East, Meet West

Written by editor on . Posted in Spring 2009

By Darren Jacobs

Scene: A man works quietly and intently in his garage, pruning, pinching and tending with utmost care to 200-year-old Bonsai trees. Content, the man wipes his brow, stores his tools, and, after hours of patient work in an ancient art begun in China over a thousand years ago, peels out of his garage in a Detroit-born, 21st century work of art—an 800 hp Dodge Viper.

Visitors to the awe-inspiring garage of VCA Gateway member Mike Perkins might not witness that exact scenario, but close to it. The St. Louis resident combines his love of Bonsai trees and Dodge Vipers under one impressive roof, marrying a passion that emphasizes the aesthetic miniaturization of trees with one that glorifies the ultimate amplification of horsepower.

“I’ve had a professional Bonsai artist working with me on my trees in the garage,” recalled Perkins, president of Perkins Contracting, a 53-year-old construction company founded by his grandfather. “It’s kind of weird seeing a guy working on 200-year-old trees under three Vipers.”

Perkins (known as “TREESNAKE” on the VCA Forums) began his pursuit of the Bonsai arts 15 years ago. His dedication to the hobby has spurred six trips to Japan in order to visit Bonsai exhibits and to study with experts on Bonsai care. Perkins also receives instruction from a professional Bonsai teacher who travels all the way from Milan, Italy, to Perkins’ garage 2–3 times each year. The hard work and devotion to all things Bonsai has paid off. Perkins currently has seven Bonsai trees ranked in the top 100 in the world, and has taken first-place in all five U.S. national competitions he has entered.

However, the 50-year-old was a late comer to the joys of the Viper Nation. He wasn’t Snakebit until 2004, when he purchased his first Viper, a 2001 GTS. A quick convert, Perkins rapidly made up for lost time. His collection has grown to number four Dodge Vipers in a short span.

Ironically, Perkins’ garage wasn’t originally built to house his duo of diverse hobbies. The edifice was constructed to accommodate another of his toys—a 30-foot twin-engine catamaran that can reach speeds in excess of 110 mph on the water. The boat was eventually stored elsewhere, leaving garage space that needed to be filled—and Perkins knew just what to fill it with.

The year-round climate-controlled garage features two BendPak single-post 6,000 lb. lifts and Go Jack car “skates” provided by XVIPERS, for use when the Vipers need repair or need to be moved in order to make room for Bonsai pruning. The garage is also lined with common indoor Luan hollow closet doors. The doors are hung on a closet track, continuous for the entire length of the garage, enabling Perkins to slide all doors to one end or the other, or open the doors anywhere in the middle.


The doors slide back and forth instead of opening outward, holding firm to Perkins’ commitment to child safety by limiting the possibility of damage to his “children” (the Vipers). Covered in a waterproof Sapphire laminate material, the doors were chosen for their durability and resistance to scratching, allowing Perkins to bathe his “kids” in the garage without concern of stray water or gunk. The doors are accented by a “tread plate” aluminum center trim cut to fit and glued into place. The trim at the top and bottom of the doors is stainless steel and custom fabricated to fit around wooden trim.

Perkins didn’t skimp on amenities. The garage features stainless steel sheeting cut to fit and installed behind a stainless “restaurant style” double sink with commercial fixtures. The area is also lined with stainless steel shelves, used to display Perkins’ complete collection of AUTOart 1:18 scale Vipers. A half bathroom is nearby, as well as an icebox for storing cold drinks. A Scott Jacobs VCA print also hangs on the wall.

Garage lighting consists of eight-foot fluorescent lights recessed into the ceiling, with the light focused straight down using custom bent aluminum flashing as reflectors. An extensive alarm system protects the Vipers and Bonsai trees when Perkins is away.

Like his garage, Perkins’ quartet of Vipers also boasts a host of modifications. His 2001 Sapphire Dodge Viper GTS sports a diamond-back hood from XVIPERS, Autoform race fascia, front splitter and roof scoop, Forgeline wheels with BFG drag radials, Eibach lowering springs, “painted” headlights and taillights, an all forged, all “studded” billet main, 488 cid engine from Arrow Racing, Striker heads, Bellanger headers with Corsa exhaust, and a ported Roe Supercharger—and that’s just a short list of the many modifications!

Perkins’ 2006 Sapphire Street Serpent Coupe #1 of 1 and 2006 Pearl Slate Coupe also feature an impressive roster of mods (his 2006 Black convertible is stock—for now). Design, installation, fabrication, and powder coating work on the vehicles was undertaken by JMB Performance. A large majority of all parts were provided by XVIPERS, with custom bodywork and paintwork completed at Paul’s Paint and Body.

Factor in Perkins’ Bonsai tree maintenance along with the loving attention he pays to his burgeoning stable of Vipers and it’s no wonder you almost have to forcibly drag him from his garage. It’s a rare spare moment that Perkins does not spend tinkering with a Viper or tending to Bonsai trees.

“I easily spend two hours in the garage each weekday, and at least 12 hours on the weekend,” said Perkins.

No need to rub it in, Mike. You’ve already given the Viper Nation “garage envy.”

Got your own “Garage Mahal” you want to flaunt for your fellow Viper owners? Send in photos, info and details of your glorious Viper garage to: VIPER Magazine, P.O. Box 2117, Farmington Hills, MI 48333-2117, or by e-mail to [email protected].

The Cruise Brothers

Written by editor on . Posted in Spring 2009

With thousands of Vipers registered in Florida and several extremely active Viper Club of America chapters throughout the state, it’s probably not all that unusual to see caravans of Vipers cruising the countryside. The odds of that sight are even greater around the Naples area because that’s where the four Malo brothers (and their four Vipers) reside. And if you’ve ever had the chance to visit their restaurant in Naples or meet them in person, you know that the Malo brothers bring the party with them.

The four Malo brothers—Flo, Neim, Jim and Solli—like nothing better than to get away on weekend trips that take them from the northernmost part of Florida all the way down to Key West. And the four Vipers they drive make sure they command attention across the state.

“We absolutely love these cars,” said Jim Malo. “By nature we tend to be very outgoing people so the Vipers suit our personalities perfectly. How can you look at these cars and not get excited? And we drive them every chance we get.”

Their restaurant—The Watermark Grille—has become known as one of the dining highlights in all of southwest Florida. And this Naples landmark (just like their Vipers) is a reflection of the Malo brothers overall attitude—work hard, play hard and don’t do anything halfway.

The tale of the Malo brothers is the quintessential American success story. Flo explained, “In 1950, my father and mother (who were from Albania), escaped Communism and ended up in a Greek refugee camp. Six years later, an Albanian family in Chicago sponsored us and we were able to come to this country to begin our lives as Americans.”

The father, Bato Malo, had to overcome some severe challenges in establishing himself in his new country. Flo said, “He couldn’t read or write—English or Albanian. He didn’t even have a driver’s license.”

He continued, “My father started out by washing dishes for 50 cents an hour but through hard work and persistence, he eventually ended up owning his own restaurant. That’s how our future in the restaurant business was sealed.”

When their father retired in 1974, the sons took over the restaurant and, a few years later, opened a nightclub in Chicago. “This was quite a wild time for us,” Jim admitted. “We were booking a lot of heavy metal and other rock bands and, most of the time, the parties lasted all night. We had a blast, but the pace was grueling.”

Partying with the likes of Metallica can take a toll on anyone, so the brothers decided it might be time to look into a more family-friendly business. “Naples had always been a favorite vacation spot for us,” said Flo. “In the early 1990s we all ended up making the move south and started up a restaurant just outside of the city.”

Their original establishment served as a testing ground for their current restaurant, the Watermark Grille. The building itself is as distinctive as the brothers as it features a number of fountains, floor to ceiling windows and a bright airy ambience that captures the spirit of southern Florida. “Over the years, we found that people prefer booths, lots of windows and water; thus the fountains,” Flo explained. “These all became part of the plan for the Watermark. It’s an upscale restaurant, but we’re kid-friendly, too. Like all of us, this place is never quiet or stuffy.”

The business has exploded over the years as the reputation of the Watermark Grille has spread far and wide. “During our off season, we average anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 customers per month. In season, that jumps to 10,000 to 15,000,” said Flo. “Basically, it’s organized chaos.”

All this responsibility can make it difficult to find time to enjoy their Vipers, but the brothers manage to hit the road whenever they can. In fact, many of the family vacations are planned around where they can drive. “Even though the cars are great to look at, we believe they’re meant to be driven,” said Jim. “So it’s a priority to get out on the road whenever we can.”

One way to free up some time is to share the workload and the brothers make sure all the restaurant work is divided equally. Flo keeps up with all the business operations and Jim heads up the kitchen. Neim and Solli work out front making sure that all the guests have a fantastic dining experience. It’s a system that might not work for some families, but for the Malos, it’s a recipe for success.

Jim said, “We believe we have a very strong work ethic, thanks to our father. He always told us that it’s easy to break one stick, but when you have four together, it’s very difficult. That’s what makes our business work—we always stay together.”

(The Watermark Grille is located on 11280 N. Tamiami Trail in Naples, Fla. You can also visit their Web site at www.watermarkgrille.com.)

A hunka, hunka burnin’ rubber

Written by editor on . Posted in Spring 2009

Gas is expensive. Tires are expensive. And the occasional rear axle or transmission is really expensive. But burnouts are fun and one of the ultimate highs in owning a Dodge Viper is seeing that white smoke billowing from underneath the car while the tires spin and scream against the pavement.

So go ahead and approach Viper owners as they stand next to their Vipers, with traces of smoke still wafting up from their shredded tires and ask them, “Was it worth it?” Chances are the response you’ll get is a “Hell, yes!”

Viper Fans to the Core

Written by editor on . Posted in Letters, Spring 2009

Viper Fans to the Core

Harlen and LaDonna Core love their Vipers. We proudly drive a yellow 2001 GTS/ACR around Oklahoma City and enjoy our Oklahoma Viper club very much. Our club president, Jon Hansen, plans a great schedule of luncheon meetings, shows and races, as well as an annual party at Christmas. This Christmas party has always had a Viper theme.

Harlen just had his 76th birthday. Believe it or not he loves to drag race in his 1966 Plymouth Valiant. This little Plymouth has a 440 cid engine and runs in the eleven second class at a local raceway. The yellow Viper runs in the twelve’s and is pure stock with street tires. Harlen also drove in the SRT® Track Experience at Texas Motor Speedway where he won first place in the drifting contest. He also drove Vipers with other Viper club members at the Phoenix, Ariz. Chrysler Proving Grounds in timed road races.

The picture shows our stable of Mopars in our front yard. We drive a Chrysler 300C for family driving. We pull the drag car with a Quad Cab® HEMI® Ram. We purchased one of the last built SRT10® Viper pick-ups in November 2006. This truck is one fine ride. It is loaded with the comforts of life such as navigation, Sirius radio and Bluetooth. LaDonna enjoys driving it because it’s a comfortable, fast, smooth-driving truck. The plates of the yellow Viper read: SP D Core. The Viper pick-up simply reads: VIPER 2.

We look forward to each issue of VIPER Magazine. Thanks for considering our pictures.

Harlen and LaDonna Core

Oklahoma City, Okla.

In considering your photos, Mr. & Mrs. Core, we came to the conclusion that you possess one very impressive collection of lawn ornaments! If only we could be so lucky. We especially appreciated the heading of your letter: “Mopar® or No Car is the Core Motto.” Funny—that’s the motto at VM as well. — Ed.

Blue Christmas

Merry Christmas to the entire staff involved in VIPER Magazine. It is an excellent publication that is not only informative but very creative. If it fits your format, please insert the photos (or license plate) in a future issue. Thanks!

Don Sterly

Gurnee, Ill.


Although this issue hits readers’ mailboxes in the spring, at press time an abundance of ice and snow has kept every one at VM headquarters in the holiday spirit. We thought we’d feature one of the many warm season’s greetings sent in from the Viper Nation. Thanks a bunch, folks—it sure beats hate mail! — Ed.


The chart listing the color totals of 2008 Vipers, featured in the Winter 2009 issue of VM, was incomplete. The full chart is included on page 32–33 of this issue. VIPER Magazine apologizes for the error.


We want to hear from you!

We value your input. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or constructive criticisms to:

VIPER Magazine

P.O. Box 2117

Farmington Hills, MI 48333-2117

E-mail: [email protected]

Web: www.vipermagazine.com

Viva Detroit! Viva Viper!

Written by editor on . Posted in Ignition, Spring 2009

Addressing you in this column is a first for me. You don’t often hear from J.R. Thompson Company. We are mostly behind the scenes. Our founder, John R. Thompson, played a role working with Dodge and helping the founding members establish the Viper Club of America. Many of you know us for publishing VIPER Magazine dating back to the time when it was a newsletter (thank you Ron Smith). Others know us as VCA Headquarters, handling memberships and taking care of club business. Or maybe you’ve heard about us at one of the Viper Owners Invitationals where we helped Dodge manage these events. What a great honor and privilege it has been working with Dodge, SRT® and the VCA these past 15 years.

As publisher of VIPER Magazine and always mindful of continuous improvement, we recently e-mailed a “quick poll” survey to those of you who have given us your e-mail address. Our goal was to find out what you enjoy reading most and what you would like to see in future issues. Over 600 of you responded (thank you) and told us that you want more technical information, performance mods and features on customized Vipers (no surprise here). You also want more club articles, special interest stories of VCA members and features of cool Viper garages. We’ll be sure to deliver but we would also like more of your participation. Keep in mind that we have always welcomed editorial contributions. Why not become one of our contributing writers? You might enjoy writing a piece and joining the ranks of those who have already contributed. Don’t be shy. E-mail your suggestions to [email protected] We will work with you to create a masterpiece.

One other word for the times: In the last issue of VM, VCA President Chris Marshall touched on the changes and turmoil we face here in Detroit with the auto industry and more at home with Chrysler LLC and Viper. Much of the news out of Detroit has been grim, but we are a resilient town and going to keep our wheels on.

Detroit is under tremendous pressure brought on in large part by the fundamental economic issues our nation faces. The American car industry is truly at a crossroad facing one of its greatest challenges of all time. We realize that it’s time for a major transformation and we are more than up to that challenge. We will prevail and we will see that Viper is alive and well when the dust settles. No economic crisis is going to smother the spirit of the Viper Nation.

Thank you for your support of the Viper and the VCA—you have all had a hand in making it the world-class car club it is today. Viva Viper!

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