After the financial crash and automotive bailouts of 2008, the outlook of Chrysler was bleak. Contingency plans to fire sale anything worth a penny were armed and ready. They even considered selling their corporate headquarters to turn it into a shopping mall! Even with the government bailouts, one thing was certain, the Dodge Viper must die. It’s a low volume seller that shares no components with any other model on the product line up, it single-handedly cuts the Corporate CAFE MPG average in half, and it meets next to none of the federally mandated safety requirements in a modern vehicle. But isn’t that also it’s charm?
First, a quick history lesson. The Viper was conceived in 1988 by eccentric speed hunting car nut and then-Chrysler president “Maximum” Bob Lutz. Lutz, the father of all things interesting from a major american automobile manufacturer wanted to pay homage to the ultimate vehicle in the history of Americana, the British designed AC Ace-Bristol, or rather Carroll Shelby’s Americanized version of it, the AC Shelby Cobra. The idea was simple, when Shelby did it; an excessively simple and light sports car with an big engine stuffed into it. The Viper followed this formula but developed it’s own body styled after Carroll Shelby’s Cobra and it’s Pete Brock designed platform mate, the Daytona coupe. The result was an equally simple platform but with an enormous engine.
The Viper’s success can be easily attributed to the fact that it was simple, loud, obnoxious, thirsty, powerful, sexy, bespoke, and incredibly dangerous super car. To make it into the next decade, the Viper had to be tamed. Fans and purists balked at the thought of a modern Viper neutered with torque vectoring traction control and stability management. This isn’t the Nissan GT-R, this is the Viper! It’s not a precision Katana blade, this is supposed to be a Warhammer! Modern safety standards were sure to put Viper away for good, and I doubt that any business arrangement or merger would have kept the program alive other than Fiat’s purchase of Chrysler.
It take’s a certain faith and madness for a major company to endorse a low volume and impractical, purely emotional product. A product that fits no where on the product line up or even in any market segment that means anything. Fiat has that faith, after all Fiat, besides it’s armada of humdrum European market city cars, owns Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari. Under Fiat’s ownership, these marques thrive and are being glorified in ways that haven’t been seen since the early to mid 20th Century Grand Prix’s. Fiat knows a thing or two about resurrecting legends, and when you consider this, it is clear that the right decision for Chrysler was made.
Conforming to modern standards is inevitable. I would rather have super car that is hampered with nagging safety features, than not have a super car at all. The fear that the Viper would lose it’s swagger is something we all must deal with, but does it make the new Viper worthwhile? Does it harken back to the pure thrills of the Shelby Cobra and the Daytona? Many speculated that the car would just be a badge engineered Alfa Romeo 8C or the Ferrari 612 or 599, or even share the same platform as the new F12 Berlinetta. It must be in just someway be some derivative of a Ferrari V8 or V12 like all of the super cars under the Fiat umbrella. Personally I don’t see a problem with that, but I do recognize that it wouldn’t be in the spirit of Viper.
Today, the 2013 Viper was unveiled at the New York Auto Show, and it is certainly not a spaghetti western. Though owned by Italians, the heart of the new Viper is wholly American. The massive 8.4-liter V10 motor is a continuation of the previous Viper motor, but enlarged and reworked with a completely new intake system using composite materials, forged pistons, and sodium filled valves. A new camshaft profile and aluminum flywheel provide lower mass and reduced rotating inertia letting it pump out a ground shaking 640HP and an unparalleled 600TQ. The highest torque output in any production naturally aspirated motor. All this and with a 28 lb weight saving from the previous iteration of this motor. Though it is kept on a close leash with mandatory Traction Control and electronic Multi-Stage Stability Control, it can thankfully be turned completely off.
Chrysler is housing all of their mad science fair projects under the SRT (Street and Racing Technology) skunk-works brand. The new Viper will be badged as the SRT Viper, dropping the Dodge marque. This is to emphasize the Viper’s pure performance roots by separating it from the typical line up of Dodge vehicles. Styling, however, shares more of a common design language with the current Dodge offerings than any Viper has before with it’s contemporaries. While still unmistakably Viper, the new design features LED taillights and signature black Dodge cross hair grill that have strikingly similar styling to the upcoming Dodge Dart concept and the current Dodge Charger SRT8. Familiar features that have returned include the classic proportions with the excessively long clam shell hood, the sleek cab positioned as far back as possible, the vented fenders, race inspired aluminum gas cap, double bubble roofline, and the burn your calves as you exit side step exhaust outlet.
Use of the ultra light magical material, Carbon Fiber, is used on the hood, roof, and deck-lid. Weight is also kept low with the use of hollow stabilizer bars and aluminum doors, offsetting the weight of the additional electronics and extensively revised frame. All in all, the new Viper is about 100 lbs lighter than the previous generation, making this also the lightest and most nimble Viper yet.
The interior is not so familiar as the hallmark design cues on the exterior. The minimalist instrumentation and horrendously hard and cheap plastics are gone. Thankfully. Fine Italian leather and contrasting red stitching adorn the interior panels and the Sabelt designed seats. All of the analog dials and gauges are replaced with digital readouts. The gauge cluster now features an Analog style digital tachometer and speedometer, with vehicle information that can display live and is adjustable via a steering wheel mounted 4 way directional control, like on a video game console’s steering wheel peripheral. The center stack now has a very Nissan GT-R like customize-able digital read out allowing you to display up to 5 context based readouts including current fuel economy, outside temperature, compass direction, lap timer, lateral G-force meter, To further exacerbate this honestly silly over use of electronic gadgetry, the digital gauge cluster will even display any text messages you have received during your drive after your car is parked… because for some reason Viper owners must prefer to remain in their parked car to read all their text messages on their dash, and then reply on their phone instead of just using their phone to do the task it was meant for.
The Viper as it was could not have existed in today’s world. Compromises must be made, what we get is the most refined, and daily drive-able Viper yet, while also being the most powerful and nimble. Sure, we don’t have the raw, burly, no-nonsense machine of the past, but we do get a performance knock out, and when an ACR track edition is released, it’s won’t be any surprise when the old Viper’s lap records at Laguna Seca and the Nürburgring Nordschleife are shattered, and in world of Super Cars, it’s what goes fast that counts.
It’s a bit ironic that the Cobra which inspired the Viper was an Anglo-American product that is heralded as one of the all time American greats, and while the American only Dodge Vipers of the last 20 years have had their place, could bit e that this new Viper of Italian-American heritage will be the next milestone in American Automotive history? It certainly looks promising.