The Dodge Viper is the most powerful production car made by Dodge. Production of the two seat sports car, the Dodge Viper, began at New Mack Assembly in 1992 and moved to its current home at Conner Avenue Assembly in October 1995.
The Viper was conceived as a modern take on the classic American muscle car. While there are some who insist that the iconic AC Cobra was a source of inspiration, the final version of the Viper was far too large and heavy to seriously claim any direct lineage with the compact and lightweight vehicle. Most saw claims to kinship with the Cobra as a marketing exercise, although Carroll Shelby was involved in the initial design of the Viper.
The Viper was initially conceived in late 1987 at Chrysler's Advanced Design Studios. The following February, Chrysler president Bob Lutz suggested to Tom Gale at Chrysler Design that the company should consider producing a modern Cobra, and a clay model was presented to Lutz a few months later. The car appeared as a concept at the North American International Auto Show in 1989, and public reaction was so enthusiastic, that chief engineer Roy Sjeoberg was directed to develop it as a production car.
Sjoberg selected 85 engineers to be "Team Viper", with development beginning in March 1989. The team asked then-Chrysler subsidiary Lamborghini to cast some prototype aluminum blocks based on their V10 truck engine for sports car use in May. The production body was completed in the fall, with a chassis prototype running in December. Though a V8 was first used in the test mule, the V10 which the production car was meant to use was ready in February 1990.
Official approval from Chrysler chairman, Lee Iacocca, came in May 1990. One year later, Carroll Shelby piloted a preproduction car as the Indianapolis 500 pace car. In November 1991, the car was released to reviewers with first shipments beginning in January 1992.
The first prototype was tested in December 1989. It first debuted in 1991 with three pre-production models as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 when Dodge was forced to substitute it in place of the Stealth, and went on sale in January 1992 as the soft roofed RT/10 Roadster.
The centerpiece of the car was its engine, with the car claimed as being built around it instead of the driver, boasting very few comforts, which did not even include door handles. Originally designed as a truck engine and based on the Chrysler LA engine, then a division of the Chrysler Corporation, revamped Dodge's cast-iron block V10 for the Viper by recasting the block and head in aluminum alloy, and giving the engine a significant power boost. Some within Lamborghini felt the pushrod two-valve design, while adequate for the truck application for which the engine was originally created, was unsuitable for a performance car and suggested a more comprehensive redesign which would have included four valves per cylinder. However, Chrysler was uncertain about the Viper's production costs and sales potential and so declined to provide the budget for the modification.
The engine produced 400 hp (298 kW) at 4600 rpm and 450 ft·lbf (610 N·m) of torque at 3600 rpm, and thanks to the long-gearing allowed by the torquey engine, provided surprising fuel economy at a claimed 21 mpg US (11.2 L/100 km) if driven sedately. The body was a tubular steel frame with resin transfer molding (RTM) fiberglass panels. Typical of American performance car design, it had a front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels; it was also heavy with a curb weight of 3,280 lb (1,488 kg) and lacked many modern driver aids such as traction control or anti-lock brakes. Car and Driver magazine referred to this generation as "the world's biggest Fat Boy Harley", and likened driving it to "playing ping pong with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat." Despite this, in straight line performance, it completed a quarter mile in 12.9 seconds and had a maximum speed of 164 mph (264 km/h).
Suspension on the first-gen Viper was equally frugal, with many front-end pieces coming directly from the Dakota pickup truck.
0-60: 4.6 sec.
0-100: 9.2 sec.
quarter mile: 12.5 sec. @ 112 mph
top speed: 180+ (confirmed by Road and Track magazine / 1992)
700 ft slalom: over 65 mph
skidpad average g: .96
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