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History of the Dodge Viper | Dodge Viper Evolution

Posted on 2020-12-21

While it was a relatively short-lived car, the Dodge Viper certainly made a mark. Its roaring horsepower and jaw-dropping speed made it a favorite of drivers who wanted to fly down the road. The heart of the car was a V-10 engine, which provided an impressive amount of power to the light sports car. The Viper's engineering was equally exceptional, and the car even made the top 10 in the Most American Cars list, with over 75% of its parts made in America.

Find out more about the origins of the Dodge Viper and its five generations in this guide. Additionally, get answers to your burning questions about the Viper.

Origins of the Dodge Viper

The idea for the Dodge Viper started with one conversation between Chrysler's chief of design, Tom Gale, and its president, Robert A. Lutz, in 1988. As Gale walked by Lutz's office, the Chrysler president called him in. Lutz had an idea. He wanted to start a project that was like a revitalized Shelby Cobra

Gale got to work to implement Lutz's vision for a two-seater that took inspiration from classic 1960s sports cars, like the Shelby Cobra and Jaguar E-Type. This car would need to have a manual gearbox and a staggeringly powerful engine. As Lamborghini was owned by Chrysler at the time, Gale brought them in to help with the exterior and engine design.

One of the major challenges of crafting this ultra-powerful sports car was accommodating a V-10 engine in the car. The team at Chrysler wanted a V-10 to power their Viper, as it would set the car apart from others and give it "a heroic proportion." Essentially, they wanted the Viper to be unlike anything else on the market at that time.

It was a bit difficult to source a V-10, as there weren't many technical reasons for that kind of engine. However, they were eventually able to find one in-house. This iron-block 8-liter unit was designed for future use in pickup trucks, but Chrysler redesigned it, turning it into a lightweight, aluminum-block engine. With the engine figured out and an exceptional team working on all levels of the car, the historic Viper was born.

Generations of the Dodge Viper

The Dodge Viper first launched in 1991. It lasted until 2017 before lagging sales and the failure to meet safety regulations caused Chrysler to shutter its production. The Viper wasn't the most comfortable car to drive when it first came out, but it had the power to compensate. As the Viper aged through its generations, the car upgraded its comfort and continued to improve its performance. 

First Generation Dodge Viper (1991-1995)

The first generation of the Dodge Viper debuted in 1991, but Chrysler didn't offer it to the general public. Instead, two pre-production models served as the Indianapolis 500 pace cars. The Viper wasn't supposed to debut until 1992, but after United Auto Workers complained about the Japanese-built Dodge Stealth serving as the pace car, Chrysler had to pivot to their American-made Dodge Viper. The concept Viper generated a significant amount of public interest after its exposure, and completed models arrived in dealer showrooms in 1992.

The SR1 generation of Dodge Vipers premiered to the public at the 1992 Detroit Auto Show, with the model officially called the RT/10. Since Chrysler designed the Viper as a performance car, it didn't come with many of the bells and whistles you might expect. There was no air conditioning, key cylinders or exterior-mounted door handles. Even more surprising, there were no air bags, as Chrysler wanted to keep the weight down.

The sleek, minimal design also came without a hardtop roof. Instead, the roof was made of a removable canvas. There were no permanent windows on the car, either. The windows were made from vinyl, which could be opened and closed with zippers. The lack of certain comforts in the car sent a clear message that this car wasn't meant to be a standard vehicle — the car was built for speed.

Overall, the two-door convertible Viper did have a few comforts. There was a high fidelity sound system and clock attached to an AM/FM stereo cassette player. Additionally, buyers would find interior carpeting and adjustable sport bucket seats made out of leather. In later models of this generation, buyers could even choose a hardtop option to replace the canvas roof. Buyers could also purchase an adjustable performance suspension system. 

The main draw of the vehicle was the engine. The 8-liter Viper V-10 engine was rated at 400 horsepower with 450 pound-feet of torque. With all this power behind it, the Viper could fly.

Assisting the speed and power of the car was the vehicle's tubular steel frame, which gave the car a lightweight body. It also lacked anti-lock brakes and traction control, removing any common modern driver aids drivers were used to. With the reduced weight and powerful engine, the SR 1 could go from 0 miles per hour to 60 miles per hour in under five seconds and also make a quarter-mile in just over 13 seconds. When drivers gunned the car to its max speed, it reached over 160 miles per hour.

The car's handling could be a little difficult. Though the car had larger-diameter, aluminum alloy wheels, it could still be hard to drive at high speeds. Unexperienced drivers may want to stay away from this generation. Some drivers reported being burned by the side muffler placed under the door when exiting the vehicle. 

The SR1 was offered from 1991 to 1995, with minimal changes to it. Eventually, the team at Chrysler decided they wanted to try to best themselves with a new version of the Viper.

Second Generation Dodge Viper (1996-2002)

The second generation was launched in 1996 and was referred to by its codename "SR II." This new Viper featured some redesigns and updates through its six-year run. Since it was a Viper, it also gained more power. This model retained the same name, the RT/10. 

The initial model offered in 1996 still came with the potentially dangerous side exhaust pipes, but by the middle of the year, they were gone. They were replaced with a single muffler at the rear of the vehicle. Since the muffler exited via two central tailpipes, the car's back pressure was reduced, leading to an increase in horsepower. This mid-year model went up to 410 horsepower and had 488 pound-feet of torque.

There were some other changes to separate the RT/10 from the first generation. For instance, the second generation Viper had a slidable glass window and a removable hardtop. Additionally, Dodge swapped out some of the older steel suspension components with aluminum to help reduce the car's weight. Dodge changed the previous generation's three-spoke wheels to five-spoke wheels. In 1997, the RT/10 began offering air bags and power windows as standard options.

At the end of 1996, a new Viper GTS coupe arrived with even more power than the RT/10. The GTS featured 450 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque. With all this power backing it, the car's top speed was 180 miles per hour, and it could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in close to 4.5 seconds.

In addition to the GTS's incredible power, it also came with some niceties not found on the RT/10 initially. When first released, the GTS came with power glass side windows, exterior door handles, air bags and air conditioning. Buyers didn't have any choice in transmission, as Dodge only offered a six-speed manual transmission.

The GTS also provided customers a different look than the RT/10. This coupe featured a curved, long hood. The hood's side and middle vents also came with an air scoop. The roof arrived with two Gurney bubbles, which gave drivers more headroom. To make the vehicle stand out, Dodge made sure the fenders were large, with vents located behind the wheels. Dodge also added a duck-tail spoiler on the rear of the car, which served to differentiate the GTS from the RT/10 and provided some performance benefits.

In 1998, Dodge gave both Viper options a few updates, such as lighter exhaust manifolds, a revised camshaft and second generation air bags. In 2000, Dodge improved the RT/10's frame and gave it lighter hypereutectic pistons. In 2001, Dodge also added an anti-lock braking system. The last year the RT/10 and GTS models were offered was 2002.

Third Generation Dodge Viper (2003-2007)

In 2003, Dodge released an all-new Viper SRT-10, replacing the previous RT/10. To separate this generation of the Viper from the previous two, the Viper team significantly restyled the SRT-10. It featured much more angled bodywork, giving it a sharper appearance. The team also dropped the chassis weight and increased its rigidity. Initially, Dodge only offered the SRT-10 in a two-door convertible style, and it only came with a six-speed Tremec T56 manual transmission. 

The restyled Dodge Viper's appearance matched its incredible power. The previous 8-liter engine was replaced by an 8.3-liter engine. The SRT-10's upgraded engine came with 500 horsepower and 525 pound-feet of torque. Even with the increased power, the engineering team at Dodge was able to significantly reduce the weight of the engine. With all these changes, it went from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in under 12 seconds. It also reached a top speed of 190 miles per hour.

Dodge offered a two-door coupe version of the Viper in 2006. This coupe came outfitted with some of the GTS's trademark design features, such as the previous car's taillights and a double-bubble roof shape. Buyers could also select an SRT-10 Coupe in the iconic GTS blue exterior color with white stripes. The third generation coupe also incorporated the tail shape of the GTS in the rear. For those who loved the Viper GTS, the SRT-10 Coupe was the car for them.

Alongside the design changes to the SRT-10 Coupe, the car also came with an even more powerful engine than its convertible counterpart. The car reached 510 horsepower and 535 pound-feet of torque. This coupe went from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds and could hit the quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds. No new Vipers were made for the 2007 model year, causing the third generation of Dodge Vipers to go out relatively quietly. 

Fourth Generation Dodge Viper (2008-2010)

In 2008, the fourth generation of Dodge Vipers arrived. This new generation was named the ZB II and came with several new features and changes. One major design addition to the revitalized SRT-10 was the inclusion of a vented engine cover over the front of the car. Other than this change to the exterior, there weren't many notable adjustments to the car's exterior, as most of the redesign features were mechanical.

A new generation of Dodge Vipers meant a new and improved engine. The Dodge team changed from the previous generation's 8.3-liter engine to an 8.4-liter V-10 engine. This new engine offered 600 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque. The SRT-10 reached a top speed of 202 miles per hour, with a 0 to 60 miles per hour time of 3.5 seconds. In tests, the Dodge Viper could hit the quarter-mile in just 11.6 seconds

Part of the engine's improved performance was the addition of larger-valved and better flowing heads. Dodge also added dual electronic throttle bodies and variable valve timing. The electronic engine control was also upgraded, adding significantly more processing power and a controller that monitored the cylinder position and crankshaft. 

Like past versions of the vehicle, the new SRT-10 only came with a manual transmission. However, this transmission was improved, with the T56 transmission replaced by the Tremec TR-6060. This new transmission featured doubles for the car's higher gears and triple first-gear synchronizers. The car reused the previous model's rear axle but added a new GKN LiscoLok speed-sensing limited-slip differential. This new feature made it so the tires had a better grip when accelerating. 

This version of the SRT-10 removed the run-flat tires, replacing them with Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires. These new tires provided greater driver feedback and increased grip. The team at Dodge also upgraded the suspension, adding new shock-valving, anti-roll bars and springs. 

One of the criticisms of the third generation Dodge Viper was the design team's placement of the exhaust crossover beneath the seats. This placement caused a lot of heat to go into the cockpit. The fourth generation Dodge Viper changed that. This new SRT-10 came with a fresh exhaust system, which had no crossover and reduced heat into the cockpit. In 2010, Dodge decided to end the fourth generation.

Fifth Generation Dodge Viper (2013-2017)

The fifth generation Dodge Viper arrived in 2013, featuring greater power and the return of the GTS. Buyers could choose between the GTS or the SRT Viper. Of course, there were some differences between the two models, with one of the most notable being the SRT featuring two functional vents on the hood and the GTS featuring six of them.

The SRT Viper came with some unique features that enhanced buyer comfort. Drivers could enjoy an 8.4-inch touch screen and an Alpine surround system. Drivers were also happy to see cruise control, keyless entry, power seats and heated seats included as options for the vehicle.

The car had a 4-inch thin-film transistor, which could be reconfigured and provided drivers with information about the car and system messages. The transistor also had controls drivers could use to turn off various features, like stability control and traction control. 

The SRT Viper GTS came with a park brake bezel, HVAC outlets, leather upholstery, color accents on several areas and Sabelt racing seats featuring a fiberglass shell and Kevlar. It also had split six-spoke wheels made out of forged aluminum, a carbon-fiber hood and roof, aluminum door panels, window shift bezels and a shifter base.

This Viper continued the trend of providing greater power to every generation. The 8.4-liter V-10 engine on both models generated up to 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque. In 2015, Dodge upgraded the engine to 645 horsepower. On the track, the Viper could hit a top speed of 206 miles per hour and go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in only 3.5 seconds. Fifth generation Vipers came with a six-speed Tremec TR-6060 manual transmission.

Unfortunately, the Viper's fifth generation didn't lead to high sales. In 2013, production of the Vipers was reduced by a third and then entirely stopped for a couple of months. Some believe the lack of strong sales numbers led to the discontinuation of the Viper after 2017. Others have suggested the car didn't continue because Dodge couldn't redesign it to meet safety regulations requiring side curtain air bags.

Commonly Asked Questions About the Dodge Viper

Car lovers regularly have questions about the Dodge Viper. Below, you can find some answers to the most common questions about the Dodge Viper:

 

What Is the Best Dodge Viper?

While everyone will have their personal taste for what's best, those who love classic vehicles often pick the 1996 Viper GTS as the best Viper. This version of the car was the first GTS, providing increased power and an attractive new design. The original blue car with white stripes down the middle is one of the most iconic Vipers ever produced.

 

How Much Did a Dodge Viper Cost?

A used base 2017 Dodge Viper goes for around $93,000. If you bump up to the GTS, you'll likely pay around $112,000. If you're looking for classic Vipers, keep in mind that the first-ever produced 1992 Dodge Viper recently sold at an auction for $285,000.

What Is the Most Expensive Dodge Viper?

The most expensive Dodge Viper is valued at around $700,000. This Viper was restyled by Zagato and built from a 2013 Viper ACR-X.

 

What Engine Is in the Dodge Viper?

The Dodge Viper always featured a V-10 engine, coming in 8-liter, 8.3-liter and 8.4-liter options over the course of its five generations.

How Fast Is a Dodge Viper?

The fastest factory-built Dodge Viper was the fifth generation model, which made its way up to a top speed of 208 miles per hour by the end of its production. However, the record for top speed of the Dodge Viper was broken recently, with a modified twin-turbo dodge Viper making it to 252 miles per hour.

When Did the Dodge Viper Go Out of Production?

The Dodge Viper went out of production in 2017.

Will the Dodge Viper Ever Come Back?

While the future of the Dodge Viper was uncertain after being cut in 2017, Viper enthusiasts were overjoyed to hear rumors that the Viper may return in 2021. While there's no official announcement about the Viper, the rumors seem to have some weight to them and a new Viper could be a possibility in the future.

Find Your Dream Viper at Volo Museum Auto Sales

If you're wondering where you can purchase a Dodge Viper, look no further than Volo Museum Auto Sales. We regularly offer Dodge Vipers that have been inspected by on-site expert mechanics and are offered at competitive price points. Alongside our Vipers, we also have a large inventory of collector vehicles.

Browse our selection of Dodge Vipers today. If you have any questions, reach out to us online.

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