History of the Dodge Viper
When Chrysler president Bob Lutz approached designer Tom Gale in 1988, he had a clear vision. Lutz wanted to make a sports car in the spirit of the famous Shelby Cobra. That meant no frills, no gimmicks, no distractions. Just speed and unrestrained driving. From this vision, the Dodge Viper was born.
It was a throwback muscle car with lots of power and not much subtlety. It was also an instant classic. For 25 years it captured the hearts and minds of drivers in the United States and abroad. The Viper was not the most luxurious, nor the most advanced. Still, the car remains a thrill to drive and saw its share of success on the track. This is the history of the Dodge Viper.
Spirit of the Viper
Gale quickly got to work on designing the first Viper. With Lutz’s blessing, he was free to oversee every detail of the car’s production. Less than a year later, the first working prototype was built. The car was clearly an homage to the classic sports cars of the 1960’s. It showed, both in design and performance. It had the feel of a vintage muscle car. There was no roof, just brute muscle, and a whole lot of good times behind the wheel.
What made the Viper special was its purity. It was not born from years of focus groups and market testing. Instead, it was made for the people who knew cars and understood driving the best. That authenticity helped the Viper become and instant success. It is also the reason it remains iconic to this day.
After seeing the first concept, Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca gave the go-ahead to begin production. At that time, there was already demand for the car. Excitement was building and the waiting list filled up quickly to get one of the original 250 examples. The first Vipers hit the street in 1992 and lived up to expectations.
Under the hood, the Viper featured a massive 8.0L V10 Lamborghini-designed engine. It produced 400 horsepower, 465 lb-ft of toque and helped the viper reach 160 mph. It’s 0-60 time rivaled other top sports cars of the early 90’s at 4.2 seconds. The Viper was focused on performance and nothing else. It had no side windows, roof, not even door handles. But, this bare-bones approach added to the Viper’s charm. It let the driving speak for itself.
With the release on the Second-Generation Viper, engineers doubled down on what made the original a success. They added 10 more horsepower, making sure the Viper was stronger than ever. While they car’s features were still mostly simple, some changes were made to improve the driving experience. For example, the exhaust which was previously located next to the door was moved to the rear.
In this generation, the Viper GTS also hit production. This was a coupe version of the traditional roadster. Its design was once again based off Shelby’s classic sports cars and so too was the performance. The GTS boasted 450 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque. Furthermore, it was the first Viper to feature more convenience and safety features.
In 2003, a new century called for a new generation of Vipers. This version, named the SRT-10, was the largest Viper yet, but still managed to shed weight. Now lighter, engineers were able to pack even more horsepower into the SRT-10 to increase its speed. Its engine came in at 8.3 liters and produced an even 500 horsepower. Although, before long, a new Viper would come along with even more driving might.
For the Fourth-Generation Viper, no corner was cut in making it the fastest, most powerful car possible. Still remaining true to the model’s roots, Dodge created a Viper for a new era. It had an 8.4-liter V-10 engine that could pump out 600 horsepower and 560 lb-ft of torque. These figures rivaled some of the leading luxury sports cars of the era. All while the Viper was available for a fraction of the price.
The Vipers of the late 2000’s were no longer simply strong cars that could reach high speeds. They could compete on the track with the world’s best. Unfortunately, this series was ultimately short-lived. Due to financial troubles, Dodge announced the Viper would be discontinued in 2010.
The Viper’s first hiatus did not last long. By the end of 2010, new plans were already discussed for the car’s revival. That version was released in 2013, featuring the same engine but many new features. It now produced 640 horsepower, that figure increasing to 645 in 2015. The Viper also now had more control features to improve handling for drivers.
Once again though, the Viper line was discontinued not long after. Despite the top-speeds reaching over 200 mph, the Vipers sales were declining. Dodge also stated it could not accommodate modern airbag mandates. A quarter century after the first Viper, the final examples were produced in 2017.
While it made a name for itself on the streets, the Viper solidified its legacy on the racetrack. It was no ultra-refined sportscar from a luxury European automaker. The Viper was just a big piece of American-made muscle. One thing it did have was speed. Lots of speed, in fact.
In 1999, Dodge released the Viper GTSR which would make an impact on the racing circuit. Over the following two years, the GTSR entered 18 of the world’s top GT races. It came away with 16 victories. Then in 2010, just before the first discontinuation, the Viper set a new production car lap record at the Nürburgring.
Today, the Viper still holds a special significance to many people. This car captured a spirit of driving that was lost for many when it first released. It was bold enough to do away with the comfort and luxury of many other sportscars. Instead, it knew its audience, drivers who wanted speed and excitement. For 25 years, that is exactly what Vipers delivered.
As for the future, it is unclear what it holds for the Viper. There have been no plans announced to revive the series for a second time. However, many fans still hold out hope. The passion for stripped-down performance driving remains, as does the special connections fans have with the Viper.
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