The Chrysler Viper – Breaking With Tradition

The Dodge Viper is one of the coolest cars on the road, but it almost didn’t happen. The history of the Dodge Viper is intriguing. The concept for the Viper was the vision of Tom Gale, Chrysler’s Chief of Design and Bob Lutz, Chrysler’s President at the time. There were no bean counters or focus groups involved, and no advertising experts were asked to give their opinion on if the design would sell. Instead, the design team created a car inspired by the famous Cobra. When the first Vipers hit the market, they couldn’t make them fast enough.

The Viper was designed with new technology. It had a modern engine, computer-aided suspension, a new-think transmission, and world-class tires. Even so, the new car wasn’t high-tech or gadget-laden. There were no anti-lock brakes, four-wheel steering, all-wheel drive or adjustable shock absorbers. This Viper was built from a mechanically pure approach. Just like the Shelby Cobra, the Viper’s power came from the simple rear drive.

Part of the Viper’s allure is that it came about right after Chrysler’s K-car period. In the late 70s and early 80s, Chrysler was recovering from financial failure. The company produced incredibly boring vehicles that sold well. These sales helped Chrysler pay back their government loans, but the cars were the epitome of boring.

When the Viper made its first appearance in 1989 at the American International Auto Show, it was a hit. This vehicle had everything Chrysler’s K-cars lacked. It was impractical, sleek instead of boxy, and incredibly fast.

Following its introduction at the 1989 car show, the Viper went into production within a few year. Many of the concept features made it into production, including the 8.0 liter V10 and the six-speed manual transmission. One of the improvements to the concept design was the aluminum block first developed by Lamborghini.

The first production Vipers rolled off the line in 1992 and were sent to selected showrooms. The car was selling for $52,000 which included a gas-guzzler tax of $1,700 but was in such demand that dealers were getting up to $100,000 per car.

The first Vipers weren’t all the comfortable. They didn’t have air conditioning, side windows or exterior door handles. However, it could do 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds and reached top speeds of 165 mph.

Chrysler added a few options such as a fixed hardtop and air conditioning in 1994, but the first major improvements were to the 1996 Viper when they introduced the GTS coupe.

By the time the 2002 Viper was produced, it could do 0 to 60 in 4 seconds and reach 185 mph. The price often turned off average consumers, but die-hard track enthusiasts were still in love with the car.

As the economy tanked, Chrysler decided that 2010 would be the last year for the Viper. When Fiat bought Chrysler, they brought the Viper back in 2013. Unfortunately, consumers could now get the same performance for less with other cars like the Ford Shelby GT500 and the Chevrolet Corvette. As a result, Fiat recently announced that 2017 would be the last production year for the Viper.

Lowell Nickl

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