It's one of the most talked-about cars of the last quarter-century -- and one of the most exciting, too. Consider what it's been called: a "Cobra for the '90s," the "process blueprint" for every Chrysler Corporation car that follows it, a beast, "retro," a stunning achievement, the kind of car you weren't supposed to be able to build anymore, a symbol of Detroit's resurgence against the Japanese onslaught -- and a surefire future collector's item. It's the Dodge Viper RT/10, and this is its story.
The Viper is more than just a burly, limited-production, "back-to-basics" high-performance sports car. It is unquestionably one of those memorable machines that comes along but once in a generation. And it's just as much a bold experiment, pioneering not only several new technologies but a new approach for Chrysler in bringing cars to market, one that bodes well for the company's future.
That approach, which Chrysler calls a "platform team," isn't a new idea, just a very logical one. And it works splendidly. The Viper sped from auto-show concept to showroom reality at the hyperlight velocity usually associated with Japanese products: a mere three years. And that's significant. If anyone continues to doubt that American automakers can still react to market demands as swiftly and correctly as foreign competitors, the Viper erases those thoughts conclusively.
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Dodge Viper RT/10 Performance
The Viper's initial performance impression can be summed up in one word: T-O-R-Q-U-E. At just 1,200 rpm, the big V-10 has 400 pounds/feet of it on tap. Nail it and the car catapults ahead from most any speed and in most any gear. There's uncanny flexibility here. Sixth gear at 55 mph shows just 1,000 rpm, but you'll not notice any strain cruising at 65 in fifth. Shifting can become an afterthought. Anchor it in third to carve up mountain roads. Plant it in fourth to slice through freeway traffic.
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There's no tangible gain from revving the V-10 within more than 1,000 rpm of its 5,600-rpm redline. Do so, however, and you unleash an alliance of exhaust moan and engine hiss almost frightening in tone and intensity. Troll in town, and Viper envelops you in a warm baritone burble. Accelerate at a moderate cruising pace, however, and it bleats. If a Ferrari V-12's song is "ripping canvas," then a Viper at part-throttle is "ripping cardboard."
"That's one thing that I wish were different on the car," explained Chrysler President Bob Lutz, citing federal noise limits. "When you slide behind the wheel and twist the key, you're expecting race-car sounds. And when you stomp on it and take it up to the redline, you wish for that full throaty cry of unbridled power. What you've got now is the unbridled power, but you really don't hear the exhaust; you just hear a rush of air. Having said that, you get used to it very quickly. Once you're accelerating in that thing, everything is forgotten."
Indeed, unleashing even a good portion of Viper's power when the front wheels aren't pointed straight will kick the tail out. And hard acceleration on rutted or broken surfaces requires extra attention because the enormously wide front tires tend to seek out and follow pavement grooves or channels that otherwise go unnoticed.
Major controls -- steering, clutch, brakes, shifter -- demand firm, decisive inputs, but they're not tiring even in the constant use of city/suburban grinding. The clutch, in particular, proves surprisingly manageable, much mo re so than in the typical Corvette. And shift action is quick and direct. The second-gear lockout isn't so bothersome as the linkage's narrow gate, which requires extra concentration to slide the lever into the correct gear. Most troubling is that there is no reverse-gear lockout, so it is possible to inadvertently shift into reverse even while accelerating forward.
Steering is simply terrific: very responsive on initial tip-in, properly assisted for high-speed work, and always communicative. The brakes initially feel dead to the toes -- heavy and with scant pedal travel -- but they're discernibly powerful and fully up to the task of scrubbing off lots of speed quickly, consistently, and safely despite lacking ABS.
Dodge Viper RT/10 Styling
It is a car best approached with caution. Cats-eye headlamps lead to libidinous haunches that burst with impossibly aggressive tires. The front fenders are cleaved open. Side exhausts sneer at civility. The tail is fun-house-mirror wide. The Viper is where menace comes for lessons.
You unlatch the door by reaching inside for the plastic handle. Getting in isn't exceptionally difficult -- as long as the top is off and you can simply drop into the buckets. To get out, you must hoist yourself over the wide door sill, which is likely to be quite hot from the exhaust pipe within. Dodge tried to keep the sill's surface temperature below 150 degrees; a sticker on the doorjamb warns you to avoid contact.
The driver's seat slides fore and aft, its backrest tilts, and a squeeze bulb pumps up the lumbar support. The seat is comfortable and properly bolstered for turns. The steering column adjusts vertically a few inches. Drilled to reduce weight, the pedals are offset to the left to clear the housing for the exhaust headers and transmission tunnel. There's no room for a deadpedal. Cockpit width is abundant and the footwells extend far forward, though the passenger's isn't wide enough to allow much variety in leg placement.
A speedometer and tachometer with black numerals on white faces straddle the steering wheel. A warning-light display is between them. Auxiliary gauges run across the upper center of the dashboard. A trio of simple knobs controls the heat/vent system. Just below is the Chrysler/Alpine stereo -- two of its six speakers are in the vertical housing between the buckets. The stubby shifter is a handspan from the wheel rim. Only the parking brake lever, which sprouts from the wide center tunnel, is awkward to use.
Looking out over the hood and fender berms is quite reminiscent of the view from a Jaguar E-type. The low seating position itself doesn't hinder forward visibility, but there are no power mirrors, or even a convex right mirror, so you'll want to double check to make sure no traffic is obscured by the thick rear pillars. Unfortunately, a good portion of the dashtop is painted a highly reflective light-gray, which projects substantial glare onto the windshield when driving into the sun.
The 16-pound vinyl roof and side curtains stow atop the mini-spare tire in the small trunk, leaving little space for much more than a couple of bookbags. Interior storage is confined to the modestly sized glovebox and whatever one can squeeze in the narrow channel behind the seatbacks: There are no map pockets or storage bins.
Despite the heavily insulated floorboards, the footwells, particularly the driver's, grow oven-hot quickly and stay that way. Air conditioning is a '93 dealer-installed option.
Dodge Viper RT/10 Overview
Though grip is prodigious and body roll next to nil, the Viper demands a smooth touch. Abrupt throttle lift-off causes marked torque reaction or "rubber-banding" in the driveline that can combine with the stiff suspension to completely upset balance and send the car skittering into oversteer. Mid-corner rear-end bump-steer is a problem too. No wonder the steering is so responsive; it has to be for recovery's sake, even with so much rubber on the road and near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Oversteer, of course, can be fun. But things can happen a lot faster in exotics than with everyday cars, so driving skill must be a match for the Viper's moves.
This racer-like demeanor doesn't translate into an overly harsh ride, though Viper is quite stiff through low-speed bumps. Its extremely rigid skeleton eliminates the structural flexing over pavement irregularities that afflicts so many convertibles. However, the huge hood shudders over bumps, the plastic panels behind the cabin squeak, and at speeds over 50 mph, wind buffeting is intense.
Rain causes its own comfort problems. Slotting in each side curtain is a snap, but the toupee-like top? First, spread the longitudinal outriggers to form a basic frame, then connect them with three cross-braces. Next, plug the prongs at the rear of that assembly into receptacles atop the "sportbar," and finally cinch down the front with two latches at the windshield header. The top seals well and doesn't restrict headroom, but it also traps all that engine heat. The cabin rapidly turns into a sauna. High humidity mists the inside of the windshield. The curtains, which can't be removed on the go, have zippered flaps for convenience, but they won't stay open for ventilation at anything above a crawl. Even then, they open only about halfway.
Still, it's all part of the back-to-basics Viper experience. "As soon as somebody says, 'Why not roll-up windows?' you know immediately this car is not for them," remarked Chrysler spokesman Thomas J. Kowaleski. "When we launched it in California, one of the people at the hotel was Regis Philbin -- you know, Regis and Kathy Lee? I introduced myself and said, 'We're out here launching this car, you ought to come down and see it.' So that night he comes down, and he takes one look at it and says 'Where's the door handles? You think anybody's gonna buy a car without door handles ?' And I say, 'Regis, this is not for you.' And his car comes out of the valet, and it was an old Cadillac Seville. Two days later, Nicolas Cage, the actor, drives into the hotel in a Corvette, and just literally on a dead run comes over to the Viper. He understood immediately."
"This," explained Dodge chief Levine, "is a no-excuses car for no-excuses people."
1992-1993 Dodge Viper RT/10 Specifications
Here are the specifications for the 1992-1993 Dodge Viper RT/10.
|GENERAL||1992-93 Dodge Viper RT/10|
|Vehicle type||2-seat roadster|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine/ rear drive|
|Construction||Tubular steel chassis with RTM body panels|
|Original base price||$50,000|
|Overall length (in.)||175.1|
|Overall height (in.)||43.9|
|Overall width (in.)||75.7|
|Track, front/rear (in.)||59.6/60.6|
|Curb weight (Ibs)||3400|
|Weight distribution, front/rear (%)||50.6/49.41|
|Bore × stroke (mm/in)||101.6 ×98.5/4.00 × 3.88|
|Fuel delivery||Chrysler sequential multiport; bottom- feed injectors|
|Horsepower @ rpm||400 @ 4600|
|Torque (lbs/ft) @ rpm||450 @ 3600|
|Construction||aluminum heads and block|
|Make/type||Borg-Warner 6-speed manual|
|Forward gear ratios (:1)||2.66/1. 78/1 .30/1.00/0.74/0.50|
|Final drive ratio (:1)||3.07|
|Differential||Hypoid type with limited slip|
|Suspension, front/rear||independent; unequal-length upper & lower control arms, coil-over-shock units, anti-roll bar/independent; unequal-length upper & lower control arms, toe link, coil-over- shock units, anti-roll bar (all shock absorbers gas charged)|
|Brakes, front/rear||13 × 1.26-in. vented discs/ 13 × 0.86-in. vented discs; hydraulic assist|
|Steering||Rack-and-pinion, power assist|
|Turn diameter (ft)||40.7|
|Wheels, type||Cast-aluminum face welded to spun -aluminium rim|
|Size, front/rear (diameter × width, in.)||17 × 10.0/17 × 13.0|
|Size, front||P275/40ZR1 7|
|0-1/4 mi., sec. @ mph||13.1 @ 108|
|Observed top speed, mph||163|
|Braking, 70-0 mph, ft||180|
|Skidpad acceleration, g||0.91|
|1 Car and Driver March, July 1992; ZR-1 figures for 375-bhp 1992 model; Cobra figures for 4.11:1 final drive 2 SAE gross; others: SAE net|
To learn more about the Dodge Viper and other sports cars, see: