The Dodge Viper got its start long, long ago, at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show, where it was a concept car meant to test the waters for a brutish, powerful, American-built sports car. The waters were warm, apparently, because people were placing orders for a Viper at that show, before it was even confirmed as a viable car. A year and a half later, Dodge announced that the car would indeed become a reality, with an aluminum V10 under that long hood. Production began in 1992 at the New Mack Assembly Plant and moved to Conner Avenue -- known affectionately as the Snake Pit -- in 1995.
In 2001, even the engine production moved to Conner Avenue. Like the best super cars, all parts of the car were assembled at one location by a team that was invested in the car and its craftsmanship. Unlike most super cars, the Snake Pit churned these things out, to the tune of about 25,000 from its birth to its premature death in 2010. When the financial crisis of 2008 hit and US car companies took a huge hit, Dodge's parent company, Chrysler, was one of the worst off. It announced the demise of the Viper in summer 2009, but promised a last hurrah, the Dodge Viper SRT10.
Of course, we now know that the Viper couldn't be killed that easily. Chrysler got a bailout and a new financial partner in Fiat, and the 2013 SRT Viper made its debut at the 2012 New York Auto Show. They dropped the "Dodge" from its name, giving the project over to the Street and Racing Technology division completely.
The 640-hp V10 aluminum engine sticks around for the reincarnated Viper. It's got a bit more horsepower that the last version, and a bit less torque, at an even 600 lb-ft. It's still more torque than any other naturally aspirated (that means no turbos) engine in the world. Like the finest super cars, the Viper has a hand-built engine with a few improvements. The ultra-high flow intake manifold is newly lightened, and there's an aluminum flywheel. All told, engineers dropped 25 pounds from the engine.
The whole mess is linked to a 6-speed manual (manual!) transmission with a shorter throw and closer gear ratios. While I am thrilled to hear that it's got a manual transmission, I'm ecstatic to learn that the shifting situation has been improved. No more icing my right shoulder after a stint in the driver's seat.
The look of the Viper has become iconic in the past nearly two decades, and SRT didn't want to mess with that. There were rumors that new partner-via-Fiat Ferrari might have a hand in the new Viper's design, but the final product seems to have kept the brutish American look we've come to love.
But like so many Americans, the Viper did need to lose some weight. This was achieved by using new carbon-fiber panels for the hood, roof, and decklid, plus aluminum door panels. Signature touches like the "gills" at the fenders that cool the engine and the double-bubble roofline that allows for more headroom were kept, while the headlights and taillights got the full LED treatment -- and a little snarly upgrade to their look.
There are two versions of the new Viper; the regular one and the GTS. They both got a much-needed interior upgrade, with nicer materials and more padding in the racing seats, plus more interior room overall. The GTS is for those who want a little less direct contact with the machine and a few more creature comforts, like lots of leather and an available Harman Kardon sound system. It's not all flash: you can add the souped-up track package to the GTS.
- Engine: 8.4-liter V10
- Horsepower: 640 hp
- Torque: 605 lb-ft
- Top speed: TBD
- 0-60 mph: TBD
- Price: $95,000