How to Buy an Early Viper without Getting Defanged

Snakes alive!

Launched in 1992, the first-generation Dodge Viper RT/10 roadster was about as sparse and raw as anything new you could buy at the time. The production car retained much of the concept’s wild appeal and boasted a truck-based 8.0-liter V-10 engine good for 400 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque—more than enough power to grab attention. It didn’t have traction or stability control—or exterior door handles. The flexible plastic side windows were removable. A fabric top was optional. (A hard fiberglass version was made available in 1994.) Driving the car was like going 10 rounds in a heavyweight prize fight—drivers emerged tired, beat up, and overheated while taking care not to burn their legs on the side-pipe exhaust.

The big news for the second-generation Viper was the introduction of the GTS coupe with 450 hp in 1996. This car, launched in the now-iconic blue with white stripe livery, was a Shelby Daytona Coupe of sorts for a new age, complete with a double-bubble roof for helmet clearance. Although the car was still plenty raw, niceties such as air-conditioning, power windows and locks, and airbags were now part of the package. The RT/10 roadsters received similar upgrades from ’97 on (plus ABS from 2001). The second-generation car ended production in 2002 to make way for the all-new, third-gen Viper.

So which early Viper is the best to buy today? Bernie Katz of ViperExchange/BJ Motors in Tomball, Texas—the self-proclaimed largest Viper dealer in the world—shared his insights with us.

Automobile: Viper owners are getting younger.

Bernie Katz: There’s a whole new generation of buyers. I see the next generation really getting involved in buying the older Vipers. To them, it’s really the last of the American muscle cars.

AM: Prices have hit bottom and are on the rise.

BK: We’ve definitely seen an increase in prices for these cars. I think we have some influence on driving the market a little bit. The cars are moving fairly quickly; the collector interest is definitely there. The 1992 first-year cars are getting hard to find. I’ve been searching high and low to find them.

AM: Interested in an investment-grade Viper? Try these …

BK: The ’98 GTS-R [only 100 built for racing homologation purposes] and the American Club Racer (ACR) models of the gen-two coupes—especially the ’01 and ’02 cars because they had ABS. The ’96 GTS, they built 1,166 cars. And the car that’s actually a little bit more collectible, in my opinion, is the ’97. They had so much demand for the ’96 blue-and-white GTS that they built 435 ’97s. The way you differentiate them is the stripes don’t go all the way through the trunk hatch as the ’96s do.

AM: Are there any strengths or weaknesses to early Vipers?

BK: The gen-two cars are very modifiable between ’94 and ’99 because of the forged internals. Also, the cars are very hand-built, so you have a lot [of assembly] with shims. You’re going to have door sag on gen twos. Earlier cars had issues with leaking head gaskets, so you’re going to want to check for that.

What to Pay: 1992-2002 Dodge Viper

1992 RT/10: $27,900

1996 GTS: $36,500

2002 RT/10: $42,500

2002 GTS: $48,500

*Average value sourced from Hagerty