Thread: Where Are They Now: Dodge Viper Grailkeeper Herb Helbig

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  1. #1
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    Cool Where Are They Now: Dodge Viper Grailkeeper Herb Helbig

    Where Are They Now: Dodge Viper Grailkeeper Herb Helbig
    Former Dodge Viper senior manager, vehicle synthesis
    By: Mac Morrison | Photography by: The Manufacturer, Conner Golden May 7, 2017

    When Fiat Chrysler confirmed in February that 2017 was to be the final year for the Dodge Viper, the automotive world lost a little piece of its soul. But after years of declining business 2003 was the highpoint with 2,103 Vipers sold compared to 630 in 2016 the news surprised no one. To recognize its run, we tracked down Herb Helbig, 66, an original Team Viper staple who ultimately became known throughout the Viper community as the cars Grailkeeper, a nickname not lost with his 2008 retirement.

    How did it all begin?

    HH: I saw the Viper at the 1989 Detroit show. Id been with the company for 17 years, and historically we didnt take risks like that. But the management team had the right horsepower, Bob Lutz was the president, and this was his baby. I interviewed for the job and became the fourth engineer on the team in the spring of 1989.

    Did its success surprise you?

    HH: We bust our asses, we get the car in production in three years. And it turns out the car is an absolute friggin smash hit, and we cant make enough of them.
    Is that when you emerged as the Grailkeeper?

    HH: The four guys and Carroll Shelby who started the car, they wanted a Cobra for the 90s: big horsepower, bare bones, big tires, in your face, out of my way, Im-gonna-run-ya-into-the-ground kind of car. About 1995, there were ideas about automatic transmissions, cruise control, cupholders.

    And you said

    HH: I was so caught up in it. My wife said get it together or she was gonna leave me. I said: Were not doing any of that ****. Were not having a f- automatic transmission. Forget traction control. I dont want ABS brakes. A lot of customers found out I kept all this bull**** at bay and started calling me the Grailkeeper.

    2015 Dodge Viper SRT side profile

    How difficult was it to accomplish?

    HH: An automatic meant redoing the entire frame. That made it easy for me to say no because the business case backed me up. ABS, I finally decided because the car was so popular amongst so many people, including those who had no driving skillsit was really probably safer to have. I held off the cupholders.

    And now production will cease in August

    HH: And thatll be the end of it. Although, knowing the guys on the team, I wouldnt be surprised if theyre still trying to figure out a way to resurrect, rebirth, something. I told them, Look, if you want to really hit a home run, take the Fiat 124, figure out a way to jam a Hemi in it, stick in the Viper six-speed and rear axle, and you would have a f land rocket. And it would be Son of Viper, so you could get a bazillion miles of PR for that. I dont know if theyre doing that. They consider me a crackpot already, pretty much.

    This all must feel quite strange.

    HH: I think it sucks, but I believe managements philosophy is: If it isnt going to make money, I dont want it. They refuse to look at the soft-side value of a product that is so outrageous. It shows that the company is vibrant, alive, not afraid to take risks. So its bittersweet for me. We certainly have nothing to hang our head about. I mean, the car created a legend in the first two years it was in production.

    What is the Vipers legacy?

    HH: It was the singular, most purpose-built American sports car. Its performance was the best value on the planet. Even at $100,000, Viper had performance that $500,000 cars didnt have.

    2015 Dodge Viper SRT rear three quarter

    Where can people find you these days?

    HH: I spend a lot of time with the Viper clubs, speaking at the get-togethers. So Im still in touch with a lot of the Viper nation. I live in Lake Orion, Michigan, with my wife, Deb. Ive got a 2009 Viper special-edition coupe that I took on the Hot Rod Power Tour. I did the same with my Plymouth Prowler after I made it look like a Bonneville Roadster. I work around the house. Weve got a place in Key Largo, Florida, and then Deb has a family home in Maine. We have a grand old time, and its nice to be remembered by guys like you.

    You were always good with the media.

    HH: I have fond memories of doing the PR stuff, but it was a little nerve-racking because we let journalists drive the cars on racetracks. All my white hair came early because of those events.

    Speaking of tracks, are you racing?

    HH: No, but Im doing something else. Chrysler recently closed the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Michigan. Im very unhappy about it, and I wrote [Fiat Chrysler CEO] Sergio Marchionne and told him that. Ive been working with the historical society, the guys who maintain all the cars in the museum, and restoring the early Viper mules so we can take them to various get-togethers and Chrysler affairs. Ive been doing that pro bono work for a couple of years now. Its kind of fun.

    In retrospect, would you change anything about your time on Team Viper?

    HH: If my life ended tonight, I would have zero regrets. Zero regrets. Because Ive lived the life people only dream about.
    Attached Images

  2. #2
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    Bill Pemberton Woodhouse's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where Are They Now: Dodge Viper Grailkeeper Herb Helbig

    Nice write up and always good to hear about Herb.......glad he is enjoying his retirement and he definitely has had a Gearhead's Dream Job and fully understand how he has not regrets. Selling these beauties since the late 90s I too have lived t dream, albeit in a slightly different manner, ha.
    Bill Pemberton
    Woodhouse Viper & SRT Sales Mgr
    [email protected]
    1-800-889-1893/cell 402-677-5864

  3. #3

    Default Re: Where Are They Now: Dodge Viper Grailkeeper Herb Helbig

    Ha, good 'ol Maine...always a pleasant surprise when my home state unexpectedly comes up with stuff like this.

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