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The Dodge Viper: 1992-2017


The Viper is a 2-seat sports car manufactured by Dodge. Designed as a performance car along the lines of a modern Shelby Cobra by Chrysler’s Advanced Design Studios, it first appeared as a concept at the 1989 North American International Auto Show.

First Generation (SR) 1991-2002

SR I:1991-1995

The reaction to the concept car was very positive, so Chief Engineer Roy Sjoberg selected 85 engineers, dubbed them ‚ÄúTeam¬†Viper,” and began developing the car in March of 1989. Development was completed less than a year later despite Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca delaying the 70 million dollars needed to put the car into production. The¬†SR I¬†generation of the¬†Viper¬†debuted with a bang in 1991 with two pre-production models, one piloted by Carroll Shelby, driven as pace cars for the¬†Indianapolis 500.¬†Dodge¬†had to quickly replace the scheduled pace cars, the Japanese-built¬†Dodge Stealth¬†(a¬†Dodge-badged¬†Mitsubishi 3000 GT), due to complaints from the¬†United Auto Workers¬†union. Shelby was also involved with publicizing and marketing the car later. The car officially went on sale as the¬†RT/10 Roadster¬†in January of 1992 and re-kindled interest in¬†Dodge¬†as a performance brand. The eventual popularity and success of the¬†Viper¬†overshadowed the recent failure of¬†Chrysler¬†chairman Lee Iacocca‚Äôs pet project, the¬†Chrysler TC¬†by¬†Maserati, which ate up five times the¬†Viper‚Äôs development cost.

Viper¬†was originally engineered to be strictly a performance car, and as such lacked some features that American buyers take for granted. It had no lock cylinders or even external door handles, and it lacked air conditioning although there was a ‚Äúsnowflake‚ÄĚ icon on the climate controls indicating possible future A/C installation. The car also lacked airbags to save weight. It was a convertible with a canvas roof and zippered vinyl windows similar to another¬†Chrysler¬†product, the¬†Jeep Wrangler. This isn‚Äôt to say that the car was all business and lacked any creature comforts at all. The leather-trimmed sport bucket seats were manually adjustable and had lumbar support, there was a high-fidelity AM/FM stereo cassette player with a clock in the dash, and the interior was carpeted. The aluminum-alloy wheels were larger than standard to accommodate large brake calipers, and in 1994 a lightweight fiberglass roof was included to cover the canvas soft top. Adjustable performance suspension components were an option.

Lamborghini, then owned by¬†Chrysler Corporation, helped design the¬†Viper‚Äôs 8.0 liter V10 engine that was based on¬†Chrysler‚Äôs own¬†LA V8¬†engine. Chief power engineer Dick Winkles spent time in Italy with¬†Lamborghini¬†developing the powerplant, which was initially cast as a prototype aluminum block. The original test mule of the car used a¬†Chrysler¬†V8 as the V10 was not ready until February of 1990. It was rated at 400 HP, an impressive number for the early ‚Äė90s, and produced 465 lb. ft. of torque at 3,600 RPM. Even with those numbers the car was rated at 12 MPG city and 20 MPG highway, assuming you kept your foot out of it‚Ķhard to do with a 400 HP V10 in front of you. Exposed side exhaust pipes were an indicator that this car means business.

The body sits on a racing-style tubular steel frame, is made of resin transfer molding (RTM) fiberglass panels, and the car weighs in at 3,280 lbs. despite the 712 lb. V10 engine. Being designed when it was, it lacks modern driver aids like traction control and anti-lock brakes and can be a tricky beast to drive, especially for the unskilled. 0-60 takes a mere 4.2 seconds, quicker than a 1992 Corvette or Porsche 911 Carrera 2, and ticks through the quarter-mile in 12.6 seconds at a speed of 113.8 MPH, with a top speed of 165 MPH.

SR II: 1996-2002

For the SR II model the exposed side pipes were re-located to run through a single central muffler, and the exhaust exited through two central tailpipes. This arrangement actually reduced back-pressure and increased the HP to 415 and torque to 488. A removable hardtop with sliding glass windows became available, and some steel components were replaced with aluminum for a 60 lb. weight reduction.

Later in the year¬†Dodge¬†introduced the¬†Viper GTS, a coupe version of the¬†RT/10. This version was dubbed the ‚Äúdouble bubble‚ÄĚ for its twin raised roof sections to accommodate the use of helmets, a design cue taken from the¬†Shelby Daytona coupe. Despite its similar looks, over 90% of the car was new compared to the RT/10. The¬†GTS¬†was equipped with air conditioning, power windows, power door locks and airbags, and utilized the same 8.0 liter V10 as the¬†RT/10, but power was up substantially to 450 HP and a monster 490 ft. lb. of torque.

Viper¬†was again chosen as the pace car for the 80th¬†running of the¬†Indianapolis 500¬†in 1996. For 1997 the car received some upgrades.¬†RT/10¬†gained the improved HP engine from the¬†GTS¬†along with airbags and power windows, and in 1998 both versions got second-generation airbags, lighter exhaust manifolds that saved 24 lb. over the previous cast-iron models and a revised camshaft 2000 saw the use of lighter hypereutectic pistons that expanded less, although customers who added aftermarket superchargers and turbochargers for even more power preferred the old forged pistons that were more able to withstand the stresses. A Technical Service Bulletin for ‚Äė96-‚Äô99 models added gussets with rivets near the steering box to repair weakened frames in that area. 2001 models added anti-lock brakes.

Second Generation (ZB) 2003- 2010

ZB I: 2003-2006

Viper was re-designed for the 2003 model year from (by now) DaimlerChrysler’s Street and Racing Technology group, taking cues from the GTS-R concept presented in 2000. RT/10 and GTS models were replaced with a new Viper SRT-10 featuring more sharp-angled bodywork than its predecessor. The engine displacement was bumped to 8.3 liters as well and engine weight was reduced to 500 lbs. from 712. Engine power also increased significantly to 500 HP and 525 ft. lb. of torque, although coming at higher RPMs than the previous 8 liter mill. An improved chassis debuted in this model, offering more rigidity while weighing 80 lbs. less. An even lighter and stronger aluminum space-frame chassis created by Mercedes was planned for the next iteration, but that project was shelved because of parent company Chrysler’s financial woes. This chassis was later used as the basis for the development of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.

A convertible was the only model offered for 2003-2005. In 2004¬†Dodge¬†released the limited-edition ‚ÄúMamba‚ÄĚ package that featured an all-black interior with contrasting red stitching and trim that added $3,000 to the price of the SRT-10. Only 200 were produced.

The coupe version debuted at the 2005¬†Detroit Auto Show¬†for production the following year. It shares many body panels with the convertible but borrows side and rear styling from¬†Dodge‚Äôs¬†Competition Coupe¬†concept and looks much like the¬†Viper GTS¬†with its ‚Äúdouble bubble‚ÄĚ roof and the same taillights. The initial¬†First Run¬†cars also sported the same¬†GTS Blue¬†paint with white racing stripes as the¬†First Run GTS. Engine power was bumped to 510 HP and 535 ft. lb.of torque. The chassis was not modified from the convertible version, unlike the original coupe.

Chrysler extended production of the 2006 through the 2007 model year while preparing the updated 2008 model.

ZB II: 2008-2010

The fourth iteration of the Viper featured a vented engine cover as well as Michelin Pilot Sport 2 run-flat tires, increasing grip and driver feedback. Revised suspension springs, anti-roll bars and shock valving gave the new Viper more neutral cornering characteristics.

The engine, now bumped to 8.4 liters, was developed with assistance from McLaren Automotive and Ricardo Consulting Engineers. It produced 600 HP and 560 ft. lb. of torque due to better-flowing heads with larger valves, Mecadyne cam-in-cam variable valve timing and dual electronic throttle bodies. New camshaft profiles and valve springs allowed the rev limit to be increased by 300 RPM as well. A new electronic engine control developed by Continental AG had 10 times the processing power of the previous version and could monitor the crankshaft and cylinder position up to six times during each firing sequence. The old Tremec T56 transmission was replaced with a new Tremec TR6060 with triple first-gear synchronizers and double synchronizers for the rest of the gears, and the Dana M44-4 rear axle was given a new GKN ViscoLok speed-sensing limited-slip differential for better grip under acceleration.

After complaints about heat in the cockpit of ZBI cars from placing an exhaust crossover under the seats to improve the exhaust note, the re-worked ZBII exhaust went back to having no crossover like first-generation models. The electrical system was also revised, adding a 180-amp alternator, twin electric cooling fans and electronic throttle.

The¬†Viper ACR¬†returned and was put through its paces at the¬†N√ľrburgring, clocking a record 7:22.1 lap time.

A VooDoo Edition of the ACR was a hard-core track model, adding carbon-fiber aero bits and a re-designed rear wing, track-ready suspension, Brembo brake calipers and StopTech rotors, larger tires and a shorter-throw shifter. Black paint with silver and red striping that carried over to the steering wheel made this a sinister-looking Viper worthy of its name. Only thirty one VooDoos were built.

On November 4, 2009, Dodge Brand President and CEO Ralph Gilles announced that Viper production would end the following summer. On July 1, 2010, an event held by Dodge and the Viper Club of America saw the final production ZBII roll off the assembly line and presented to the crowd, with a gold finish and contrasting orange stripes. However, this would not prove to be the end for Viper.

Third Generation (VX) 2013-2017

 At a dealer conference in Orlando, FL on September 14, 2010, the revived Viper, in the guise of a rolling 2012 prototype, was revealed by Chrysler Group / Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. The official presentation to the public of the 2013 SRT Viper came at the 2012 New York Auto Show.

Chrysler¬†planned to introduce¬†SRT¬†as a separate vehicle brand, with the¬†Viper¬†as its halo vehicle. It came in two flavors;¬†SRT Viper¬†and¬†GTS, which was the premium model offering more creature comforts and items over the base model such as leather upholstery, accent colors on the seats, doors and center console, gunmetal trim on the bezels,¬†Sabelt¬†racing seats with a¬†Kevlar¬†and fiberglass shell, a hood, roof, and decklid made of carbon fiber, standard six-spoke forged aluminum ‚ÄúVenom‚ÄĚ wheels with polished faces and graphite-painted pockets or painted¬†Hyper Black¬†or low-gloss black wheels. To commemorate¬†Viper‚Äôs return,¬†SRT¬†offered a ‚Äúlaunch edition‚ÄĚ package on 150 GTS models, all painted¬†Viper Blue¬†with twin white racing stripes,¬†Laguna¬†leather interiors with contrasting stitching and affixed with serialized dash plates.

The re-designed, carbon fiber and aluminum skinned SRT Viper boasted numerous safety and driveability upgraded such as electronic stability and traction control and 4-piston Brembo brakes with 4-channel ABS grabbing vented rotors. Torsional stiffness was improved by 50% over the previous Viper. Nighttime visibility was enhanced with Bi-xenon projector headlamps, and white LED daytime running lamps, LED turn signal and taillamps with a snakeskin-texture lens made it easier to be seen by day, as if someone isn’t going to notice a Viper going down the road.

Inside, the seats were 20mm lower and the driver faced a 7-inch, fully customizable digital instrument cluster featuring a ‚Äútrack mode‚ÄĚ with a built-in track timer, ‚Äústoplight‚ÄĚ countdown timer display and other features.

The new model boasted a Uconnect system with optional Sirius XM Travel Link befitting the modern connected world. If you weren’t already mesmerized by the sound of the 8.4 liter V10, an Alpine or premium Harmon Kardon audio system delivered your tunes, accessible via an in-dash digital display with optional Garmin navigation system and a built-in hard drive for storing digital music and photos.

That new 8.4 liter V10 which produced 640 HP and 600 ft. lb. of torque lives under the hood, backed by the previous generation’s Tremec 6060 six-speed manual transmission and a 3.55 rear differential. The new powerplant was good for 206 MPH and a 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds.

In 2015 a GT version was released to fill the gap between base and GTS models, with the GTS’s two-mode, driver-adjustable suspension and five-mode electronic stability control as well as Nappa leather seats with Alcantara accents and contrasting stitching.

Despite the upgrades, the new¬†Viper¬†struggled to find buyers. In October 2013 production was reduced by ‚Öď due to slow sales and growing inventory. In April of the following year, production actually stopped for 2 months due to slow sales. Dodge¬†responded by dropping the price of unsold 2014 models by $15,000 and announcing that the 2015 models would carry the new, lower price tag.

2015 saw the SRT Viper renamed just Dodge Viper, and the engine output increased by 5 HP and highway fuel economy improved to 20 MPG. In October of that year, Fiat Chrysler announced that Viper production would once again end in 2017, citing poor sales. This was undoubtedly true, but the car was also unable to comply with the new US FMVSS 226 safety regulation that required side-curtain airbags in all new cars. On August 21, 2017 Fiat Chrysler closed the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit where the Viper was produced.

However, Chrysler saw to it that Viper went out not with a whimper, but a bang. Five new special edition models were released for the 2017 model year, four of them being based upon the mighty Viper ACR. Each wears color and livery based upon a significant Viper from the past, with all the requisite badging, placards and documentation of a special edition.

In celebration of the Viper’s 1:28.65 lap at Laguna Seca came the Viper 1:28 Edition ACR, with signature black and red stripes running down the center and a massive rear wing. An Extreme Aero Package, carbon ceramic brakes and a customized car cover completed the package. Twenty eight were produced.

100 GTS-R Commemorative Editions bore white paint with blue stripes and were equipped with the Extreme Aero package and carbon ceramic brakes, an exterior carbon fiber package, USA flag decals on the B-pillars and a special red interior.

The track-focused Viper VooDoo II also featured the Extreme Aero pack and carbon ceramic brakes, but with special black and graphite paint and a wing in the rear. Only thirty one were built, just like the original 2010 VooDoo.

As sort of a ‚Äúthank you‚ÄĚ to the two highest-volume¬†Viper¬†dealers in the US, the¬†Dodge Dealer Edition ACR¬†sports both a blue and red stripe running down each top side of the car. It also carries the¬†Extreme Aero¬†kit and carbon ceramic brakes, and has the driver‚Äôs name above the driver‚Äôs side door.

The lone non-ACR special edition was the Snakeskin Edition GTC, with a special Snakeskin Green paint job and a wide black stripe down the middle with a much thinner stripe on the driver’s side. Unlike the others it had the Advanced Aerodynamics Package, a black Viper GT-spec interior, special badging and the customer’s name above the driver’s side door like the Dodge Dealer Edition ACR. These twenty five special editions also came with a custom car cover.

Will the Viper be resurrected once again to assure Dodge’s status as a performance car manufacturer now that the demise of the gasoline powered Challenger and Charger is fait accompli? No one knows, but with more and more political pressure being put on automakers to produce electric cars we feel that a brute like the Viper is unlikely to return with an internal combustion engine, at least in the near future. It would be sad to think of an electric Viper being produced, as is the case with the aforementioned storied Charger nameplate. We shall see.✪

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