History of the Dodge Viper

Development of the Dodge Viper
Early show car version had conventional mirrors and lacked the targa bar of finished concept vehicle
Early show car version had conventional mirrors and lacked the targa bar of finished concept vehicle
Chrysler LLC

An automobile this impressive deserved something equally distinctive beneath the hood. And that was the V-10.

"We packaged the car around the V-10," Gale said. "One of the great justifications for this program was, 'Hey, why don't we take one of those engines and try just really making something special out of it, something that would really showcase what we had done.' The big question was, could we get a V-10 ? I couldn't get my hands on one. So when we built the concept car, we took a 360 (cubic-inch V-8) and literally grafted on the front two cylinders and made a running engine . . . So that's how those get done . . . lots of sweat and lots of good hard work behind the scenes." There would, of course, be more development work on the engine, but from the original concept the V-10 was linked to the Viper.

A name would be the final touch.

"I think I came up with it on an airplane trip," Lutz said. "What it was is, you wanted the snake and we couldn't have 'Cobra.' It was as simple as that. You didn't want 'Sidewinder' because it had military connotations and, secondly, you could see all kinds of buff-book headlines with the car going sideways. 'Asp' doesn't sound too good. 'Python' -- they're big and fat and they swallow pigs and then lie around in the sun for a week. So 'Viper' seemed to be . . . It rolls off of the tongue easily. And the only resistance we got to Viper was some of the marketing guys, with the show car, wanted to call it Dodge Challenger, I think."

Viper debuted at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show, and was a smash hit.
Chrysler LLC

Painted a gleaming red, the Dodge Viper RT/10 debuted on January 4, 1989, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was a sensation.

Showgoers crowded 12-deep to get a glimpse. It was the feature story in enthusiast magazines. Photos of it appeared in daily newspapers. Chrysler received hundreds of letters from the public, begging that Viper be put into production. Some admirers even sent deposit checks -- which were returned. Lutz was quoted as saying a high-ranking friend at Ford had contacted him about obtaining one. It was a brilliant, satisfying moment.

"And now we're together at the show, and the car is really attracting a lot of attention," recalled Castaing. "And I remember we were all together being photographed on the display -- Carroll Shelby, Bob, and myself. And I remember us saying, Now that everybody wants the car, what are we going to do to make one?"

A week after the Detroit unveiling, Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee Iacocca said his company would decide Viper's fate in the second quarter of 1990. On May 18, 1990, Chrysler announced that it would build the Viper for sale in limited numbers.

The story was only beginning.