If eight cylinders are good, then ten are better--especially if they get an aluminum block
Do you remember any good ideas you had back in February of 1988?
Back then, Chrysler had survived the disaster that was the '70s, and was now a solid maker of solid yet boring family sedans, minivans and pickups. Sure, Carroll Shelby was on the payroll as a consultant, and he did influence some production Dodges starting in the mid-'80s. But these were, by and large, four-cylinder econoboxes that were turned into performance cars--exciting in their own way, but not likely to make you remember anything Hemi-powered.
But it was a brief meeting at ChryCo's then-HQ in Highland Park back then, between Chrysler President Bob Lutz and styling chief Tom Gale, that started changing things. In it, Lutz suggested that a project similar to the two-seat Cobra roadsters be designed and built, using a 10-cylinder version of the Magnum V8 engine that had been developed for Dodge Ram pickups--but with none of the electronic hardware used on exoticars with six figure price tags . This would be a car that would go fast, and corner fast. Nothing more.
Back then, domestic automakers were still hindered by a bureaucratic product-planning process that moved slower than glaciers did, at times. For this project, there would be none of that.
Viper owners gathered in Indy in '96, to get in on the celebration of the new Viper GTS.
The meeting between Lutz and Gale lasted all of five minutes. The design and engineering of the proposed two-seater took less than a year, with the running prototype ready for its debut at the North American International Auto Show at Detroit's Cobo Hall, less than a year after Lutz and Gale's meeting.
If you were there, it's likely your ears are still ringing from the sound that prototype V10 made. It's also likely that your memories of that debut included your jaw hitting the floor.
To say that this concept--named the Dodge Viper--was a sensation is an understatement. By show's end, Ma Mopar was flooded not just for requests for more information about this brawny two-seater, but also with orders for it. (Think about that. A company that was all but dead a decade earlier had turned out a car that wasn't what people needed as a transportation appliance, but something that they wanted.)
ChryCo chief engineer Roy Sjoberg got the green light to turn Viper into a production car, and he picked nearly 100 engineers for Team Viper in March of '89. By then, "platform teams" had been introduced at Chrysler for new-car-development, aimed at getting new products into production much quicker, and at lower cost, than before. When 1989 ended, they had the body finalized, and had a running two-seat test mule.
February of '90 saw the V8 that had been used in the prototype replaced by a V-10. Not the iron-block one intended for the new-for-'94 Ram pickups, but an aluminum one built by Lamborghini that used the basic LA-engine architecture, but with plenty of improvements inside (most notably to the cylinder heads). Three months later, Chrysler Chairman and CEO, Lee Iacocca, green-lit Viper for production.
With Viper already making history with its accelerated development, it was time for it to start making history as a production car. Here's a look at the production viper, starting with that first-year version:
1992: In November of 1991, the 1992 Viper R/T 10 enters production, at Chrysler's New Mack Avenue Assembly Plant (which had been converted from its previous life as an appliance factory). The production Viper V10 featured an aluminum block, and put out 400 horsepower and 450 foot-pounds of torque. Huge 17-inch aluminum wheels fronted a set of equally-huge disc brakes at each corner. But, as with the concept, the production Viper was lacking in creature comforts. The "top" was designed as an afterthought, and very little refinement was evident in the cabin. This was a car built to do one thing: Go fast. Which it did (0-60 in just over four seconds, the 1/4-mile in just over 13 seconds). First-gen Viper's prices started at $50,000, plus a $1,700 "gas guzzler" tax.
1993: No changes, but the sticker price was up by $700, and black became a second color choice.
1994: Air conditioning joined the options list, the 6-speed gearbox gained a reverse lockout, and two more colors (Yellow and Emerald Green) joined the Viper's color selection.
1995: Viper assembly moves from the Mack Avenue plant to a newly-renovated plant on Detroit's Conner Avenue, in a former Champion Spark Plugs factory. (Chrysler will also assemble the V6-powered Prowler two-seater there.) The change in assembly venue is the big news for Viper in '95, other than a passenger grab bar and seat-cushion storage pockets becoming standard.
1996: The Viper's 3rd generation appears, under the same styling as Viper #1. R/T10 roadster is joined by the two-seat Viper GTS coupe. Along with a "double bubble" roof, it also included features like outside door handles and roll-up windows and a straight-through exhaust system, and its V-10 put out450 horsepower. (Roadsters used the same engine as '95.) Under-the-skin updates on all Vipers include a lighter frame, aluminum suspension links, dual airbags, and OBD-II onboard electronics. Viper GTS was the Official Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500 that year.
1997: The updated V-10--and straight through exhausts--which debuted in the '96 Viper GTS coupe is now in the Viper R/T 10, as well as dual airbags and a few other refinements. All Vipers were either painted Viper Red, or GTS Blue.
1998: Plenty of Viper upgrades for '98, including second-generation airbags, a new camshaft and lightweight tubular exhaust manifolds for the V-10, and a leak-resistant battery case. But the big news for Viper--and all of Chrysler Corporation--came in May of '98, when Daimler-Benz ate it, in what was called "a merger of equals." Sticker prices are now up to $64,000 for the roadster, and $66,500 for the coupe.
1999: "American Club Racer" (ACR) version debuts, aimed at Viper owners who want to make the most of their on-track days. ACR includes one-piece BBS 18-inch wheels, Koni shocks, special springs, a K&N air filter, five-point safety harnesses, and a 460 hp rating from the factory. GTS and R/T10 models also got 18-inch wheels and tires, and some interior dress-up items. Still not available: Much in the way of refinement for low-speed cruising, or around-town driving.
2000: Not many changes to the Vipers (other than Steel Gray paint joining red or silver, child-seat tethers inside, and an onboard vapor-recovery system (for refueling). But changes at what is now DaimlerChrysler include a lot of the top engineering, design, and management talent being run off by the overlords in Stuttgart.
2001: Viper V-10 engine production moved from the soon-to-close Mound Road Engine Plant to Conner Avenue Assembly, making it the only North American car or truck plant that has engine and assembly operations under the same roof. Though all Vipers have had four-wheel disc brakes since Job 1, anti-lock braking (ABS) doesn't become available until this year, when it becomes standard. R/T10s get an inside trunk release, plus it and the GTS get an optional comfort group (A/C and an upgraded stereo), and all Vipers get two more paint choices (Race Yellow or Sapphire Blue).
2002: Last year for the original Viper styling and the 3rd Generation Viper that was introduced in '96. "Final Edition" limited-edition GTS coupe appears for this year only.
2003: Third generation Viper debuts, as a convertible only. Still powered by a front-mounted V-10 (now up to 500 horsepower), but wrapped in a more curvaceous body atop a stiffer frame. Comfort, convenience and refinement were the highlights of the second-gen Viper--which added up to a car that wasn't as crude as its predecessor, but was even faster and quicker, thanks to a 100-pound drop in weight, to go along with 50 more horsepower from the V-10. However, features like cupholders or cruise control are not included.
2004-05: Carryover years, with few changes other than new exterior color choices.
2006: Last year for the third-generation Vipers, with production of the '06 Vipers extending into the 2007 model year. The coupe returns, in Viper GTS form, with 510 horsepower now coming from its 8.4L V-10.
2007: Chrysler is sold (at a huge loss) by Daimler to Cerberus. No 2007 Vipers are built, but Conner Avenue Assembly was made ready for the upcoming Generation IV Viper.
2008: After skipping the '07 model year, all-new fourth generation Viper SRT10 debuts, in coupe, ACR coupe, and convertible form. Lots more features and colors are available, including nine available colors for coupe and convertible, four for ACR. Despite the upgrades, Viper is still a rip-roaring beast.
2009: The "old" Chrysler vanishes in bankruptcy, but is saved from oblivion when FIAT takes a controlling stake. Technology transfer between Team Viper and Ferrari and Maserati (both owned by FIAT) is mentioned. In July, Chrysler announces that Viper production will continue at Conner Avenue Assembly, as a possible sale of the Viper operation is now off the table. Color choices now up to ten; all available on any Viper.
2010: 50 unpainted Viper SRT10 ACR-X coupes are built for Viper Cup competition. Viper production at Conner Avenue Assembly ends on July 1 with last of 50 "Final Editions;" Conner Avenue Assembly Plant is then mothballed. On September 14, FIAT (and Chrysler Group) boss Sergio Marchionne unveils the next (fifth) generation Viper prototype at a Chrysler dealers meeting.
2011: No Vipers built, but Conner Avenue Assembly begins undergoing renovations.
2012: Viper's fifth generation unveiled at the New York International Auto Show; production of the 2013 SRT Viper to start in the fall.
The Viper GTS coupe debuted in 1996, in time for Chrysler President Bob Lutz (pictured) to
2000's Viper ACR, a race-ready version of the GTS coupe.
How Viper owners dream of riding off into the sunset.
Viper's lineup was three models deep for 2000. From left, the ACR coupe, R/T10 roadster, a
When Viper V10 production moved from Mound Road Engine Plant to the Conner Avenue complex,
"The World's Largest Viper Parade" in Nashville, TN on September 26, 2002, was part of the
The 2003 Viper's official introduction. Note the all-new styling, which was still all-Vipe
Seen here doing what it does best is the '03 Viper Competition coupe.
The first 2008 Viper rolls off the line, with the Conner Avenue Assembly team beside it.
Ralph Gillies (who's now the head of SRT and Ma Mopar's motorsports operations) helps the
When the 2010 Final Edition Vipers appeared, there was fear that these would be the last V
Street improvement, Viper style. Here's the Viper Owners' Invitational gathering in Park C