Dodge Viper: Rise, Demise, Rebirth

The Dodge Viper is one of those cars with a great product development story behind it.

The Dodge Viper is one of those cars with a great product development story behind it.

What the original Team Viper did back in the late 1980s is captured by this retrospective comment made by Tom Gale, who headed up Chrysler design, who said in 2001: “When we developed the Viper, we had a back-to-basics philosophy. That was to deliver on the expectation of a true sports car. Within that, performance was the number-one attribute that we wouldn’t compromise.”

Team Viper developed a concept car, a Viper RT/10 that came out of the Chrysler Advanced Styling Studio and was revealed to the world on January 4, 1989, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Jaws dropped en masse.

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People tried to order what was then a non-existent production vehicle. Team Viper began to assess the practicality of actually building a V10-powered two-seat sports car. They considered manufacturing. Engineering. Suppliers. In May 1990 they were given the green light to develop the car. A veritable “Skunk Works” was setup for the team of designers, engineers and executives.

May 26, 1991, the Pace Car of the 75th Indianapolis 500 was a Viper RT/10.

By December, production cars were being built at the then-New Mack Assembly Plant in Detroit. (Starting in 1974, Chrysler had been using the plant as a stamping facility. It was converted for Viper assembly, which it did until 1995. Today it produces V8 engines for the Ram pickup.)

In January 1992, the production car was shown at the North American International Auto Show.

People who remember that car know that it was “back-to-basics” in a serious way, with components cribbed from parts bins and a ride that was one part massive G-forces and one part kidney jarring. But it was fast. As Bob Lutz, who had been president of Chrysler, put it in when the production car was launched, “Viper is not for everyone. We knew that going in. This car is for the enthusiast who wants a great driving car and nothing more.”

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The Viper run lasted until 2010. The production had moved from New Mack to Connor Assembly. On April 6 of that year, Chrysler announced that it would be producing a limited production run of 50 2010 Viper SRT10 “Final Edition” models. By then the car had become comparatively more plush and sophisticated. But it was no-less fast than its predecessors. There was a 8.4-liter V10 engine under the hoop producing 600 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque.

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How fast, you ask? Well, on September 14, 2011, Dominik Farnbacher drove a street-legal 2010 Dodge Viper SRT10 ACR to a production car lap record of 7:12.13 at the famed 12.9 mile Nürburgring Nordschleife.

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Gale’s “performance was the number-one attribute that we wouldn’t compromise” continued through the build of the cars.

The Final Edition. The final curtain. Conner Avenue Assembly was closed in July 2010. During the 15-year run at the plant, 22,070 Vipers were built. By hand. About 12 a day. Adding the number from Mack, there were 28,056 built.

But last week Chrysler announced that there will be some 150 people going back to work in Detroit, back to work at Conner Assembly.

Last week Chrysler announced that the Viper will be coming back late next year Said Ralph Gilles, president and CEO, SRT Brand and Motorsports, the man who designed the interior for the 2000 Viper GTS/R concept, “The next generation Viper will make its return to the product lineup in late 2012 as a 2013 model. We’re extremely excited that our ultimate American sports car will continue to live on and be produced exclusively here in the Motor City.”

While there are no details on the car, we’re guessing two things:

1. It will be a no-compromise vehicle

2. It won’t be for everyone

And that’s as it should be.