Related pages: Viper ACR and GT2; comparison to Chevy Corvette
Gustavo Gutierrez-Vargas provided the basis for this page:
The first Viper concept debuted at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show, followed by prototypes; the late-1989 VM01 was powered by the 360 V8, but an 8-liter V10, already planned, showed up in the 1990 VM02. The original V10 was reportedly built with the involvement of Lambourghini, which was partly owned by Chrysler at the time; it was based on Chrysler’s venerable 360, but Lambourghini worked on the cooling system, crankshaft balance, weight reduction, and fine tuning. The Italian automaker’s expertise in aluminum was also tapped, since the Viper had an aluminum block to save roughly 150 pounds of weight. Legendary Chrysler engine designer Willem Weertman, who had designed the LA V8 the Viper was based on, was called in to help out. In the end, the Viper pushed out 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft on mid-grade (89 octane) fuel, with massive low-end torque for instant thrust.
Unique features of the Viper version of the V-10, versus the V10 truck engine, included a low-profile cross-ram intake with dual throttle bodies, the manifolds, oil pan, heads, and accessory drive; the compression ratio was raised, the pistons lightened, the maximum engine speed increased, the valves enlarged, the rods and crank strengthened. In the end, few components were shared with the truck engine. The car weighed a mere 3,399 pounds, despite the massive engine and sturdy transmission.
Styling was reportedly guided directly by Tom Gale, who was also in charge of the first Dodge Intrepid.
With hindsight, in 2003, Jim Julow, Vice President - Dodge Motorsports and SRT Marketing said, "Back in 1992, the purpose was to re-orient what the Dodge brand was all about ... We wanted to come up with something that was so outrageous, so cutting edge, so purpose built that it said we still had a lot of car nuts around here; people with the know-how to put the most outrageous street car ever on the road."
The Viper used a one-piece sheet-molded composite (SMC) clamshell hood.
In its first calendar year, 155 Vipers were made (both 1992 and early 1993s), with the $50,000 sales price often exceeded by buyers. For 1993, the price rose somewhat, to $50,700, and the weight rose by 77 pounds, without explanation, and black paint was added. 895 Vipers were made. For 1994, new colors were added (Emerald Green and Dandelian Yellow), with a black and tan interior available for green buyers; the snake was tamed somewhat with optional factory air conditioning ($1,200), a reverse lockout on the transmission, and an amplified radio antenna.
The 1994s had a somewhat higher price boost to $54,500, with weight remaining the same and 2,890 made; Viper also gained a little brother, the Venom concept, which was highly acclaimed (based on the Neon floor pan, with a 245 horse 3.5 V6 and rear wheel drive). There were no major changes for 1995 other than a passenger asisst handle, seat-cushion storage pockets, and a new price of $56,000. Production fell to 1,418. (A power boost to 465 lb-ft occured at some point after 1992.)
A major refresh in 1996 boosted horsepower to 415 and torque to 488 pound-feet, thanks to a new Jeep-Truck powertrain controller (with OBD II), a revised cam, and higher compression. New features included a relocation of the exhaust to the rear, a beefed up driveline, forged aluminum wheels, a better-sealing convertible top, all aluminum suspension components, and a lighter yet stiffer frame. The Viper was also the first domestic car to use Michelin Pilot MXX3 tires. To make room for the rear exhaust, the gas tank was cut from 22 to 19 gallons.
Colors changed for 1996 as well, moving to red with yellow wheels, black with silver stripe and silver wheels, white with blue stripe and white wheels, or, after the Indy 500, blue with white stripes. A removable hardtop with sliding side glass was available for $2,500 (dealer-installed).
Over 1,200 Viper roadsters were made in 1996; coupes were also made, but production figures were not released.
In Spring 1996, Dodge launched the Dodge Viper GTS Coupe, using it to pace the Indianapolis 500. The more slippery coupe shape boosted the top speed (the roadster’s top-down coefficient of drag, or cD, was a hefty 0.55), but also allowed weight reduction and increased body stiffness. A single color, blue with red stripe, was sold (in 1997, red was added). It had driver and passenger airbags, which would soon be mandated regardless.
Despite shared looks, more than 90 percent of the Coupe was new; every major part was subjected to scrutiny. Thus, the GTS with air conditioning weighed nearly 100 pounds less than the 1994 RT/10 without air. Weight reduction changes on both platforms reduced weight by 200 pounds. For GTS, weight reduction was focused in the engine and cooling system, where over 80 pounds were removed.
For 1997, the RT/10 gained blue-with-white-stripes paint and a Viper Red color scheme, an optional gold wheel package, and newly mandated driver and passenger airbags, along with power windows. GTS gained a yellow wheel package and red paint.
By 1998, 9,500 Vipers cruised the world's boulevards and racetracks, building a strong and extremely enthusiastic owner core. Dodge added second-generation airbags, a passenger airbag switch, red with silver stripes (GTS only), and silver with optional blue stripes on either car. The V-10 engine was given new, lighter exhaust manifolds that heated up faster, allowing the catalyst to reach operating temperature more quickly; and tubular stainless steel exhaust manifolds replaced cast iron components, saving 24 pounds. A new reduced overlap camshaft smoothed the idle and allows an increased spark advance at idle without compromising emissions. Safety was enhanced somewhat with revised locks, keyless entry, and a leak-resistant battery case. Fewer than a thousand 1998s were made; all but 74 of them were coupes. Pricing now stood at $64,000 for the roadster and $66,500 for the coupe, which weighed around 64 lb more than the 3,319-pound roadster.
For 1999, Viper gained 18-inch aluminum wheels (up from 17) with Viper caps and Michelin Pilot Sport tires; power exterior mirrors; cloth-covered sun visors; satin aluminum interior accents; a new shift knob; and an optional Cognac Connolly leather group, as well as black paint with or without silver stripe. A GTS ACR group was added for club racing in Spring 1999; it included a 460 horsepower (500 lb-ft) engine, up from 450 and 490, with single piece BBS 18-inch wheels, Koni shocks, Meritor springs, K&N air filter, and five point restraint system.
In 2000, steel gray was added as a color, child seat tethers and an on-board vapor recovery system (for refueling) were added, and the ACR group was modified with a performance oil pan, adjustable monotube shocks, and a new nameplate. 2001 carried on with standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes, race yellow and sapphire blue paint on either model, black center stripes with Viper Race, and yellow paint on GTS. An optional comfort group, with air conditioning and improved stereo, was also added; and keys gained Viper-logo heads. The R/T 10 was given an emergency internal trunk release.
For the final year, 2002, a GTS Final Edition was released, with 360 Viper Coupes carrying red paint, white stripes, and special badging. Both coupe and roadster got graphic metallic paint (a silver stripe was optional on this with GTS). [Jump to the second generation]
The Viper, at its introduction to the public, was intended to be two things to the corporation. The public version was that Chrysler needed a halo car to show they were still the best at building a low cost vehicle of any type and beating the old Shelby Cobra 0-100-0 times was a showman's way of achieving just that.
Privately (and more importantly), the Viper was a production technique testbed, to see if the corporation really could develop new methods of manufacture and assembly to lower the cost of a vehicle. It was originally intended to be killed off be replaced by a totally different vehicle in the 1997 model year.
If you take a look under the skin of a first generation Viper, it was a crude and rude "kit car," similar to what home builders had been building for years in Cobra replicas. Chrysler (actually JTE engineers working on their own time) translated this into a vehicle and production line that, in one fell swoop, became the most sought after assignment in the corporation up to that point.
The Viper burst onto the scene unexpectedly, energizing the public image of a company given up for dead by critics and many customers. The Viper GTS-R won a class victory at LeMans, four FIA championships, and the American LeMans championship by 2000, when Team ORECA won the 24 Hours of Daytona — overall. They won a third straight LeMans class finish that year (seventh place overall) and ten races in American LeMans. Their GTS-R had 700 hp, with a 210 mph top speed, 2,910 overall weight, and 6-speed manual transmission.
The following is based on information supplied by Dodge
Team Viper's primary goal was a vehicle that concentrated on performance above all else. Their benchmark: to go from 0 to 100 back to 0 in under 15 seconds.
The first result was a show car, which appeared on January 4, 1989 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to test public reaction; orders began to flow before the show ended, and the "go" was given.
Chrysler decided to use the Viper RT/10 to test its new platform team concept, taken from AMC (whose Francois Castaing had taken over Chrysler’s engineering). An independent cross-functional team was created, making its own rules and creating its own supplier base. The team leader sifted through scores of volunteers to find appropriate people.
Team Viper began three years of intensive, often around-the-clock operations that stretched from Italy, where the aluminum engine block was perfected, to the race tracks at Nelson Ledges and Road Atlanta, where they fine-tuned the chassis and powertrain. Team members worked closely with major automotive suppliers to develop unique components for the Viper RT/10 which would withstand the tremendous stresses associated with high-performance driving. The chosen transmission was the Borg-Warner T65, a six-speed manual.
For Chrysler, the Viper itself was less important than the lessons learned in the platform teams, which would soon create in rapid succession the LH (Intrepid), PL (Neon), Clouds (Stratus), new minivans, new Ram, Prowler, and more.
Chassis prototypes, called "mules" in the automotive industry, were developed to study vehicle dynamics. Within a year of Viper's auto show appearance, a V-8-powered mule was being tested. A few months later, a stablemate powered by a cast iron V-10 (presumably from the Ram) joined the test fleet. Finally, in May 1990, Chrysler announced that the Viper would be made with the aluminum V-10; and in May it performed as the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500. Finally, in December of 1991, the first red Viper RT/10 production vehicles rolled off the New Mack Avenue assembly line -- exactly three years after the concept car's 1989 auto show triumph. A second color, black, appeared in 1993, followed in 1994 by yellow and emerald green.
The engine held 11 quarts of oil, and used Chrysler’s first bottom-fed fuel injection system. The Viper was the first U.S.-production car to use structural urethane foam trim, with the goal of reducing weight. The twin exhausts, exiting on the side of the car, were an early hallmark which increased the visual appeal but were later dropped due to the burn hazard.
Viper's 8.0-liter engine is the largest and most powerful available today in an American production sports car. Viper GTS Coupe and RT/10 Roadster share the same 450 horsepower (460 in GT2 and ACR models) engine, suspension, brake system and adjustable pedal set. [1992-1995 Vipers pushed out 400 horsepower at 4,600 rpm and 450 hp at 3,600 rpm).
Air intake is through a cast aluminum manifold with formed tubes, including an integral fuel rail cored in the castings. The dual throttle bodies and bottom-feed high-impedence fuel injectors control fuel flow and mixture. Fuel is fed to the injectors by a sequential multipoint injection system.
The engine's forged aluminum pistons are set in cast iron liners. The aluminum cylinder head features a conventional two valves per cylinder with higher-revving dual valve springs.
While a natural extension of the classic American V-8 (the small-block LA series, to be exact), a number of the V-10's unusual design features were derived from Formula One engines. Among these features are a closed tappet gallery for better intake manifold seating, and a sophisticated internal water flow system which traces its route outside the engine block, inside the cylinder head, around each cylinder and inside each combustion chamber for increased engine cooling.
Spent combustion gasses travel through a stainless steel tubular exhaust manifold, then pass through unique sill-mounted catalytic converters and exit at the center rear.
The six-speed manual transmission was designed to harness Viper's substantial power and match its high-performance expectations. It boasts an electronic reverse lockout feature and first-to-fourth skip-shift for fuel economy.
In developing this engine, Team Viper set out to maintain the simple powertrain design of classic high-performance sports cars -- because simplicity leads to durability, reliability and serviceability.
Viper's massive V-10 engine is mounted on what is believed to be the stiffest sports car chassis ever built.
The engine is cradled by two massive rectangular-tube frame rails, which turn out at the front bulkhead and continue on down the sides. Positioned between the front bulkhead and the back of the cockpit is a central backbone of smaller rectangular tubes. This is attached at the back to a cage or box which encompasses the rear suspension, a 19-gallon fuel tank, a spare tire, the battery and the trunk.
The fully independent front and rear suspensions feature unequal-length upper and lower "A" arms and coil-over springs made of lightweight, yet strong micro-grain alloy steel. High-performance gas-filled shocks minimize aeration.
The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system features positive on-center feel and a fast 16.7:1 steering ratio for quick and responsive maneuvering. Lock to lock is accomplished in a mere 2.4 turns. Viper's turning circle is 40.5 feet and its maximum turning angle is 28 degrees.
Viper's high performance brake system features four-piston front calipers with huge 13" x 1.26" vented rotors up front and 13" x.86 vented rotors at the rear. This system was specially designed to help meet the stated test-track goal of 0-100-0 mph in less than 15 seconds.
Truly massive high performance Michelin Pilot Sport tires created for the Viper are instrumental in translating the car's abundant horsepower and torque to more linear terms. These directional tires, 275/35ZR18 front and 335/30ZR18 rear, are a major factor in Viper's 1g lateral acceleration capability.
The tires are mounted on forged aluminum wheels with Viper logo centers (BBS forged aluminum wheels with chrome Viper Head center caps for the GT2 and ACR models).
Finally, Viper's cooling system consists of a lightweight copper-core radiator and an electronically controlled dual-speed electric fan. A front-mounted engine air-to-oil cooler is also standard.
Each Dodge Viper is hand-assembled at a special Detroit, Michigan facility on Conner Avenue by carefully chosen, skilled UAW workers with over 300 hours of training each.
Each Viper is made up of approximately 50 component modules which are shipped to the Viper facility from locations throughout North America. Stamping, casting, painting and welding take place off-site. Composite body panels arrive already painted. Complete instrument panels are supplied with the gauges tested and set in place. Engines are assembled and tested at a Chrysler engine plant.
The Conner Avenue Assembly Plant has adjacent work stations. Adjustments are made at each work station by individual craftspersons acting as their own inspectors, eliminating traditional repair stations and inspectors. Problems are immediately dealt with, even if they require a discussion with the on-site Team Viper engineer. All procedures are verified by assembly team members, with working team leaders coordinating efforts through craft managers.
The Viper assembly process is as unique as the car itself, even extending to testing procedures. For example, as is the case with race cars, wheel alignment includes adjustment of "bump steer." A special machine is used to align all four wheels off their wheel hubs. In this way, the wheels are moved up and down in their suspension travel and alignment is set in three different positions.
Every Viper is also "roll tested," which involves running the car at speed, in place, on special rollers right at the assembly center while the car is a "hot rolling chassis" minus all body panels. It is driven through all six speeds of its transmissions, up to 90 mph, in order to validate the proper functioning of all systems under actual driving conditions.
How Dodge Vipers are built • Plastic and resin body parts • Conner Avenue Plant • 2013 Viper Event
The best and the worst of the 2000Allpar readers judge the best and worst Mopars and cars in general, 2000-09
Don Carlton racing carsThe Missile series of drag-racing cars driven by Don Carlton
All Mopar Car and Truck News
FCA at the Eiffels
Chrysler: Port Melbourne