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The "Blue Sky" Dodge Viper Redesign: 2003-2010

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The first convertible Viper, the SRT-10, launched in model-year 2003, with a revised 8.3 liter engine pushing out 500 horsepower. The car started "as a simple plan to alter the RT/10's roofline" and grew when engineers discovered that the 2.6-inch lengthening of the wheelbase would change more than half of the car's body panels and many chassis components. Vehicle synthesis engineers set to work, using the stretch as their opportunity to find incremental ways to update and improve the car, while the design office staged an internal search for the best new Viper design sketch.

About the same time, combined marketing, engineering and communications teams from Dodge began polling key constituencies on what the next Viper should be - and as important, what it shouldn't be:

What owners wantedWhat owners didn't want
  • More horsepower
  • Bigger brakes
  • Lighter weight
  • A new convertible top mechanism
  • A dead pedal
  • Greater interior comfort
  • Digital instrumentation
  • Cruise control
  • Cup holders
  • A "bow-tie" lookalike

It was universally agreed that no matter the degree of change, Viper must be a front-engined, two-seat, rear-wheel-drive sports car, with a V-10 and a six-speed manual transmission, devoid of cupholders, cruise control, and traction control - a driver's package, and never a luxury boat posing as a sports car.

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Dodge called the 2003 release a "complete redesign," with over 100 changes to the chassis, brakes, suspension, tires, engine, transmission, cockpit, electronics and body panels. Early on, the team committed to using a racing-style chassis with fully independent four-wheel suspension, and massive brakes. A two-seat cockpit included a center-mounted tachometer and a 220 mile-per-hour speedometer, while a traditional push-button starter reinforced race-car inspirations. A new version of the Viper's four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, launched in the 2001 model year, was enhanced. The new bi-fold clamshell top had a single center latch. Initial colors were red, black and bright silver metallic, with white appearing in 2004.

The engine was bored and stroked to raise Viper's displacement from 488 to 505 cubic inches, with output pushed to 500 horsepower and 525 lb.-ft. of torque. A special racing version, the Competition Coupe, boasted more power but was not street-legal.


The engine, built at Conner Avenue - the only auto plant in America to build its own engines - delivered 90 percent of its whopping 525 lb.-ft. of torque from 1500 to 5600 rpm. The new cast aluminum block had interference-fit cast-iron liners and cross-bolted main caps; bore and stroke were increased over past models. Block length, height, bore spacing, firing order, rod length and compression ratio were unchanged.

The Viper V-10 used a six main bearing crankshaft with cross-bolted main bearing caps; new cast aluminum alloy pistons weighed slightly less than in prior years, despite their larger diameter. New cracked-steel connecting rods were lighter yet stronger than prior model years. To prevent oil starvation, a new wet-sump oil system with twin, cast-in wing tanks was used; the bottom of the pan was 3/4-in. closer to the crank centerline, allowing the engine to be lowered.

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Cylinder heads on the Viper V-10 were redesigned semi-permanent mold (SPM) 356 T6 aluminum, with improved intake port, exhaust port and combustion chamber cooling and sealing. Lower-profile die-cast magnesium cylinder head covers with steel internal baffles and anti-slosh foam were new for 2003.

A single-piece, central dual-plenum, cast aluminum intake manifold had shorter runners and a single, non-staged two-barrel throttle body for a lower hoodline and higher peak horsepower RPM. An Integrated Air and Fuel Module (IAFM) with tubular fuel rails, injectors, sensors, wiring and throttle body, delivered assembled and pre-tested, replaced the separate manifold.

A lighter weight, lower friction valvetrain was virtually all new, with roller rocker assemblies, single valve springs and larger diameter intake valves. Other engine highlights include a new oil cooler, new cooling system with hydraulically driven fan, new air cleaner assembly with dual oval air filter elements, and new power steering pump and pulley.

The exhaust system used fabricated 1.625-in. diameter tubular stainless steel Tri-Y exhaust manifolds. Each manifold was close coupled to a 1.0-liter catalyst with secondary-1.0 liter door sill catalysts and resonators; aft of those were dual cross-over pipes with an "H" in the middle ending at tuned side exhaust exits.

The Tremec T56 six-speed manual transmission, now used in competing models, was fully synchronized, with electronic reverse lockout and 1-4 skip shift. Internal components were improved with a new heat-treating process; the transmission had a short-throw shifter and single piece main shaft. Torque upgrades were developed from work with the Dodge Viper GTS/R race car.

Weight Reduction

The SRT-10 weighed around 100 pounds less than previous models. Thirty-four pounds were saved with the use of a one-piece magnesium front of dash; the cast magnesium instrument panel support provided lower torso energy management with no additional steel parts required (an industry first), and a weight savings.

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A full-width sport bar was replaced by the integral folding top and vinyl-covered frame-mounted aluminum sport hoops. The hood and front fenders were redesigned, replacing the one-piece sheet-molded composite (SMC) clamshell hood with a conventional SMC hood and resin injection molded (RIM) fenders. New resin injection molded (RIM) and sheet-molded composite (SMC) panels made up the windshield frame, cowl panel, rear quarter panels, front fenders, doors, hood, decklid, and front and rear fascia.

The convertible top was a manual bi-fold clamshell soft top with a rigid cloth-covered magnesium front panel, a single center latch and a heated glass blacklight. Smart glass actuation lowered and raised windows by 8 mm upon entrance and egress for door sealing. A rigid front panel doubled as a functional tonneau (a folding tonneau cover was used starting in 2004), with a 180-pound load capacity in stowed position.

Other weight savings measures include use of zero pressure run-flat tires, which eliminate the need for the spare tire and jack; aluminum-bodied shock absorbers; side-exit exhaust with cross-over "H" pipe and resonators, which eliminates the need for full-length pipe routing of the mufflers; carbon fiber fender supports; and a new air conditioning compressor, which reduces weight by one pound.

Body, chassis, suspension

Chrysler's rolling roadbed wind tunnel was used extensively; the car was tested and tuned for low drag and front/rear downforce balance, while the drag coefficient was cut by 7%. A new 2 mm aluminum belly pan raised airflow and stability. Positive downforce was measured at 150 mph. Venturi tunnels aft of the front fascia reduced lift and directed air toward brake components.

Frame stiffness was increased by 31%, while net form and pierce manufacturing improved dimensional control.

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The suspension, keeping lightweight high-performance aluminum control arms and knuckles, was revised for greater limit-handling progressivity (so it didn't go from "total control" to "no control" without warning). Lightweight aluminum-bodied front and rear coil-over shocks with revised tuning and new springs, six-bolt hubs, and tubular stabilizer bars were used. The differential was a new Dana 44-4 Hydra-Lok torque-sensing model with spread bearing design.

Brembo 44/40 dual opposing piston fixed front calipers with 14-inch rotors were used up front; in the rear, Brembo 42/38 dual opposing piston rear calipers gripped 14-inch rotors. A new remote-mounted Brembo parking brake rear caliper was used as well.

Polished 18x10-inch front and 19x13-inch rear forged aluminum wheels with flush-mounted Viper medallion center caps wore P275/35ZR18 front and P345/30ZR19 rear black sidewall Michelin zero pressure (ZP) tires, with low-pressure sensors in the valve stems.

Revised Viper Interior

The cockpit was redesigned, with a center-mounted 7,000 rpm tach, 220 mph speedometer, machined metal surfaces, better pedal placement, and a new pushbutton starter; Gauges were used for coolant temperature and voltage. The full-length floor console had a soft-touch molded-shape padded arm rest, covered storage bin with mat, CD storage, cigar lighter and airbag deactivation switch. Satin chrome trim was used extensively, along with leather surfaces.

The throttle, brake and clutch pedals were power-adjustable, with four inches total travel, and an adjustable dead pedal was added. Driver and passenger bucket seats were suede, with six-point restraint system provisions. The steering wheel was new for 2003.

The in-dash AM/FM radio had a six-disc in-head CD changer, with seven-channel 310 watt (RMS) under-seat amplifier, two 3/4-inch instrument panel-mounted tweeters, two 6 1/2-inch low-mass full-range Alpine loudspeakers, one 6 1/2-inch subwoofer with ported enclosure and two 2 3/4-inch fill speakers mounted in the bulkhead.

New air conditioning was higher-performance and allowed blend air. Low-profile flat (beam-style) windshield wiper blades helped wet-weather visibility. Tires were run-flats with low-pressure sensors in the valve stems.

Viper electrical

A new battery run-down protection system automatically turns off accessories if left on for an extended time when the car is not running. It also includes an operator-activated feature, doubling battery storage time. Standard keyless entry includes door lock and unlock, decklid release and a panic button. High-intensity discharge (HID) low- and high-beam headlamps provide improved light output, while additional Halogen bulbs were used for high-beam fill lighting.

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Other electrical features include door locks that are power operated and speed sensitive; new flush-mounted, electro-mechanical front door handles; an electric rear window defroster; a new electrical harnesses, a 136 amp alternator and 2.0 kw starter motor; new engine management sensors and powertrain control module; and a 600 amp maintenance-free battery.

Viper Team Biographies

Osamu Shikado, Design Manager, Advance Product Design

Credited with the exterior of both the 1998 Chrysler Chronos and 1999 Chrysler Citadel concept vehicles, Osamu Shikado debuted his first-ever two-door car just two years ago. It was the 2000 Dodge Viper GTS/R concept car. At the same time Shikado was in the middle of the development of the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10.

Osaka, Japan - born Shikado (47) has been with the Chrysler Group Design Studios since 1994. He is married, has two children and now holds the job of Design Manager in Chrysler Group's Advance Product Design Studio in Auburn Hills, Mich.

"When I look at the original Viper, the most important design cues are the two massive elements which interlocked at the middle of the body. The original Viper has distinctive characteristics, but from some angles it looks cartoonish.

"I added some crease lines on the body surface. It is the strongest departure from the very rounded original one. My intention was to make it appear to have been sculpted out of solid metal, representing strength and power.

"To enhance the new Viper's muscular form, we gave the body a strong profile with higher belt line, dramatic side gill and a 'bump-up' rear fender shape.

"A lower hood incorporates a larger grille opening - boasting an even bolder version of the Dodge-signature cross-hair design - and adds integrated engine louvers for effective airflow in the engine compartment.

"The rear wheels were moved back 2.6 inches and the A-pillar was pulled three inches forward to allow for bigger doors and for improved ingress and egress.

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"I like the rear three-quarter view. It looks like some kind of predator set to capture the prey."

"In the beginning, there were 20 or more designers involved in the sketching process. Six of the sketches were picked and turned into scale models.

"The sketches were picked two weeks after the assignment, so we quickly could look at scale models. After several weeks we debuted these to (then Executive Vice President - Product Development and Design) Tom Gale and Trevor Creed. The decision was made to narrow down the themes to two full-size clay models which were fabricated into full-size fiberglass models.

"My model had an evolutionary Viper look, similar to what you see in the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10. The other model still had 'Viperness', but was a radical departure from the original Viper. Ultimately, we decided against this over-the-top change."
Aerodynamic Tuning

"We were challenged several times to change some design details for aerodynamics. We spent a lot of time in the DC-Auburn Hills wind tunnel with a 3/8-scale model. Next we took the full-scale model to a place near Stuttgart called FKFS (Forschungsinstitut fur Kraftfahrwesen und Fahrzeugmotoren Stuttgart) where they have a full-scale wind tunnel.

"We tried to figure out what was the best design for the floor pan, and also what the optimum rear decklid height was. We looked at several other elements, such as a separate rear spoiler and the diffuser on the rear fascia.

"The rear end is the thing we had to work on and change the most. The front of the body required very little tuning for engineering feasibility. For example, headlamps were packaged into a tight and very short front overhang. Also the rear fenders, rear decklid and rear fascia were optimized a couple of times for aerodynamic reasons such as the reduction of Cd (coefficient of drag) and the increase of downforce on the rear wheels.

"The reason we picked the FKFS wind tunnel is that it has a rolling road bed - a moving belt - so we could see the effect of aerodynamics on a driving vehicle. We could see the airflow over and under the body. We found out that the new aerodynamics were very effective, with a seven percent reduction in drag over the previous Viper roadster."
Ralph Gilles, Director of Design & Product Identification

Chrysler Group Design Studios Director of Design & Product Identification since 2001, Ralph Gilles is known for his work on the interior of the recently introduced 2002 Jeep Liberty and concept vehicles such as the 1998 Dodge Intrepid ESX2, 1998 Jeep Jeepster and 2000 Dodge Viper GTS/R.

American-born Gilles (32) grew up in Montreal. He started at the Chrysler Group Design Studios in 1992, is married and has two children.

"For me personally, simplicity was another point. I didn't want the interior to be too gimmicky. Just straightforward, with basic shapes.

"The overall impression when someone gets in the car is every bit as good as any of the other supercars in fit and finish. In addition, the interior is very authentic, very honest.

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"There are now some authentic metal pieces in the interior. The ring around the shifter is a die-cast metal piece. The door pulls are real metal. And we have a lot of exposed hardware, which is true to the functional mission.

"The starter switch is an exception - it's tongue-in-cheek. We had it in the 2000 Viper GTS/R concept. And we said to ourselves, 'Wouldn't it be cool?' And it never went away. We kept showing it, and showing it. People talked about it: 'You're not really going do that, are you?' We just never took it out. And low and behold, it got engineered and it's there. That was fun.

"Overall, the interior works, it's snug. It makes you feel contained. You feel like you're very secure in there. You can't help but feel like this was built for you."
New Interior Design Features

"What's new about this interior is the overall quality. The tachometer has a different placement from past models and is the largest of all the gauges. That's something that we researched. The tachometer is the only thing that most performance-oriented people care about. On the track, the rest - such as the speed - is irrelevant. And with this much power on tap, revs are very important. Performance as a theme is reinforced by all the elements of the interior.

"Similar to the starter switch, it has been a dream of our team to put exposed precision fasteners in a vehicle. We're glad we got to do it in this new Viper. And they are all functional. Every single one of them is actually attached to something. They hold the bezel together. They are not molded-in plastic dummies.

"The carbon fiber surface on the steering wheel leather is cool, too. That's a great idea that Margaret (Hackstedde, Director - Color, Fabric and Mastering Design) had. We used it in the Dodge Charger concept car years ago. It kind of went unnoticed, but we thought it was a unique design feature, and couldn't wait to find a place to use it.
"There are myriad little design elements that surprise and delight. You'll sit in your new Viper and say 'Wow, look at that. Someone really thought about that.'"
The Dodge Viper use of carbon fiber

The 2003 Dodge Viper uses carbon fiber for its door inner panels, windshield surrounds and front fender supports. The material, previously used mainly in racing and exotic cars, is strong, light, but expensive. Because of its reputation, it's been used as an accent material on cars pitched to younger or more enthusiastic buyers, and is also used in the Honda NSX Type R.

Dodge's use is about as close as carbon-fiber has come to a needed role in mass production. It is used to replace metal and save weight, mainly at the front fender support, which holds up most of the front half of the Viper. Ford, in contrast, went with aluminum on its GT40, though the concept car had a composite body. (The Corvette has used sheet-molded plastic for its body for fifty years.) (Thanks to Doug Hetrick.)

2004 Changes

For 2004, the Dodge Viper SRT-10 would be available in vibrant new Viper White paint, in addition to Viper Red, Viper Black and Viper Bright Silver Metallic. Further refinement features included standard red brake calipers, trunk carpet and a folding tonneau cover.

25 Years of Dodge Vipers at Allpar

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