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Should we pay attention to “new Viper” rumors?

by David Zatz on

There have been all sorts of rumors about a new Viper coming, sharing a body with an Alfa Romeo or Maserati. The rumors both make sense, and don’t make sense, when you consider why the Viper existed in the first place.

last demon and viper

Back in the late 1980s, when the concept Viper was rushed into existence, Chrysler was known as the K-company; nearly every vehicle it produced was based somehow on the Reliant/Aries, from its minivans to its “sports car” (Daytona) and the priciest Chrysler. Only the Omni/Horizon, some slow-selling trucks, and the even slower-selling, antique M-body cars were the exception to that rule, and both the Omni/Horizon and M-bodies were on the way out of production.

The Viper did three things in one swoop, and would soon do a fourth:

  1. Dispelled the idea that Chrysler could not build a car that wasn’t just a rehash of their older cars.
  2.  Gave Dodge a sudden burst of muscle-aura (and established it as a performance brand, more than any number of hot turbocars did).
  3. Internally, once production was approved, gave the company lessons on how the AMC design approach worked at the far-larger Chrysler Corporation.
  4. Once the Viper and other new Chrysler products were in production, made Europe aware of the new Chrysler in a dramatic way—by winning its class at Le Mans, beating cars that cost far, far more.

What would a Viper do for Dodge and Fiat Chrysler today? That’s a harder question to answer. Chrysler and Dodge are restricted to a few countries. There’s no point in showing Europe what Chrysler can do and Americans are not impressed by AMLS or European Le Mans wins. There’s no trial of platform teams pending. Dodge has a fine muscle-car reputation and the Hellcat Redeye is its flagship. 797 horsepower have a way of creating street cred.

The original Viper brought higher-wealth people into the fold, and convinced them to buy Dodge Rams to tow their Vipers, or Dodge Intrepids or Caravans for their families. Today, the Jeep Grand Cherokee serves that role, and will be joined by the Wagoneer.

Performance is also an issue. While the V-10 in the Viper’s light body could outperform the Hellcat cars on a road course, its final power ratings were pretty much all the engine could do without supercharging or turbocharging. A new Viper V-10 would need some sort of additional power—electrical or forced induction. It would also be hard to justify, since the engine wouldn’t be shared and the business case for the Viper is tougher in the face of hotter Corvettes  and Ford’s ability to counter with another GT.

Sharing a Ferrari engine wouldn’t make sense for the Dodge brand, though it would work for Alfa and Maserati. The Hellcat is a massive engine; Hemis are big and wide, and there’s no way they’d fit into the old Viper chassis. On the other hand, if the Viper shared with a brand new Alfa or Maserati (or both), it’s possible that it might be fit in. Possibly, but perhaps unlikely; and it’s even less likely that it could go far enough back to give the new Viper a 50/50 (or close) weight ratio. Vipers aren’t Challengers or Chargers; they have to beat Ferraris and Porsches on the track. Weight distribution and traction are big.

If there is a new Viper on the way, it may not be what you expect. Electric cars have been besting some pretty capable gasoline-powered supercars on the track, and the future may be in hybrids or full-electrics.

Would it still be a Viper with electrical motivation? Would it be a Viper with a blown V-8 instead of a V-10? That’s one problem Dodge leaders have to solve before rumors of a new Viper become a reality—or not.

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