2017 Dodge Viper: Recycling Life

2027 Dodge Viper: Recycling Life

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Tom Gale, one of Chrysler’s lead designers and the Merlin magician who designed the Dodge Viper, was influenced by the Shelby Cobra and the E-Type Jaguar. Chrysler was dying as a brand and were desperate for a miracle to save the company. Gale showed his clay model to Bob Lutz, the president of operations. Lutz loved it. He had wanted a Chrysler with raw performance, plentiful power and salacious looks. Lutz figured Chrysler had all the tools needed to swiftly craft such a vehicle, in particular a V-10 engine that was being developed for the heavy-duty Dodge Ram pickup truck. Meanwhile, suspension parts from the smaller Dakota could help keep costs down. Upon hearing about Lutz’s idea, lead truck engineering visionary, François Castaing was sold on the project. Castaing brought on Dick Winkles from the Performance Division and Roy Sjoberg, another engineer who cut his teeth as a protegé under Corvette’s maestro, Zora Arkus-Duntov. Sjoberg gathered twenty-one engineers to complete the team all done in secret from Dodge’s Truck Department.

The job was based on three criteria: First, Chrysler was broke, so the car had to be production-ready - at least by major automaker standards - under $80 million. Second, It had to be ready by the 1992 Detroit Auto Show in three years. And third, No bureaucrats involved. It had to be done discreetly, otherwise they had free reign. Do you know any company that would allow this? The ultimate challenge was to convince CEO Lee Iacocca that America was ready for a sports car. Up to this point, Chrysler only believed in profit and volume sales.

When Lutz unveiled the Dodge Viper at the Detroit Auto Show, it was greeted by press and public as though they were discovering sex for the first time. The Viper was such a departure from Chrysler’s regular conservative regurgitation of box-like cars, like the K-Car and the Eagle. Automobiles about as exciting as a used lighter. The Viper was viewed as daring, radical and anti-social. Its body, rippling with muscles, was deconstructed to its primordial core to bring out the purity of the design. Iacocca couldn’t deny the fanfare, saying “They had bottled lightning.”

The team grew to 85 heads to build the car and replaced the aging V8 for an 8-litre V10 engine married to a 6-speed manual transmission rated at 400 horsepower of low grunts and breathed 490 pound-feet of torque. It eclipsed at 180 miles per hour or 0-to-60 mph in under 4.5 seconds. The construction of the Viper is a bit like the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. Half the parts of the Viper were from Chrysler’s Truck Division to save the company money. They then turned to Lamborghini, a subsidiary of Chrysler. Lamborghini melted the steel into a lighter alloy aluminum (reducing the engine’s weight by 160 pounds), and refined the parts before sending it back stateside. The initial Vipers couldn’t have been more basic: the roof was made of cheap canvas that could hardly support a can of Spam, there were no door handles, the only safety feature was a seatbelt, and if you are thinking about luggage, only bring a toothbrush. The Viper was cheaper and faster than its contemporary Corvette. What wasn’t mentioned was that the speed of this car was as scary as American friendly fire. The car was so unpredictable and fast that 30 percent of newly purchased Vipers crashed on the way home from the dealership. It should have been imperative that owners needed a special drivers’ licence. The cost of a Dodge Viper accident was seven times the national average. Sitting in this car was equivalent to being measured for a casket. Nevertheless, such stories didn’t deter Chrysler nor the public. In fact, they perpetuated the myths. The adrenalin was part of the package. Anyone with a rebellious streak in them wanted one. It not only saved Chrysler’s bacon, but saved Americans from being bored by squeaky clean foreign imports. Even former Top Gear host, Jeremy Clarkson, who condemns anything American said, “This car has the sensitivity and social responsibility of a tom cat. I just got to have one of these cars.”

Corporate America learnt a valuable lesson. Sometimes you’ve got to hand the keys over to the barbarians. Clarkson observed, ““It is an idiotic engine that uses fuel like it’s coming from a fire hydrant, but the torque is sensational, and the noise coming out of the side exhausts sounds like Bellzebub barking.” Over the next five generations, the Viper saw a plethora of civilized upgrades. Some of the more obvious changes was removing the leg-cooking side pipes to a rear-exit exhaust, adding to the raucous bellow while increasing the output by 15 horsepower. Racing stripes and hood vents became the norm. New five-spoke wheels took the place of the prior three-spoke units, door handles and a removable hard top became de rigueur. By 2003, the 8-litre was replaced with a new 500hp, 8.3-litre V10. Five years later, the anté increased to 600hp with their 8.4-litre V10. Viper introduced its ACR which was basically a racing car disguised as a street car. This model owned the track, winning at Le Mans (in its class) and other notable endurance races.

After a brief hiatus, the Viper returned in 2013 under the guise of SRT (Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technology performance division). Strictly offered as a coupe, this iteration of the Viper retained the prior car’s 8.4-liter V-10 and aggressive front-engine, rear-drive proportions, and begrudgingly, stability control. The Viper’s name alone can make your testicles shrink. By 2015, the V10-s output exceeded 645 hp. The Viper’s swan song year was 2017. The car was still suicidally fast, but it was never the same. It became safer, more refined and more expensive. The appendages were all impressive: gas-charged Bilstein coil-over racing shocks, dampers and tubular stabilizer bars. Braking for the Kumho Ecsta tires was done by big 14-inch Brembo disc brakes all around. Cruise control, automatic climate control, proximity keyless entry and a high-performance 12-speaker stereo with an LCD control system had become standard procedure. Ensconced in Sabelt racing seats allowed the sensation of a Formula One cockpit. The ‘aero package’ included a carbon-fibre wing, diffuser, louvered hood, an extendable front splitter. Most surprising of all, the return of side exhausts. What makes the Viper stand out? In human terms, it is someone who doesn’t give a damn and has charisma at the same time. It can offend anyone and still be enamoured by its confidence and swagger.

The huge 600 pound-feet of torque provided by this sports car is claimed to be the most of any car on the planet. 0-60 mph takes roughly three seconds; quarter-miles are completed in the low elevens; 0-100 mph is completed in less than 12 seconds; and top speed ranges from 177 to 206 mph. The only safety is being reassured that the car is equipped with carbon-ceramic brakes. The Viper’s demise is contestable. The fifth generation didn't lead to high sales. In 2013, production of the Vipers was reduced by a third and then entirely stopped for a couple of months. Some believe the lack of strong sales numbers led to the discontinuation of the Viper after 2017. Others have suggested the car didn't continue because Dodge couldn't redesign it to meet safety regulations requiring side curtain air bags. Regardless, all 31 models sold out within hours. Another issue became the brain drain after Iacocca retired. Lutz left the Chrysler Group rather than watch his creation turn to irrelevance, Gale would go on to design other cars like the Prowler, but would never again design anything as important as the Viper. Winlkes returned to racing, and Sjoberg was relegated to the back row. As a summary, the Dodge Viper’s ride quality is stiff, visibility is poor, entry and exit is difficult, it is very loud, and poor fuel economy, but it is arguably the last unfiltered and unapologetic sports car left. And anyone who has the good fortune to own one realizes it is the ultimate ride.

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2027 Dodge Viper: Recycling Life

2027 Dodge Viper: Recycling Life

2027 Dodge Viper: Recycling Life

2027 Dodge Viper: Recycling Life

2027 Dodge Viper: Recycling Life

2027 Dodge Viper: Recycling Life

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About Clive Branson 49 Articles
Clive Branson is a photography graduate from Parsons School of Design in New York City and has since divided his career as an advertising creative director/copywriter and as a freelance writer/photographer. He is the author of Focus On Close-Up and Macro Photography and numerous articles for magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Britain. Clive lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario.

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