The Viper was conceived as a way to jump start the Chrysler Corp in the late 1980s. The Viper gave Chrysler a raw-power, rear-drive, drop-top sports car whose smooth design recalled the classic Shelby Cobra.
When it arrived, the Viper landed in a “white space”. A market where there is no competition. Today, insanely powerful two-seaters are commonplace, and the competition is fueling a costly horsepower war that Chrysler has decided to step back from. Instead, they now have the Hemi V8-powered Hellcat and Demon. Again, jumping into a white space, albeit this time with a muscle car.
So, twenty five years and 30,000 units later, Dodge is ending production of their fire-breathing, V10-powered legend. Although, the Camaro was killed off in 2002 and was not expected to return, so who knows..? Production is scheduled to halt August 31, 2017.
Here are a few little known facts about the Dodge Viper.
1. Despite popular opinion and car guy folklore, the very first Viper wasn’t red.
It was white, which is one of America’s traditional racing colors. It also didn’t have a faux roll bar like the red one you generally think of as the first Viper.
2. It’s first engine was borrowed from a Ram Van.
Dodge was planning a massive V10 for the upcoming Ram, but it was ungodly heavy, so they were going to use an aluminum V10 for the Viper. The catch? Such a thing didn’t exist yet, and with no money to have one built overnight, they used a production V8 from the trucks and vans of the day so they could do some chassis tuning, since it was a similar weight to an anticipated aluminum V10.
3. It’s second engine though? It was a hand built aluminum V10, made by Lamborghini.
Chrysler owned Lambo at the time, so once the decision was made to spend the cash on a proper V10 for testing purposes, they picked up the phone and told the Italians to get to work.
4. The Viper was almost the Challenger.
Head of Global Product Development for Chrysler at the time, Bob Lutz went through many different names while creating the Viper, including Asp, Python, and Sidewinder, before rejecting them for various reasons (“you didn’t want ‘Sidewinder’ because… you could see all kinds of buff-book headlines with the car going sideways”). Once he settled on Viper, the marketing team fought him, wanting to use the Challenger moniker to conjure up images of Dodge’s muscle car past. Thankfully, they lost.
5. It debuted the same day as Lexus and Infinity.
Really. The 1989 Detroit Auto Show was kind of a big day in the automotive world.
6. The guy who assembled Team Viper to develop the cars previously built Formula 1 cars.
Francois Castaing spent time at Renault, where he led an Alpine to victory over Porsche in 1978, and helped introduce the dominant Renault turbo to Formula 1.
7. He also signed his name to the first year’s cars in a very dark place.
As the first few hundred cars were produced, legend has it that he stamped his signature into the inside of the oil pan, meaning the only way you’d ever find his name is after your car had suffered a rather dramatic death.
8. The 1991 Indy 500 Pace Car was almost a Japanese-made Dodge Stealth (not a Viper) by accident.
Dodge was slated to provide the pace car, and they were all set to run the Japanese-built Stealth, until the United Auto Workers union caught wind of the plan and demanded that an American car pace America’s race, and you don’t get more American than the Viper.
9. The 1992 Viper assumed there were no objects in your rear view mirror that could keep up.
You know that little warning on your passenger side mirror that says “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear?” Yeah, the Viper assumed that by the time you actually read that, anything that was once in your mirror would be a distant memory, so it didn’t have the warning.
10. They almost built a Viper Motorcycle.
They once stuffed a Viper motor into a bike called the Tomahawk. It was more than a little insane, but if they had been able to find someone equally insane to ride it, it had a mathematical top speed of nearly 400 mph. Perhaps fortunately, they never did.
11. An Alfa Romeo Viper? Yep. It’s real.
Designed by the legendary Zagato firm, they’re actually making the Zagato TZ3 Stradale for people who can afford them. Take a Viper, re-skin it with a dead sexy Alfa Romeo body, and you get the picture.
12. Dodge considered an optional automatic transmission.
A slushbox sounds heretical to the Viper’s original pure-roadster mission, but it was seriously considered for the final version of the car. Ralph Gillies, who took over the Viper program in 2011, wanted to offer an automatic. During early stages of the car’s development, sections of the frame were changed to high-strength steel to increase the stiffness. Eventually it got to a point where most of the chassis was made from the material. Gilles said if they had known from the beginning that they would end up there, they would have adapted the frame to fit an automatic. “We would have kept the manual, of course,” Gillies said, “but I would have loved to offer the option of paddle shifters.”
In celebrating the short life of the third-generation Viper, Dodge released a number of final editions to buyers– all of which sold out in just days. The models included 31 VooDoo II Editions ACRs, 25 Snakeskin Edition GTCs, 100 GTS-R Commemorative Edition ACRs, 28 of the 1:28 Edition ACRs, and 22 Dodge Dealer Edition ACRs. Most of them were snapped up by one savvy dealership in North Carolina.
Still, it’s a sad day for fans of the Viper everywhere. The latest iteration lived just five short years before being discontinued due to slow sales, and in that time claimed lap records at circuits around the country, from Virginia International Raceway, to Laguna Seca, and everywhere in-between. Even now, fans are making a push to send it to Germany to see how it fairs on the dreaded Nurburgring.
Penzoil created a nice tribute film: