It’s a bold move when a car manufacturer bills its latest creation as a spiritual successor to something as iconic as the Shelby Cobra, but that’s exactly what Dodge claimed of its Viper in 1992. They even invited the great Carroll himself onto the bandwagon, convincing him to give the Viper its moving debut as a pace car for the 1991 Indianapolis 500.
First impressions showed plenty of promise: the Viper’s wild styling and long bonnet looked every inch the modern day muscle car. The bonnet was long, and it needed to be - beneath it lied an enormous 8.0-litre V10. Borrowing heavily from Chrysler’s LA block, a little influence from Lamborghini (at the time part of the Chrysler division) resulted in an aluminum casting instead of the LA’s usual iron. The pushrod two valve per cylinder motor was good for 400bhp - almost 100bhp more than the contemporary C3 Corvette.
Like the power output, the Viper’s on-road attitude was considered distinctly Cobra-like. With so much torque, the 335-section rear tyres could be easily overwhelmed - particularly in the wet. This lairy behaviour remained for a couple of decades, too: it wasn’t until the release of the third generation model in 2012 that the Viper’s fangs were neutered by standard fit stability control.
True to American performance car form, the Viper offered a huge amount of speed for the money. Priced at around $50,000 in its domestic market when new, it undercut the price of a Porsche 911 turbo by almost half.
After 25 years of the Viper, 2017 marks the final year of production, with approximately 31,000 built over all three generations.
Which one to buy?
The Viper has existed in three distinct generations since its release. Available initially as a roadster (dubbed SRT/10) only, it perhaps isn’t the most practical iteration of the Viper for UK climates - side windows, a roof and even exterior door handles were omitted in the name of saving weight. From 1994 onwards a fibreglass roof panel was offered as an optional extra. The more usable GTS Coupe followed in 1996. With it came the option of Cobra-esque body stripes - on ‘96 models these run through the rear number plate area, but do not on later examples. Both the GTS and RT/10 featured a more traditional rear-exit exhaust, which bumped the RT/10’s output from 400bhp to 415bhp. The GTS offered 450bhp.
The new-for-2003 model brought with it sharper, slimmer styling. Like the first model, second-gen Vipers were only initially available as a convertible, with a coupe appearing two years later. Mechanical updates were extensive: the chassis was lighter and stiffer, the suspension redesigned and braking performance improved. Engine displacement increased to 8.3 litres, and with it power rose to 50bhp - enough for the coupe to return a sub four-second 0-60mph time and a 193mph top speed.
Styling changes for phase two versions of second generation cars can be recognised by the bonnet vents - revised models featured deeper outlets closer to the front of the panel. The 2008 model year revisions also introduced tweaked spring rates, dampers and anti-roll bars, a revised gearbox, a standard-fit LSD.
The third-gen Viper appeared in 2012 promising even greater performance and vastly improved usability. The former is taken care of thanks to 645bhp and 600lb from the now 8.4-litre lump, enough for a 3.4-second 0-60mph time and a 206mph top speed. For the first time, stability control, cruise control and satellite navigation were standard items, and a more plush GTS trim came with additional sound proofing and more forgiving adaptive damper modes.
A number of special edition models featured through the Viper’s life. Some, like the Oreca GT2-inspired ‘98 Final Edition received cosmetic finishes, while others gained much more significant changes. The wildly-winged ACR editions are the most extreme, gaining track-focussed chassis upgrades to deliver incredible lap times. The Hardcore Pack ditched the air con, hi-i system and under bonnet insulation to strip an extra 18kg from the ACR’s kerb weight.
One of the rarest speciales comes in the shape of the GT2. Based on the first-gen GTS, it was a homologation special built to celebrate the Viper GTS-R’s success in the 1997 FIA GT2 Championship. Finished in white with blue stripes, it gained significant aero tweaks, BBS alloy wheels, and a jump in power to 460bhp. Only 100 were produced.
Performance and specs
Engine 7990cc V10
Power 400bhp @ 4600rpm
Torque 465lb ft @ 3600rpm
Top speed 165mph
Fuel consumption approx 15mpg
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Though the Viper is an affordable supercar to buy, plenty of cash will need to be set aside for servicing costs. The engine holds 8-10 litres of oil, and coolant volume is approximately 12 litres
• Even buyers searching with a modest budget should consider a full service history a must
• Check the condition of the rear tyres - any uneven wear will show signs of either hard use or poor alignment. Lesser worn rubber will help save a big bill, as the 335/35/17 Michelin Pilot Sport 2 rears of the first generation model cost around £335 each.
• Certain spares can be very expensive. The front-hinged clamshell bonnets of early models - unpainted, without trim parts and before import costs from the US – cost at least £2800, and a bonnet for the current-spec ACR retails for almost £9000. If the dash panel is in need of replacement, budget another £1400 or so.
• Not every spare costs the earth though: rear brake pads for first-gen cars are cheap if you know where to look – non-ABS models use identical items to the Renault Safrane!
• Check the condition of the side exit exhaust tips on early models: they poke out an inch or two from the sills so they’re vulnerable to damage
1992: Sales of the Dodge Viper RT/10 begin
1994: Fibreglass roof panel become optionally available
1996: Phase 2 variant of first generation model introduced, including the debut of the coupe GTS model. Engine power increases to 450bhp in GTS, 415bhp for RT/10.
1997: RT/10 gains more powerful GTS motor.
1998: Both GTS and RT/10 equipped with lighter exhaust manifolds and new camshafts
1998: Viper GT2 produced to celebrate Chrysler’s victory in the 1997 FIA GT2 Championship
1999: 18 inch wheels equipped as standard, as are electric door mirrors
1999: First Viper ACR released.
2000: Further updates include a stiffened chassis and lighter pistons
2001: ABS now fitted as standard across the range
2002: Final Edition model signals the end of the first-gen run. Finished in red with white stripes in homage to the Viper GTS-R GT2 racers
2003: Second generation Viper introduced. Gains all-new styling, more power, a lighter chassis and overhauled undercarriage
2004: Mamba package featured a black/red interior (red on steering wheel, door cards and transmission tunnel. 200 built
2005: Viper SRT-10 Coupe revealed.
2008: Phase 2 iteration of second-gen Viper released. Engine capacity up to 8.4 litres, producing 600bhp and 560lb ft
2010: Second-gen Viper production ends
2012: Third-generation Viper debuts. Loses Dodge name, re-branded as the SRT Viper
2015: SRT Viper renamed to again carry Dodge badges. Power increases by 5bhp
2017: Final year of Viper production
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
The Viper’s traditionally affordable pricing prevents Vipers selling for silly money, but their rarity - especially in the UK - ensures that values remain strong. First and second-gen models tend to vary from between £40-£70,000 usually at the whim of the seller.
ACR models are among the most scarce, and as a result values have dropped very little from their brand-new figures. A second-gen ACR with a low mileage fetches in the region of £90,000. On the rare occasions that GT2 models appear for sale, they generally retail at around £100,000.
Words: Alex Ingram