Dodge Viper Farewell

Don Sherman

1989 The walls creaked, the roof moved when the Viper rolled onto a Cobo Hall stage with guttural undertones to make its public debut at January's North American (Detroit) Auto Show. A low targa bar had sprouted on the deck but Tom Gale's suitably aggressive sculpture was for the most part intact.

The response from show goers was overwhelming. Some posted deposit checks even though there were no production plans. That spurred Lutz to quickly breathe vitality into Chrysler's cobbled up concept.

Hundreds of engineers descended upon a meeting established to recruit a handful of chassis, powertrain, and manufacturing experts needed to move the Viper to production. Lutz gave the team a $50-million budget and a three-year gestation period. The first of two engineering mules was running by year's end with temporary V-8 power.

1990 Lamborghini, then owned by Chrysler, assisted the design and manufacture of the first aluminum V-10 engines. Viper team boss Roy Sjoberg gave Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca a drive in the second (V-10 powered) engineering mule. Project approval and a go for production were issued the moment Lido stepped out of the cockpit.

1991 Living legend Carroll Shelby paced the Indy 500 behind the wheel of a Viper prototype. In the fall, scribes were offered their first test drives in pre-production models.

1992 Production began at a spruced up corner of Chrysler's decrepit New Mack Assembly plant in Detroit. The Dodge Viper RT/10 Roadster was a classic sports roadster with no traction or stability controls, air bags, air conditioning, or convertible roof. Weather protection was provided by a collapsible toupee top and side curtains. Only 200 examples were built and sold during the introductory year.

1994 Air conditioning was added to the options list.

1995 Viper manufacturing operations were moved to Chrysler's Conner Avenue Assembly plant.

1996 After a stunning GTS coupe was added to the lineup, the Viper again paced the Indy 500, this time with 'Maximum Bob' Lutz at the wheel. All 1996 Vipers benefited from more power, reduced weight, a 25-percent stiffer structure, better brakes, and improved suspension systems. Still lacking ABS, the Viper's Achilles heel was long stopping distances. The troublesome side exhaust pipes and outlets were revised to a rear-outlet design for the GTS.

1997 Dual airbags, which appeared the year before in the GTS, became standard roadster equipment. European exports began. Viper Team Oreca earned the first of many racing championships in the FIA's GT2 class.

1999 An upgraded Cognac Connolly leather interior package became available. The American Club Racing (ACR) model had extra power, less weight, stiffer suspension, stickier tires, and special aerodynamic equipment.

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