The cars we loved.
Miracles seem like everyday occurrences at Chrysler, although like a dreams, they don’t last long. In the past a great car would have come around and saved the company from its own blunders. It’s not often however that a car that not’s critical to the companies bottom line is saved from the economics of reason.
For the Viper, despite its exotic outward appearance, it was always about showcasing MoPar technology and muscle in the classic American no replacement for displacement mode. The Viper was expected to go the way of the Road Runner or Barracuda when the Italians came to rescue Chrysler from itself around 2009.
Work had begun on a new Viper supervised by Chrysler’s design chief Ralph Gilies. When Giles showed Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne a full-sized model of the Viper prototype, he declared it the most beautiful car he had ever seen. Quite a statement coming from an Italian. From that praise eventually came the go ahead for the third generation Viper’s development.
The car that made it’s debut in 2012 was all new, but like a snake shedding its skin, it was familiar and still recognizable as a Viper. It had nearly identical width and length dimension as the car before. It even shared the same windshield and 8.4-liter 640 hp V-10. As before there was a six-speed manual transmission, but this one was reworked.
Despite unseen carryover bits, the Viper was an all new stunning design that was as refined on the road as it’s Italianesque curves suggested. Vipers had been seen in the past as powerful bruttes, a kind of hopped up kit car with all the elegance and grace of a hammer. The third generation Viper would feature updated and in some cases new technology to make the enormous V-10 smoother like forged pistons and a aluminum flywheel.
The car was lighter with body parts made of exotic composites of aluminum, plastic and carbon fiber. Every duct, vent and grille in the new Viper was functional and served to cool brakes, the engine or direct downforce at high speed. The new car was the most attractive design to have come out of Chrysler’s formatible design studio since the last Viper. Only this time it would drop the Dodge name and simply be called “SRT Viper” in keeping with Chrysler’s strategy of marketing the two model Viper as a upscale high performance car that was the equal of Porsche or Lamborghini.
They could not have pulled that off with Dodge attached to the name, as many people (not only in America) associate the Dodge name with tail happy muscle cars and the redneck culture that goes with them. In keeping with the upscale theme, the Viper has what may be America’s best sports car interior. Simple, tasteful, yet comfortable with seats that come from the same supplier as Ferrari. The Viper GTS easily had the interior that critics wished the C6 Corvette had.
Speaking of the Corvette, its a natural tendency to want to compare Vipers to “America’s Sports Car”, but in reality the two are in totally different leagues. For every 10 Corvettes, there’s likely to be only one Viper sold. The exclusivity is due in part to the high initial starting price which at $102k for a base model, costs as much as most upper end Vetts. The all out GTS model easily tops the $120k mark and the legal almost race car ACR version much more.
The Viper may be a miracle that Chrysler could have done without, but not every Mopar fan considers the Charger or Dart aspirational vehicles. The Viper’s very existence suggests that Chrysler is still a company that believes in performance, even if its purely for corporate image and morale building. The hope continues to be that what whatever makes the Viper fun to drive may someday filter down to the Dart or Voyager. Its always nice to dream.