30 Years of Dodge Viper

In January 1989 a new sports car chapter began in the USA. After Chevrolet with the Corvette and Ford with the GT, the Chrysler Group finally also wanted to be in this area. Therefore a concept car was presented at the NAIAS (North American International Auto Show) in Detroit, which had taken shape in the second half of 1988 in the Chrysler Advanced Design Studio. As a modern successor to the legendary Cobra, the Dodge Viper RT/10 was in the limelight for the first time. The interest on site exceeded all expectations, which is why chief engineer Roy Sjoberg was directly ordered to develop the sports car ready for series production. He picked 85 high-class technicians and developers from Chrysler and founded the ‘Team Viper’ with them. Work on this vehicle began in March 1989, and by the autumn of the same year the final design had already been determined. Meanwhile, Lamborghini in Italy, at that time a part of Chrysler Group, was working on first units of the V10 engine planned for this car. First prototypes still used V8 engines, as the V10 was only ready for use in spring 1990. In addition, the idea of a pure convertible without the wide rollbar was temporarily considered, but this idea was ultimately rejected (at least for generation 1). In May of the same year, Lee Iacocca, CEO of Chrysler, gave the go-ahead for production. Some test drives also were done by Carroll Shelby, the inventor of the Cobra. Among other things, he drove a pre-series car in 1991 as the pace car of Indianapolis 500. At the end of 1991, the first press test runs took place while production started at the same time.

Unlike other vehicles from the same period, Dodge deliberately avoided using driving aids such as ABS or traction control on the Viper RT/10. There were also no handles or locks on the doors. Instead one had to operate the inner door handle, for which some dislocations were necessary when the roof was closed and the plastic windows were put into the doors. Air conditioning and airbags were also not installed in the car. Only manually adjustable seats with lumbar support, a digital clock, carpets and a car radio served a bit of comfort. In later model years, the plant offered a hardtop made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic and an air conditioning system, as well as ABS from 2001. The rest of the bodywork components, such as the huge bonnet, the doors behind the air outlets and the boot lid in the practical notchback, are made of GRP, as is the body-in-white. It was built over a steel tubular frame.

The GTS coupé version made its debut as a concept car in 1993. However, series production didn’t begin until 1996. Compared to the open RT/10 roadster, the roof section from the windscreen to the rear end had been completely redesigned. A double bubble roof section offered enough space to drive the Viper GTS also with a helmet. Behind it, the design with the large diagonal rear window was reminiscent of the Cobra Daytona Coupés from the 1960s. After the first racing cars based on the Viper RT/10 had shown some aerodynamic deficits, Dodge developed the GTS-R for 1995, which was very successful in the following years in GT1 and GT2 category. Together with the market launch of the Viper GTS, the Viper RT/10 also got the option of having racing stripes painted to the bodywork ex works.

The V10 engine, developed jointly with Lamborghini, weighed in at 723 kilograms alone, although the block and cylinder heads were made of aluminium. From eight liters capacity the technicians initially got 300 kW/408 hp and a maximum torque of 630 newtonmeters. Thanks to the unladen weight of only 1,490 kilograms and the manual six-speed transmission, the Viper RT/10 sped from a standing start to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and to 100 mph in 9.2 seconds. Dodge specified a topspeed of 165 mph. In 1996, a model upgrade was carried out which increased the power of the RT/10 to 309 kW/421 hp. Shortly thereafter, the Viper GTS was launched on the market with 335 kW/456 hp, which one year later also became the power rating for the roadster. At the same time, some chassis components previously made of steel were replaced with aluminium components, which saved 27 kilograms of weight. Combined with the better aerodynamics, the Viper GTS thus reached a topspeed of 183 mph.

After winning the 1997 FIA GT2 Sports Car Championship, a year later Dodge introduced the Viper GT2 Commemorative Edition, limited to 100 units, in white with blue racing stripes, a large rear wing and GTS-R logos all around. In 1999 the Viper ACR followed as a sportier version of the GTS for customers who like to use their sports car on the racetrack. In addition to a sports suspension, the ACR also received a small power increase using K&N air filters and new intake pipes as well as a five-point harness inside. With the Final Edition Dodge finally waved goodbye to the first Viper in 2002. In Europe this model was only available as Chrysler Viper and with left-hand drive as well as with tailpipes instead of sidepipes. Although some prototypes with RHD were created, they ultimately weren’t put into production because of poor sales prospects in Australia, Great Britain and Japan.

From 2003, the new Viper SRT-10 Roadster came off the Dodge production lines. Three years later the coupé version GTS followed. The V10 engine grew to 8.3 liters and delivered 372 kW/506 hp as well as 711 newtonmeters of torque. Only the Roadster was officially exported to Europe, where it never reached high sales figures. In Germany, for example, only 188 units were sold between 2002 and 2010. As a result, Dodge didn’t even send the bigger 8.4-liter V10 version with 447 kW/610 hp across the Atlantic Ocean, which was available in North America from 2008. Production of the Viper SRT-10 was discontinued in 2010. The third Viper generation was delayed until 2012. Ferrari and Maserati did some of the development work for it, as Chrysler had merged with Fiat to form FCA. At first the sports car with its 8.4-liter V10 engine and 477 kW/649 hp came off the production lines under the label SRT (Street and Racing Technology), which was changed back to Dodge Viper SRT for the model year 2015. A roadster version and an export to Europe were not available ex works this time. Due to a lack of demand, FCA finally stopped the production in August 2017. Parts or entire vehicles also served other manufacturers as the basis for their sports cars. For example, Bristol used the ten-cylinder engine and some technical components for their supercar Fighter, while Zagato converted nine copies of the Viper SRT ACR-X into the Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale. In addition, there were plans for the Devon GTX and the VLF Force 1 V10, but both never reached small-volume production status.

Images: Dodge