Big things with little cars

LaLD Engine Week: VIPER

The Dodge Viper. America’s last raw sportscar. Conceived of in 1989, the story goes that Bob Lutz was driving his Cobra kit car to work and wondering if Chrysler could make one of their own.

Eventually Lutz was able to convince Lee Iacocca that it should exist and he got the green light. Development also saw the famous Carroll Shelby get involved to ensure it still carried the raw Shelby Cobra feel. Luckily Shelby was already doing some work for Chrysler at the time helping with souped up K-cars that weren’t completely horrible.


Eventually the convertible-only RT/10 was released to the public. Using a V10 that started out in production as the new heavy duty Ram V8 with two more cylinders grafted on, Dodge was able to use knowledge from Lamborghini to get it running properly. This was probably the only useful thing that came out of Chrysler’s brief ownership of Lamborghini.

Finally released to the public in 1992, it had 400 bhp and the ability to hit 60 mph in under 5 seconds, the RT/10 was a brutal car that lacked ABS and airbags.


In 1996, the 2nd gen Viper came out along with a coupe version, the GTS as shown here. Power was bumped to 450bhp and other minor things were improved like brakes (but still no ABS), chassis, and suspension. The GTS clearly was able to channel it’s ancestor, the Shelby Cobra Daytona as I showed yesterday.

What we see here is probably the most popular version. The blue GTS with white racing stripes. It’s a very iconic color combination. This Hot Wheels 100% car includes the clamshell hood that exposes its 8 liter V10. Yes, it’s amazing Chrysler was able to get such little power out of such a large engine. This is where tuners come in, however. With some decent boost, many people are able to get 1000hp out of the engine.


Even Mr. Doug Demuro had this Viper GTS for a year for his car blog. I especially like his bit on the quirks of the Viper. The quirks just make me want one more.

The GTS finished its run in 2002, but it had already managed to leave behind a great history. Racing teams were able to get a hold of them and a certain french team built the most successful Vipers ever. Team Oreca took them to LeMans to battle it out with the Porsche 993 GT2's.


In the ‘98 LeMans they came 1st and 2nd in the GT2 class. In the ‘99 LeMans they came 1st through 6th in the GTS class with some other French teams using the Viper. Finally in the 2000 LeMans they came 1st and 2nd in GTS to beat out the up and coming C5 corvettes. Amazing they were able to stay so dominant for those 3 years in their class.


The Viper made some reasonable adjustments to make itself better over the years, but the draw to something so raw lost its ability to win over customers. The Viper has been discontinued twice now and this time it will be more difficult for Chrysler to bring it back. Luckily before the most recent Viper died, they were able to break 13 American track records for production cars and a privateer group was nearly able to break the 7-minute mark at the Nurburgring. Quite impressive when it lacks many aids that the other top cars have.


Going back through its history has made me once again question whether my reasonable-to-own dream car will be a Viper GTS or Factory Five Cobra. Either way they’ll have the ability to scare/excite me on a daily basis.

Yay V10 day! I’ll leave you with a funny and slightly inappropriate Viper commercial.

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