In spite of Helbig's best efforts to block evil influences, civility keeps creeping in. Anti-lock brakes were added as standard equipment for 2001. Helbig explains: "Frankly, we were tired of getting beaten in comparison tests, because it takes more skill to achieve short stopping distances without ABS. As soon as our customers tried it, they loved ABS, so, of course, that refinement made the leap to the new car. The new four-piston Brembo calipers clamping massive, fourteen-inch vented rotors give the Viper awesome stopping power.
"There are other instances where equipment decisions were out of our hands. For example, we've got a digital odometer. Ordinarily, such a frivolity would be deemed inappropriate. But there was no room available for a bulkier mechanical trip meter, so I acquiesced to that compromise."
It's doubtful anyone will begrudge the digimeter, not when there's so much energy on tap to advance the numbers in its display. Viper engineering director John Fernandez calls the 8.3-liter V-10 new from the ground up. "The basic architecture is the same, but practically every part is new," he notes. "Both bore and stroke are larger to achieve the 500 targets we established for power and torque. The new intake manifold consists of two staged throttles feeding a single plenum and runners that are significantly shorter than before to fit in the space available under the hood. We also trimmed a few pounds of weight with the new engine."
When you push the start button to stroke those ten cylinders to life, a whopping-big growling grunt rumbles out from under the hood. Across the expanse of asphalt at Daimler-Chrysler's Arizona proving grounds, the sound is more locomotive than automobile--deeply guttural, octaves lower than the keening shriek emanating from your average Bimmer or Ferrari. At idle, there's enough nervous energy to shake the whole car, enough injector noise to trip distant intrusion alarms, and nearly enough heat boiling out of the floor in this underinsulated development mule to alter climatic conditions.
Dropping the short-throw, low-effort shifter in gear sends you off with no throttle necessary. Engine speed is irrelevant when the torque curve starts high and stays flat for thousands of rpm. It's as if an electric motor powerful enough to lift an elevator were hidden inside the aluminum engine block.
Since engine calibrations are still in a state of flux and Helbig is worried about the inevitable abuse of his $50 million mule, testing was discouraged, but we knocked off a few quick measurements anyway. In spite of the 5800-rpm fuel cutoff dialed into the powertrain control computer and limited opportunities to optimize the acceleration-launch procedure, the 2003 Viper clocked a 4.4-second sprint to 60 mph and a low-twelve-second quarter-mile run. (While the mule's tach was redlined at 6500 rpm, production intent is a 6000-rpm redline and a 6100-rpm fuel cut.) Data fans in the audience will note that these acceleration figures are roughly equivalent to those of today's Viper, in spite of the 50-horsepower gain, less weight, and improved traction. Be not dismayed, snake aficionados: We'll be back to update the performance profile as soon as there's a chance to do so.
No such apologies are necessary for the measurements we took in braking and cornering categories. The one-g-plus limits observed during mid-speed slalom runs and straightline braking exercises are testimony to the major chassis gains implemented and the strict diet imposed throughout the new Viper's development program. Under the heading of weight savings, two special features stand out. The front inner fender panels providing structural support for the forward half of the body are carbon-fiber-reinforced composite plastic to save 30 pounds. The forward wall of the cockpit is one elaborate magnesium casting. According to Fernandez, this component replaces at least thirty pieces of welded sheetmetal and saves an additional 30 pounds or so. The Viper's main structural element--a spaceframe comprised of stamped and welded steel panels--is similar in concept to the original design but somewhat lighter and 35 percent stiffer in torsion, thanks to the use of computer-aided-design techniques. The new car's advertised weight is 3357 pounds, approximately 85 pounds lighter than the 2002 edition.