It's funny how closed cars often look sexier than their open counterparts. Think split-window Corvette Sting Ray or Jaguar E-type. Or look at the current Jaguar XK8, Nissan 350Z, and Porsche 911. Or behold the Viper GTS coupe compared with the original Viper RT/10 or the brand-new Viper SRT10 coupe alongside an SRT10 roadster. The Viper hardtops just look more striking and more purposeful than their roadster siblings.
Yet a coupe version of the second-generation Viper wasn't always a given. Trevor Creed, senior vice president for design at DaimlerChrysler, says that a coupe was needed last time around because "the roadster had this ridiculous little black toupee on top-sometimes. And sometimes it flew off. The thinking this time was, if we are going to do a proper convertible top, perhaps we don't need to do a coupe."
In its first full year, the Viper SRT10 did really well, selling 1818 units. But since then, Vipers have been enjoying extended stays on dealer lots, with a full 200-day supply on hand as of November 1 last year. Dan Knott, director of Street and Racing Technology (SRT) at the Chrysler Group, acknowledges that Viper sales have slowed: "The day supply is higher than we would like, but roadster sales are seasonal and fluctuate as you get longer into the life cycle. We had actually planned the coupe a year and a half ago, well before there was any sales softening."
Knott maintains that the coupe was actually a response to demand from Viper owners. "First of all," he says, "some customers just liked the way the coupe looked, and you're never going to make a collection of maniacs like the 4500 members of the Viper Club hap-py with just one or the other.
"Second, for insurance reasons, a number of tracks won't allow convertibles to run without fitting a secondary roll bar. We estimate 10 to 15 percent of our owners run track days, so a coupe makes more sense for them." Finally, Knott says, the history and heritage of the Viper name calls for a coupe-after all, Vipers ran in sports-car events all over the world, winning their class at Le Mans and even taking outright victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2000. And, although Knott doesn't mention it, the original GTS coupe always sold well, accounting for about half of Viper production from the time it was announced in 1996 to the introduction of the SRT10 in 2002.
As you can see from the photos, the coupe has the same front end and doors as the roadster. "Even the windshield surround is the same," says Knott. "With ASC's help, we were able to build a coupe on the convertible's foundation. The coupe top, rear quarter-panels, rear fascia, and deck lid are all attached on the current structure." Knott says that the coupe has 30 percent greater structural rigidity than the roadster and that rear downforce has increased significantly thanks to the more aggressive rear spoiler. Although the coupe looks more slippery, it's unlikely that top speed will increase, because the frontal area of the car is slightly larger.
The coupe retains the signature Viper side pipes-the old GTS didn't have them-be-cause, Creed says, "they are a part of Viper imagery." The upshot of the coupe greenhouse, heavily haunched rear fenders, and new tail graphics is a dramatic vehicle. Creed says that compared with the Corvette, "It's more aggressive-looking, in line with the image of the Viper. It's bolder. The Corvette is a little timid."
The interior looks identical to the roadster's, except for the instrument-panel finish. The double-bubble roof, besides looking cool, maximizes helmet clearance for Viper track-day diehards. The transformation from roadster to coupe brings an extra four cubic feet of luggage space.
Under the skin, the coupe is just like the roadster, with the same 8.3-liter V-10 that makes 500 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque, the same six-speed manual transmission, and the same all-around control-arm suspensions. Knott says, "We don't believe the springs and dampers will need changing, but final tuning will determine that."
The old GTS spearheaded a racing program that took the Viper into GT racing, raising the car's profile immensely. It's unlikely that the SRT10 coupe will follow in the GTS's wheel tracks, however, because the track-only Viper Competition Coupe has seen success in the SCCA Speed World Challenge, with Tommy Archer winning the 2004 driver's title against strong Audi, Cadillac, and Corvette opposition. Knott says, "Racing is part of the Viper's heritage and tradition, but we will be cautious about jumping into a program where we are spending more than we are earning."
Initially, the SRT10 coupe will be offered in battle colors-the blue-with-white-stripe livery that was immortalized by the Shelby Cobra Daytona coupes and also adorned the original GTS. The car was to be shown in finished form at the Detroit show in January, and 1200 people saw an earlier "concept" version at the eighth Viper Owners Invitational in Dallas in September. Production starts in the third quarter of 2005, and the car should hit dealerships in October, priced close to the roadster's $82,295. We can't wait to see how it stacks up against the new Corvette Z06 and the Ford GT. Who would have thought we would see the day when all three domestic makers built supercoupes?