Islander’s Dodge Viper straddles line between automobile and race car
Billy Cochrane’s journey into advanced car nuttery, as often is the case, began in high school shop classes. He caught the hot-rod bug in Galveston’s Ball High auto-repair and metalworking classes and never quite shook it. First, it was a ’34 Plymouth coupe, then a ’27 Model T roadster and a ’40 Ford sedan.
“Rat rods,” he calls them.
It was a slicker ride, Chevy’s Corvette, however, that drove Cochrane behind the wheel of a workingman’s supercar.
“Back then, all the shop class guys wanted Corvettes, and I wanted a Corvette,” said Cochrane, 71, who worked for about four decades at The Galveston County Daily News. “I had a plan. My plan was to graduate high school, get a job and buy a Corvette. That was it. That was my plan.”
The plan inspired Cochrane to hang around a Galveston car dealership that had some Corvettes on the lot.
“One day, a salesman came up and asked if he could help me,” Cochrane recalled. “I asked ‘How much is that Corvette?’ He said, ‘Son, I’m going to tell you two things. One, that Corvette costs about $5,000. Two, you’ll never own a Corvette.’
“When people tell me I can’t do something, I usually do it,” he said.
Cochrane owned almost a dozen Corvettes over the years since that encounter. The last was a 1969 convertible with the 427 V8 option.
The love affair with Corvettes abruptly ended in 1995, however, when he laid eyes on a Dodge Viper. He’s owned three since then. The latest is a 2009 SRT 10, which he bought off eBay in 2013 for about $76,000. It had 800 miles on it.
“The guy bought it as an investment when Dodge quit building Vipers the first time,” Cochrane said. “Then Dodge started building Vipers again, and his wife told him, ‘One of you has got to go.’”
A person has reached a rare level of enthusiast when he buys something like a Viper, which straddles the line between automobile and race car. When he’s got twin nitrous oxide bottles mounted on the deck under the rear window, he’s reached a whole other level beyond that.
The bottles feed nitrous oxide gas — the stuff that makes dental patients laugh and internal combustion engines scream — directly into each of the Viper’s 10 cylinders.
The system boosts the horsepower from the paltry 625 Dodge gave the car to about 820.
“I’m glad they didn’t have nitrous back when I started building hot rods,” Cochrane said. “Because I’d be dead.”
And then there are the details. The NOS bottles are the same “Snake Skin Green” as the Viper’s body paint. Various lights, both functional and decorative, are outfitted with LED bulbs in the same shade of green. Even the twin high-flow engine air filters are the same pale green.
The car is fast, of course; even Cochrane isn’t sure exactly how fast.
“I’ve only ever done 140, and it still had some left, which is sort of scary,” he said. “But it’s not just how fast, but how quick you can go fast. This car is pretty damn quick — it’ll do a 10-second quarter mile.”
Cochrane drives the Viper often and often uses it as a teaching tool, of sorts.
“Sometimes, I’ll come back to where I’ve parked it and find a bunch of kids crowded around,” he said. “A lot of car guys would yell at them — “Don’t touch the car!” — don’t want them anywhere near the car. I tell them to touch the car. It’s just a car, just a car. That’s it.
“Sometimes, I give them one of these,” Cochrane said, fishing from the console a gold-colored coin embossed with the likeness of a green Dodge Viper.
And he tells them: “Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do or have something. You can do and have anything. You want a Dodge Viper. You can have a Dodge Viper.”