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The Carchive: Dodge Viper RT/10

Chris Haining September 25, 2015 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 9 Comments


It’s Friday afternoon, and NASA have been advised to track our activity as we make our way through the cold, dark, infinite blackness of automotive history in the hope of chancing upon a fascinating wormhole into motoring past. Welcome To The Carchive

Today we’re looking at a brochure for a car which was widely celebrated rather than condemned or pitied, mainly because it was one of the more interesting machines to have come off a North American production line for as long as anybody could remember. The year is 1992, and we’re looking at The Viper.


“Automotive history is punctuated by precious few masterpieces- cars capable of transforming the idea of transportation into the ideal of art.”

Pretty high-falutin’ stuff. I’m not sure where they were heading on the whole Art motif, they would have been better off starting with the next paragraph:

“Every generation, at least one automobile stands far removed from the crowd and in total harmony with the desires of the day’s driving enthusiast. Dodge Viper RT/10 is just such a car.”

America, in fact The World were crying out for a car like this, something truly ridiculous to break the silence. The world at that point was strewn with finely honed Italian supercars, identikit japanese hatchbacks and everything in between, but what was missing was something that would grab you by the lapels and shout at you until your brain dripped out of your ears.

Enter Viper.

“Automobiles like the Viper RT/10 are clearly not the lifeblood of major automotive manufacturers”

The brochure takes great lengths to explain the notion of the Viper for what it was. It started out in life as a “What-if” show-car fantasy, then found love within the Chrysler Corporation’s decision makers and was allowed a modest development programme, evidently staffed by certain hand-picked individuals who were seen as enthusiastic and fanatical enough to really get into the spirit of the project.

The show car was a decent head start, having been rapturously recieved by a global audience; the target was now to deliver on the promise that it made. Be sure to look on The Internet for a full breakdown of the development programme; it’s been recorded so well in so many places there’s little point in trying to go into it now.

“Sir William Lyons, creator of the legendary Jaguar sports cars, once said, “An automobile is primarily an engine, so it must be architecturally valid; it must astonish when the (hood) is opened””

Of course, Chrysler Dodge were proud of the leviathan which they had created for the Viper. Eight litres big, oversquare and yelling out 400 horsepower, this was a real man’s engine. No fancy-pants forced induction or multi-valve heads here; twenty valves (two per cylinder) was seen as enough.

This all sat well with the philosophy of the car; “Key to (the development team) was maintaining the simplicity of design inherent in the power trains of classic high-performance sports cars of years past”. The intention was a that a V10 configuration would be seen to naturally follow on from the Classic American V8. The all-new six-speed gearbox was American made, too, which was nice.

“Strip away the Viper RT/10’s composite body panels and you have, in essence, a classic race-bred sports car chassis”

As you’d expect from the fact that there was an eight litre engine in there, the Viper was a Big Car. It was 175″ long and the real headline was that it was almost 6′ 4″ wide. But everything was in proportion.

The 17″ diameter of the wheels seems moderate by today’s standards, but their 13″ width at the rear is still immense. 335/35 ZR17 is still a pretty extreme shape of tyre.

The brakes are big, too. 13″ ventilated discs all round, just a bit thicker at the sharp end than out back. Suspension, as you’d expect, is independent with unequal length upper and lower control arms all round.

“If you dream of digital displays, a trip computer, power windows or an automatic transmission, you’ll have to look elsewhere.”

Yeah, you need to have windows for them to be powered. The emphasis was very much that the driver’s seat was just somewhere to sit comfortably in order to grapple with the controls. It almost seems disappointing that the car features a six-speaker 120 watt stereo system (with cassette!), and that A/C became available for the ’93 model year.

My only experience of driving a Viper has been thanks to the original Need For Speed on the PC in 1996. I always plumped for the Viper over the other cars thanks to the extraordinary noise it made when you downshifted on a trailing throttle. It also had an incredibly tall sixth gear which you very seldom had any need to engage. Actually I’ve just looked it up, fifth and sixth were actually both overdrive gears, sixth being geared at 0.5:1, which seems amazing. Fourth was the direct gear and I seem to recall using that gear the most on the game.

I tell you how I WANT the Viper to feel. I want it to be grumpy and recalcitrant. Uncooperative. I want the gearshift to be incredibly precise but really hard work in operation. I want to have to heave on the steering but still be able to place the car on the apex with pin-point accuracy. I want to take the Viper onto a track and be absolutely exhausted after a few laps.

I want it to feel like no other car. If the transmission was flick-o-the-wrist quick like in an S2000, I’ll be disappointed. If it could change direction telepathically like in an Elise, I’ll be disappointed. Frankly, if I was able to take the Viper anywhere near its limits, I’d be disappointed.

Truth is, I want to be able to jump into the Viper and conclude that it is “too much car for me”. Brutal. That’s what I want it to be.

Please, nobody in the comments section confirm one way or another. I want to find out for myself.

(All images are of original manufacturers publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains copyright of Chrysler, which probably means FCA by now. Got a Viper? Want to let me have a go? Let me know and be my new best friend)

  • dukeisduke

    I used to have a big ass poster (laminated) of that next-to-last picture, hanging in my office.

  • Stephen

    Ooh, that first year was awful. But the 96 GTS coupe turned my world upside down. I’d still like to get my hands on one someday.

    • Fuhrman16

      My thoughts exactly. It’s like a modern(ish) interpretation of a Shelby Daytona coupe.

  • Citric

    The other day I saw a couple getting groceries in a Viper. It made me happy.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Yup. sometimes, it feels really good to swing a sledgehammer.

    • There is no better therapy.

  • I can’t believe the Viper has been around for such a longtime. Always wanted one.

  • JayP

    The early 90’s was when Dodge started using Alias Studio for virtual design. The Viper wire frame image was certainly from Alias. A few years later I tried myself…

    The car on the bottom was something I found on autoblog… but it looks alot like my 20 yr old design.

  • My bucket list includes driving an original Viper, just once.