Designed to be the modern incarnation of the Cobra, Viper debuted at the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit as a show car. Enough people wrote to Chrysler requesting street versions that plans for production of the rakish roadster were set into motion soon thereafter. Viper was introduced for public sale in 1992, and became the darling of the automotive press, not to mention high-profile stars like Jay Leno and Kelsey Grammer (who flipped his).
A preview of things to come from Chrysler, the success of the Viper revitalized a company that many thought wouldn't last through the middle of this decade. It also paved the way for future concept-car-turned-production-car models, including the Plymouth Prowler and Chrysler PT Cruiser.
Dodge introduced the GTS Coupe midway through 1996. The 8.0-liter V10 was substantially reworked, featuring a new block, new heads, shorter cooling jackets and a revised sump. These changes resulted in a 35-horsepower jump, bringing peak numbers to 450 horsepower and 490 foot-pounds of torque. Overall, the revised motor, found in both the coupe and roadster versions, is 85 pounds lighter than the one in the original RT/10.
Inside the Viper, analog gauges and dual airbags greet serious drivers, who have the much-appreciated option of adjusting pedal height. Power windows and door locks are standard, as is ABS for the first time in Viper's history; but traction control and dynamic stability control are still not available. The interior is dominated by cheap-feeling plastic, and the seats are virtually nonadjustable. Getting into the car requires a waiver from a chiropractor, and getting out often results in singed legs due to the exhaust pipes being integrated within the car's lower rocker panels.
For those individuals who need more than the standard Viper's 450 horsepower, a race-oriented ACR edition is available in limited numbers. These fire-breathers gain an extra 10 horsepower and ft-lbs. of torque through the use of minor engine modifications while weighing slightly less than their GTS brethren. The ACR also comes with upgraded suspension components, 18-inch BBS wheels and massive Michelin Pilot Sport tires. Zero-to-60 times of 4 seconds and a top speed near 190 mph bear witness to this being a very special Viper. Despite adding air conditioning and a CD player to the ACR's option list for 2001, we feel this car is best suited for weekend track duty rather than public highway hijinks.
Certainly it's got obvious ergonomic shortcomings and a lack of overall refinement, but the Viper is chock-full of character. The sights, sounds, and smells offer a classic take on modern sports car philosophy. Those "enthusiasts" who like their performance dolled out in user-friendly portions should look elsewhere (can you say Z06?). Those seeking the ultimate in exotic-car performance at less than an exotic-car price will find the Viper a bargain. Truly, Chrysler Corporation has created an American icon that rivals the Corvette's claim as "America's Sports Car."