Monday, September 22, 2008

September 2008 Dream Car of the Month - Dodge Viper

Dodge Viper Concept #1

The Dodge Viper was conceived simply as a design study to build a modern American sports car taking inspiration from the legendary Shelby Cobra. It was Bob Lutz, then with Chrysler, who suggested that Chrysler build a modern Cobra in 1989. Carroll Shelby was recruited to help in the design of the car which was introduced as a concept at the 1989 North American international Auto Show. I can still remember my first time seeing the Viper concept at the 1989 New York International Auto Show. It was stunning. I took an entire roll of film of just that car. It was like nothing else I'd ever seen. I wasn't alone, the car was an immediate hit and public reaction was so positive that Chrysler management gave the green light to manufacturer the Viper as a production model.

A team of hand selected engineers began development of the production car in March of 1989. Lamborghini, then a subsidiary of Chrysler, was asked to build an aluminum V10 engine based on Chrysler's existing iron truck V10. Original test mules were fitted with V8 engines until the V10 was ready. The V10 was done by February 1990 and in May of 1991 Carroll Shelby drove a pre-production Viper as the pace car for the Indy 500. The car was released to the public in January 1992.

Gen I Viper RT/10

The original Viper RT/10 was a roadster that made due with no roof, no side windows, no exterior door handles, no traction control and no ABS. It was a basic, simple, no-frills sports car built around a huge, powerful engine just like the original Cobra. The Lamborghini built V10 produced 400HP/465TQ and launched the car from 0-60 in around 5 seconds with a 1/4 mile speed of 12.5. Top speed was around 180mph. The car's body was made of fiberglass over a tube steel chassis. Curb weight was 3280lbs. The only transmission available was a 6 speed manual. Production of this first generation Viper lasted from 1992 - 1995.

Gen II Viper GTS Coupe

The second generation Viper was introduced in 1996 with the introduction of a coupe, the Viper GTS. On the outside the second generation of Viper looks very much the same as the original but there were enough changes to classify it as a new generation. The engine was redesigned to provide more power and weigh less than the previous V10. The chassis was also redesigned and was not only 60lbs lighter but 25% stiffer. Suspension and brakes were also upgraded on the second generation Viper. The new V10 produced 450HP and the Viper could get to 60 in 4.2 seconds and through the 1/4 mile in 12.2. Top speed was now over 190mph. Dual airbags were now standard on the Viper but ABS was not available. Minor changes were made throughout the second generation's life span. 18" wheels were introduced in 1999, ABS in 2001. The V10's pistons were changed to hypereutectic from forged for weight savings at the sacrifice of some strength. The exhaust system on all models was improved and the side exhaust on the RT/10 roadsters was dropped in 1996.

In 2003 Dodge released a completely redesigned third generation Viper. The new car was designed by Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology group (SRT). The car was renamed the Viper SRT-10 and came in a roadster only body style. The all new body was not as wild looking as the original Viper's but was still a head turner. The V10 engine was increased to 8.3L and now produced 500HP/525TQ. The chassis was redesigned again and was lighter than the previous Viper's by about 80lbs. The Viper SRT-10 Coupe was introduced in 2005 at the Detroit Auto Show as a 2006 model. The design of the coupe was a combination of the original GTS and the SRT-10 Competition Coupe racing model. The coupe was a bit heavier that the convertible SRT-10 but the sleeker, more rigid body improved high speed performance and handling. Performance numbers for the third gen Vipers was a 0-60 of 3.9 seconds, 1/4 mile of 11.7 and a top speed of 196mph. No 2007 Vipers were sold as the 2006 model carried over to 2007 while Dodge prepared a revised Viper for 2008.

Gen III Viper SRT-10

2008 saw the Viper released with a revised 8.4L V10 with better flowing heads and larger valves. Cam in cam variable timing was introduced on the exhaust side and dual electric throttle bodies were added. Power was bumped up to 600HP/560TQ. The engine was mated to a new Tremec TR6060 6 speed manual with 18% quicker shifts than the T56 of the previous Vipers. Performance numbers of the fourth generation Viper are a 0-60 of 3.5 seconds, 1/4 mile of 11.5 and a top speed of 197mph for the roadster and 203mph for the coupe. The new car's weight increased to 3460lbs.

Viper SRT-10 Coupe

The Dodge Viper has been a classic example of the quintessential American sports car for the last 17 years. It combines brute power, outrageous looks, and minimal options to be one of the best performance bargains on the market. It is however, in jeopardy of being relegated to the history books. Chrysler has already announced that they will not be developing a replacement for the current model Viper. High gas prices, limited demand and Chrysler's woeful financial situation have conspired to threaten the existence of this amazing car. Chrysler is currently exploring the possibility of selling the Viper brand to another manufacturer. Hopefully they find a way to keep it around. It's an American classic.

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