History of the Dodge Viper

Dodge Viper Design
Izod, a 1985 design exercise, provided some conceptual groundwork when Chrysler laid out the original Viper styling themes in early 1988.
Izod, a 1985 design exercise, provided some conceptual groundwork when Chrysler laid out the original Viper styling themes in early 1988.
Chrysler LLC

Just three weeks after Gale and Lutz had their five-minute talk, Gale was in Lutz's office discussing another topic. As their meeting was breaking up, Gale brought up the Viper project: "I said, 'I've got something else I want to run by you.' By then what we had was a few sketches, a full-size side view package, and a rendering of what we wanted to do with the car. And I said, 'This goes back to the discussion we had a few weeks ago, and I wanted to see what you think of it.' And he was really excited. I think more than anything, though, he was frankly surprised that we just took off and started to go."

These renderings were the product of Chrysler's Highland Park Advanced Design department. They show an open two-seater with a voluptuously wide body and the classic sports car long-nose, short-deck proportions. The trailing edges of the front fenders were open in the manner of race-car air extractors. The windshield was low and swept, with rearview mirrors that were integrated at its edges. A targa-type roll bar supported the head restraints. Full wheel openings stretched over enormous tires on rims with canyon-deep offsets.

In just three weeks, these drawings were transformed into a full-size clay model. Lutz approved, and on May 28, 1988, construction began on a two-seat sports-car concept for the 1989 auto-show circuit.

The show car's steel body was remarkably similar to the form that had been established in ink and clay, but the show car added an even more intimidating touch. Most of the original drawings showed exhaust tips exiting the lower rear fascia, and the clay model had coves below the doors that hinted at exhaust outlets. However, the show car did more than hint: Mushrooming from the caverns behind its front wheels were snake pits of exhaust headers. They gathered in the rocker panels and muscled under the doors as bona fide side exhausts, thick and threatening.

The Viper RT/10 has all-independent suspension, but no anti-lock brakes or driver-side air bag.
Chrysler LLC

"I was a little shocked when I saw the first Viper workout," Lutz said. "It was to me more of a departure from the Cobra styling themes that I had personally envisaged. I would have done a more literal update of the Cobra. Obviously, you know, with a rnuch faster windshield, but I probably would have had a tendency to keep the Cobra mouth and everything -- which would have been wrong. Because then it would have been merely a restyle of the Cobra, whereas the Viper now is a totally unique car which is reminiscent in character of what a Cobra was. But it now stands unique, as opposed to being 'son of Cobra.'"

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