This is the 1996 - 2002 Dodge Viper GTS Coupe, AKA SR27 in Chrysler Product Development Engineer-speak. The shape of the SR27 is a timeless design inspired by the AC Shelby Daytona. If the proportions of the Viper look a bit askew, it's because they are - the massive 8.0L motor sits entirely _behind_ the front axle centerline, which helps contribute to its 46/54 F/R weight distribution (the roadster [SR22] was closer to 50/50). Of course, that pushed the passenger cabin rearward to the point where your butt (H-point in engineer-speak) is _just_ forward of the rear axle centerline and those massive 335/35 ZR 17 rear tires (275/40 ZR 17 up front; 18" wheels/tires were introduced in 1999).

The handling balance was reasonable up to about 8/10ths when the massive Michelin Pilot Sports really started to work. The SR27 had no ESP, ABS, or TCS - just three pedals and a steering wheel - the way god intended her to be. Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with the non-linear response near the limit were regularly caught out and promptly stuffed their Viper into every sort of rude inanimate object. Some got away lucky - not many. It's a driver's car and required significant attention, even while highway cruising with your hands clutching the bottom of the fat steering wheel. ABS didn't show up in the Viper until the second half of the 2001 model year, so a mere model year and a half of the SR generation had ABS, and it was a magnificent change despite the grumblings of the purists. It really allowed drivers to access the full stopping power of the brakes without flatspotting the tires. The SR front suspension had so much anti-dive geometry (more on that later) that the nose didn't dip much under braking so the only way of knowing that you'd locked the fronts was to see tire smoke, hear the tires screaming 'bloody murder', or feel the vehicle 'accelerate' - by that time it was usually too late.

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Until you've spent some time in and around the 1996-2002 SR27, it's hard to really grok the emotion that the car oozes. I spent several years working in, around, and underneath them as a Vehicle Development Engineer. To say that this car affected those of us that contributed to it's birth is a major understatement. These cars were our babies, and as Vehicle Development Engineers, we were (many times) responsible for the care, feeding, and upkeep of our engineering prototypes hand in hand with our highly skilled Viper (later PVO and then SRT) technicians & mechanics. A labor of love - each and every one. Every time I see a Viper (particularly an SR), I am drawn to look at certain parts, gaze for a while, smile, and sometimes get misty-eyed thinking about the good old days and the stories behind the iconic mistress' development.

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The roofline could have been a simple b-spline arc between the two door jambs, but the designers - led by Tom Gale and influenced by Bob Lutz, Francois Castaing, and others - chose a 'double bubble' shape. It added character, resembled voluptuous shapes of the female figure, reduced frontal area, and allowed the air to stay more attached to the rear decklid glass a little better before it met the rear spoiler to provide much needed downforce at speed. There are some other, 'defining' shapes on the 1996 SR. The quarter panels house massive tires with which the snake generated dizzying amounts of lateral and longitudinal acceleration. You wouldn't be wrong to call the Viper 'hippy' because that very shape congers up visions of a females hips. Also, while seated in the SR, looking out over the loooong clam-shell hood, you'd be right to have adrenalin pumping, even with the engine at rest. The hood resembles the view looking down a female torso towards her legs - the center bump resembling her tummy, and the wheel well bulges resembling her thighs on each side. <shiver> I get chills just thinking about it. The SR design is all about sex, OK ? There, I said it. That shouldn't be a news flash to you guys and gals.

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The NACA duct on the nose of the hood was a neat design cue that was added in 1996, and it dumped air directly into the airbox below where two large air filters sat in front of two large throttle bodies - one for each intake manifold. Another neat design cue on the exterior of the SR27 is the aluminum fuel door/cap which is a direct cue from the Daytona and race cars of yore. On the production SR, the aluminum 'cap' flipped open to reveal an EPA-approved plastic fuel cap underneath. An unfortunate reality of vehicle homologation, but at least Chrysler designers expended the time and effort to add this very nice design feature instead of a boring body-color fuel door. I have in my possession one of the original hand-fabricated mock-ups of this fuel door, and it sits in my office as a prominent reminder to me: 'Doing things because they look and feel good matters. Sometimes it is good for function to follow form.' An important daily affirmation for an engineer so focused on function most of the time.

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The interior of the SR27 was very basic, but functional. A large speedometer and tachometer dominated the main instrument cluster, while 'less critical' information was provided by a quartet of gauges to the right of the driver near the dash centerline. Water Temp, Oil Pressure, Fuel Level, and Battery Voltage were reported there in bright gauges. The tunnel between the driver and passenger seats was high - too high by normal design standards - but the SR frame needed to be strong in beaming and torsional modes - hence the tall tunnel and sill/rockers. Form followed function here. Atop the tunnel was the tall shifter stalk, a small storage area, the park brake lever, an ash receiver, and _no cup holders_. The radio and HVAC controls were positioned at the base of the center stack with three vents above. There was one other vent that was affectionately known as the 'crotch cooler'. At full chat, the 8.0L monster rejected heat like the sun and the sills/rockers were heated by the side-routed exhaust, so the A/C system struggled to keep even the small passenger cabin cool. The HVAC engineers' solution ? Aim a vent right at the driver's crotch. Simple and effective. Crotch coolers. Another interesting detail on the interior were the seatbelts. In the majority of the production SR's (the ones with three-point belts), the shoulder belts payed out from the inboard side with the seatbelt latch on the outboard side. This catches people off-guard for the first dozen ingress/egress cycles. The belt retractors and latches were easier to package in this configuration.

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While we're talking about the interior, you might notice that this 1:18 scale model of the SR27 has a full size spare under the decklid. The Viper never came with a full size spare, but there _was_ space for one in the trunk in the event that you did have to swap to the space saver spare - don't ask me how I know. The model does have appropriately branded tires, but the tread pattern is not accurate - it was probably too costly to tool & mold miniature Michelin Pilot Sports for this model with the Pilot Sports' very recognizable water pumping arrow-like tread pattern with a solid center rib.

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So, onto the Chassis and running gear... The SR27 (and SR22) were very much anvil technology beasts. Massive steel box frame sections and pencil-ribbed sheet metal abound on the frame. The Suspension was SLA (short/long arm, aka double wishbone) front and rear. Tons of anti-dive in the front, and much anti-squat in the rear. This is accomplished - in the Viper's case - by angling the front pickup point of the front lower control arm (LCA) down w.r.t. the rear pickup point such that the braking forces reacted at the knuckle cause a jacking force through the LCA. The opposite happens in the rear. The rear pickup point of the rear LCA is lower than the front so the acceleration forces reacted at the knuckle cause a jacking force through the LCA. The frame has stiffener plates, lightening holes (not many), and lots of bolt on composite body parts underneath the class-A show surface. If you have ever worked on one, you know what I mean. In 1996, both the SR27 and SR22 received rear exhaust treatment. Noise pass-by performance and complaints of hot exhaust blast at shin level were two large motivators for that change not to mention it cleaned up the lower sill design a bit. Plus, the UPS truck-like I-5 exhaust note from the sides wasn't as pleasant as the V10 symphony that belched out of the rear. The exhaust still ran down within the side sills ('Hot enough to fry an egg!'), but an extra few feet of tubing were added at the rear to snake the pipes through the frame and around the rear differential to the bottom of the rear fascia.

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So that about wraps up my walk around and under the 1996 SR27 Dodge Viper GTS Coupe. She's a hot number that'll bite you if you're not paying her enough attention, but she rewards you with hours of pleasure if you treat her right. I still argue that this iconic design garners more attention on the street than almost any other American made car to date - including the SR27/SR22 replacement, the ZB27 or Viper Generation X (VGX) in 2003. Form your own opinions about the 2003-2010 Viper styling, but I was not a big fan. The chassis is brilliant, but the styling - not so much. The 2013+ VX platform pays homage to the iconic 1996 SR design and incorporates some new design features and a substantially revised chassis underneath - really, the best Viper in terms of styling and performance, IMHO. The VX is a stunning looking car, but still can't beat the SR27 in terms of looks in my mind.

-Dood

P.S. Of course, the photos in this story are of my very own Viper GTS Coupe (in 1/18 scale) built by Bburago in Italy. This was an officially licensed model and as such Bburago was held to very high standards by Chrysler when replicating the full scale car in 1/18 scale. The detail of the model is very nice for a 'store bought' die cast, and it is rare to see this level of detail in mainstream models anymore. Of course there are the Tamiya, Revell, and other model kits out there that have astonishing detail, but they are in another class all together. Kake Bake has built a few and shared the results with us in the past. I hope you enjoyed this longread.