had a custom-built roof story more valid, but the SRT/10 did come with a fabric top for indoor storage to help with dust.
It is possible that the Viper GTS shown is a pre-production version of that vehicle, and it is also possible that that car was the fourth to roll off the assembly line in that trim level, but that would not necessarily mean that it is the 1992 Viper that the community college claims that it is. Motor Trend spoke with the instructor that claims it is a 1992 pre-production hardtop that was designed as an early engineering sample. If true, we would think the vehicle would have enough historical significance to be saved. But if that was also true, we would imagine the vehicle would be too important to lend to a community college as well.
Some schools were provided SRT/10 Vipers for their engineering programs, though. Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, has a SRT/10 Viper on display in their engineering department for visitors and prospective students. In doing research for this story, we discovered this picture on Pinterest showing the Viper with what appears to be the engine removed from the vehicle. If Sinclair Community College made the claim that this car is a pre-production 1992 vehicle, it would make sense because the car fits the body style of that generation.
The Olympian’s story asserts that there are 93 educational Vipers in schools across the country, and that they are all being destroyed at the request of Fiat Chrysler. However, there is no definitive list of which schools are in possession of the cars, and no other community colleges have come forward to say that their vehicles were being ordered crushed.
Community College Paperwork
Schools are required to document all donations that arrive and keep an archive of all the terms associated with that transaction. This is essential for auditing purposes, and especially for schools that receive state or federal funding. In 2003, now Kalamazoo Valley Community College received a donation of a 2001 Dodge Viper from then DaimlerChrysler. The vehicle has a VIN and an estimated value of $65,000. Below is all the relevant paperwork provided to the board about the transaction.
Nowhere in that paperwork does DaimlerChrysler give terms for the vehicle, and that it needs to be returned or destroyed at the request of the automaker. It actually looks like it would be the equivalent of a cash donation that would need to be reported on taxes and other legal documentation. The original Olympian story quotes Steve Glasco of Fiat Chrysler as stating that the letter was sent to SPSCC, but would not going into details of the terms. Without publication of either the letter that Fiat Chrysler sent, or the original terms of that Viper’s loan, we cannot say for sure who actually owns the vehicle. Based on the paperwork above, it would appear the community college is in full ownership of the vehicle.
We located a forum post where a man claims he used to attend a community college where a Viper was donated, and that Chrysler had requested that the vehicle be destroyed and the school was planning on complying. We are not surprised to learn that lending vehicles to schools is common practice, and that after the students work on the vehicles that the manufacturers prefer the vehicle to be destroyed.
Fiat Chrysler’s Official Statement
Approximately 10 years ago, Chrysler Group donated a number of Dodge Viper vehicles to various trade schools for educational purposes. As part of the donation process, it is standard procedure — and stipulated in our agreements — that whenever vehicles are donated to institutions for education purposes that they are to be destroyed when they are no longer needed for their intended educational purposes. With advancements in automotive technology over the past decade, it is unlikely that these vehicles offer any educational value to students. Chrysler Group fully understands and appreciates the historical significance of the Viper and is very active in preserving many of its legendary models and designs for historic purposes however, none of these vehicles fit into this category.
Chrysler Group has no record of any legal proceedings involving Dodge Viper vehicles donated to educational institutions being involved in accidents and product liability lawsuits.
Chrysler even made a blog post about it as well.
March 6, 2014 4:27 PM
There’s nothing like car culture passion. We see it every day, and a lot of people have witnessed it since late Wednesday when reports of Chrysler Group asking schools to “crush” early Dodge Vipers within the next couple of weeks.While we very deeply appreciate – and can relate to – the passionate out-pouring to #SavetheVipers, we do need to clear the air about what’s going on and what we did.So, let’s set the record straight.About 10 years ago, Chrysler Group donated a number of Dodge Viper vehicles to various trade schools for educational purposes. As part of the donation process, it is routine, standard procedure — and stipulated in our agreements — that whenever vehicles are donated to institutions for education purposes that they are to be destroyed when they are no longer needed for their intended educational purposes.With advancements in automotive technology over the past decade, it is unlikely that these vehicles offer any educational value to students.We definitely understand and appreciate the historical significance of the Viper. And, we are sure to maintain any of the legendary models and designs for historic purposes. It’s our heritage so of course we take great pride in preserving it.However, none of the vehicles at the schools fit into this category.Also, Chrysler Group has no record of any legal proceedings involving Dodge Viper vehicles donated to educational institutions being involved in accidents and product liability lawsuits.To recap, the Vipers in question have no significant historical value, have not been involved in any accidents and serve no educational purpose – which is what they were designed to do at first.
This blog post puts the SPSCC story in question as well. They claim to have a 1992 Viper. Even if they had a 1996 GTS Viper, that would be 18 years ago when the loan happened. Chrysler is officially saying that the vehicle donations they made that they are recalling were approximately 10 years ago. This would be closer to the timeframe of the Kalamazoo Valley Community College car than the South Puget Sound Community College car.
Also, it appears from the statement of the instructor in the automotive repair program at his school it is common for vehicles to be destroyed regularly, and that Chrysler has been crushing Vipers since at least 1999.
What makes the statement especially interesting is that there is no mention of how many cars Chrysler is currently asking to have destroyed. Where did The Olympian get the number of 93? The community college is saying that is what they were told by Chrysler, but if they were told that by Chrysler, why would Chrysler not state that in an official release?
Additionally, Chrysler says that there are no ongoing lawsuits. SPSCC is claiming they were told that there are two active lawsuits pending these pre-production vehicles and that is the ultimate reason for their destruction. Typically, if there is a legal issue, a company will say “we cannot talk about any pending legal litigation,” or something to that effect. The fact they are saying there is no legal issues at all is a bit too matter-of-fact to be false.
We will admit that someone possibly taking a car for a joyride and exposing the company to risk is a good reason to ask for the vehicles returned, but it is odd that SPSCC would state that there are two lawsuits pending that is costing Fiat Chrysler millions of dollars. Where are these lawsuits? Who was injured? We attempted to find records of these lawsuits, and were unsuccessful.
Chrysler states that the vehicles were donated for educational purposes.
As part of the donation process, it is routine, standard procedure — and stipulated in our agreements — that whenever vehicles are donated to institutions for education purposes that they are to be destroyed when they are no longer needed for their intended educational purposes.
It would be difficult to argue that a vehicle that was sold in 1992 would have significance to automotive technology students today. A modern SRT Viper shares very few similarities to the Viper that rolled off the line that long ago, now having OBD-II networking, advanced infotainment, and more. It is more likely that a school is using it as a prop to help sell students on the education at that school. We see the Viper at Sinclair Community College on display, and not in the garage being worked on. SPSCC even claims that that is what they are using the vehicle for.
Chapman admits the Viper has limited educational value — few mechanics will ever have to work on such a specialized vehicle. But it is a prized promotional tool for the auto program, which displays the car at high schools and auto shows around the state.
From Chrysler’s perspective, SPSCC could be putting the vehicle at risk of driving by showcasing it at events off the school’s campus. Additionally, we doubt that Fiat Chrysler is receiving an advertising fee for showing off their car to prospective students.
If there are 93 Vipers currently being asked to be destroyed, the question is why now? These Vipers did not suddenly become outdated in the past week, and a two week deadline seems awfully quick for something that they have had for over a decade. Since we still haven’t heard from other schools that are ordered to destroy their cars, we put into question the claim that there is 93 cars that are being destroyed right now. Regardless, SPSCC’s Viper needs to be destroyed, so what happened recently that made Chrysler decide to pull the plug on that particular car?
Was the car driven to an event and Chrysler found out about it? Where they advertising it inappropriately to students? Chrysler is not saying, other than the vehicle has no educational significance. It would be nice for Chrysler to provide more information, but it is unlikely that we will see more. Also, if Vipers are destroyed regularly, why is SPSCC the only school making a big deal out of it? There are definitely motives that need to be questioned.
Regardless of the nuances of the incident, word getting out of Chrysler ordering Vipers crushed is not a smart public relations move. The Internet is angered by several aspects of Chrysler’s claims, especially the one talking about historical significance.
Being common practice to destroy these vehicles, and the potential outcry of Viper fanatics, we are surprised that schools aren’t required to sign non-disclosure agreements about the terms of the loans and when they are asked to crush them. This is really common practice for many automakers, but for some reason this particular story is spreading like wildfire. The phrase that is really upsetting people is the claim that the vehicles have “no historical significance.” Vipers are produced in extremely limited quantities, and owners and fans alike believe they are special. To them, it would be like calling a child “not special.”
At this point, the right move would be to take the vehicle from SPSCC and return it to Chrysler. This way the school no longer has the vehicle, so there is no risk of someone driving it inappropriately, but also protects the vehicle from being destroyed and potentially losing customers who will sincerely not purchase a new Chrysler vehicle as a result.
The original story written in The Olympian is full of misinformation. Even if the car is the vehicle that SPSCC claims that it is, it does not have a makeshift hardtop. It also does not have 600hp, but the current one does. On a story that was written to be a bit sensationalized, it is likely that it will be scrutinized. Normally, some unintentional misinformation is overlooked, especially when it was written by someone who is not an automotive enthusiast, but the lack of accurate information coming from only one source does put the story into question. This is especially true of the lawsuits that are claimed to have occurred. Chrysler is adamant that there is no legal litigation regarding these Vipers and being driven.
If this vehicle truly is VIN #004 and a special prototype for what would eventually become the Viper GTS, then it would have historical significance and need to be saved. Only if Chrysler had this exact type of car, with a lower VIN, would we think that Chrysler would rather crush the car than have it preserved. If it is simply an early-run GTS and not a prototype from 1992, then it would lose a lot of significance in the company’s eye.
Whether are not there are more than 90 other Vipers being destroyed right now, why did Chrysler choose this time to order the vehicle destroyed? Was there an incident that made Chrysler nervous about them having the vehicle? It has been outdated for quite some time now, so the educational significance has long since passed. If there is a mass destruction of Vipers occurring right now, the question of this particular moment would still remain.
Also, if there was a mass crushing of Vipers right now, why hasn’t there been other schools coming forward saying the same thing? With this much attention being focused on SPSCC, we’re a bit surprised other schools wouldn’t want the attention as well.
Chrysler’s statement makes since; vehicles that no longer have educational significance should be destroyed. Everyone seems to understand that this is a common practice, including SPSCC. However, there still is a strong disconnect between what SPSCC is saying, and what Chrysler is saying. It would be helpful to see the email or letter that was sent to SPSCC to see what was said, and it would also be helpful to get an official statement from Chrysler about how many vehicles are being destroyed. Was there really a death order given for 93, or is 93 the number over time that will eventually be destroyed through the normal practice? Lastly, and most importantly, where are these lawsuits that are allegedly forcing Chrysler to do this? We would assume that Chrysler would know its being sued, and it is a surprise that they would tell SPSCC that they are but then adamantly deny it in public.
What we know for sure is this story is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Until more information is released, people are still going to question the motives on both sides. People have also vowed to not allow Chrysler to let the story go away, so they may have to eventually make an additional statement or take additional action to save face. We plan on keeping you informed along the way.