1992-2006 Dodge Viper History: Engine, Performance, GTS-R, and SRT-10

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The idea for the Dodge Viper was conceived of in the mid to late 1980’s, a fairly dark era in the history of the American Muscle Car. This period in history saw the introduction of a 4 cylinder economy engine into fabled performance cars such as the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro. In the case of the Chrysler Corporation, vintage performance car names had been slapped on imports built by Mitsubishi. While Chrysler still had some fairly quick cars, with their popular turbocharged Daytona and Laser, these 4 cylinder front wheel drive configured vehicles were a far cry from “muscle cars”. The only vehicle which had not been compromised since the muscle car days was the Chevrolet Corvette, but with only 230-240 horsepower, they too were not what they once had been. Recognizing a gap in the market and the need for a Chrysler muscle car in 1987, then-President Bob Lutz contacted the head of Chrysler’s Advanced Design Studio, Tom Gale, and discussed the possibility of creating what would be a modern day AC Cobra. This would be a car that would embody every aspect of high performance, whether on a drag strip or a road course; a car that would go down in history as being one of the all-time great American Muscle Cars. It took only a few months for Gale and the people at Chrysler Design to come up with a clay model and then a concept that would be displayed at the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The public and the media loved the new concept when it was displayed, and due to the reception that it received, Chrysler chief engineer Roy Sjoberg was given the green light to begin development on a production car based off of this concept.1992 viper.jpg
2006 viper.jpg

Mr. Sjoberg chose 85 engineers, and this group was named “Team Viper”.
Their effort on this new muscle car began in March of 1989. The team
began the design and fine tuning of the interior and body with the help
of American automotive legend Carroll Shelby, and the engine design was
actually done outside of the design team. The design instructions were
to keep the car as close to the concept as possible, as to make the car
perfectly street legal and lend itself to daily driving, without losing
the race ready look and abilities. The body was completed by mid Fall,
and by December of 1989 the design team had themselves a running,
test-ready pre-production model. This completed Dodge Viper used a
tubular steel frame wrapped in a resin transfer molding fiberglass
body, and it tipped the scales at a modest 3280lbs.

While undergoing a great deal of the grueling pre-production testing,
the “mule cars” (vehicles built which don’t have street car items such
as airbags, stereo, air conditioning, etc.) were fitted with eight
cylinder engines, but the design team wanted something more; something
that would add some extra personality to this new car. During this time
in history, Chrysler Corporation had a subsidiary interest in
Lamborghini, and considering Lamborghini’s long standing reputation for
ultra-high performance engines, they were commissioned with the task of
designing the engine for this beast. They were given a V10 engine which
had been developed for use in the new generation of the Dodge Ram,
which would be launched in 1994. This new V10 was based off of the LA
Engine, and was basically a 5.9 L engine used in the trucks, with a
slightly longer stroke and two extra cylinders, but more or less, the
V10 was based off of the V8s of the time. The engineers at Lamborghini
took the existing cast iron V10, and produced an aluminum version,
altering the head design as well as some other internal features, and
made significantly more power. They intended to also convert the 2
valve setup to a 4 valve setup, as they did not feel that they could
reach the engines full potential with a 2 valve per cylinder setup, but
due to the added cost, Chrysler management decided to stay away from
the 4 valve design. When they were finished, this vicious new engine
was capable of making 400 horsepower at 4600 rpm, and 450 lb-ft of
torque at 3600 rpm. While providing a great deal of power, this engine
also proved to offer about 21 miles per gallon when driven with a light

The V8 was removed from the test vehicle in February of 1990 when the
new all-aluminum V10 was ready, and only a few months later, in May of
1990, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca gave Team Viper the official thumbs
up to begin production of the Dodge Viper. The Viper was slated for a
1992 model year introduction, and to increase public awareness of this
new American machine, Carroll Shelby drove the car as the pace car of
the Indianapolis 500 in 1991. Early November of 1991 marked the first
group of production 1992 Dodge Vipers, intended entirely for review and
further testing, and just two months later, in early January of 1992,
the first of the publicly ordered 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10s were

First Generation

When the first year of Viper’s hit the showroom, there were no options,
but very few Viper buyers complained. All of the 1992 Vipers were Viper
Red, with gray leather high-back bucket seats; fitted with 17″ three
spoke cast aluminum wheels and Michelin high performance tires, and a
488 cubic inch aluminum V10 mated to a 6 speed manual transmission. The
manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) was $50,700, but with only
285 produced for the 1992 model year, they were near impossible to get
for a price anywhere near that price. There was no hardtop option, and
it came only as a roadster with a soft vinyl top with sliding plastic
windows included, but they were not very attractive, and were not very
popular. The 1992 Vipers were equipped with a side mounted exhaust
system, a limited slip differential, 4 wheel disc brakes with 4 piston
calipers over vented rotors, a premium AM/FM/Cassette sound system, and
4 wheel independent suspension. The 1992 Viper was one of the fastest
production cars in the world, ripping off an impressive 12.9 second at
113.8 mph in the standing quarter mile (although that quarter mile time
is hindered by the difficulty in launching a stock tire Viper on a drag
strip) and on the oval track, the Viper turned in a top speed of 165
mph. The public interest around this car, combined with the price
increase by dealerships caused this car to be far too expensive for
most people, and is still a rare collectable today.

1993 brought about very few changes for the Viper. The engine,
transmission, wheels, interior, and overall appearance remained the
same, with the exception of the removal of the external antenna from
the drivers side rear fender. Black was added as an external paint
offering, but everything else remained the same. However, as opposed to
the unpopular soft top, a removable hard top was offered, but at the
hefty price of $2,500. There were about 1043 Vipers built in 1993, with
most of them still coming in Viper Red.

1994 was another slim year for changes, with all of the basic items
remaining the same. There were 2 more colors added, Yellow and Emerald
Green. Also, a new tan interior, with a black dash was offered. The
sound system received an upgrade, but the new stereo was still only
AM/FM/Cassette. One noticeable change was the increase in price, up to
$55,200 (MSRP).

1995 was the same basic Viper as it had been in the first three years
of it’s existence, and the colors, both interior and exterior, were the
same as they had been in 1994 model year Vipers. There were likely no
changes due to the fact that this was the intended last year for the
first generation of the Viper.

Second Generation

The 1996 Viper officially began the second generation of the Viper, but
the RT/10 looked very similar to the previous years’ Vipers. The
biggest news was the addition of a coupe, named the Viper GTS. There
were new colors offered, such as White, and a new striping package with
varying colors was offered. The three spoke aluminum rims were no
longer offered, and in their place, a polished or painted 5 spoke 17″
aluminum wheel was standard. While the Viper still came packed with the
8.0L, 6 speed manually shifted V10, the second generation boasted a
gain of horsepower and torque, to 415 horsepower and 488 lb-ft of
torque in the RT/10, and 450 horsepower in the GTS, thanks in part to
the free flowing exhaust which exited through the rear of the car, as
opposed to exiting by means of the side pipe exhaust. The GTS also
featured an interesting roof line which had a “double bump” shape. This
was done in order to affect aerodynamics as little as possible, but at
the same time, it allows for a taller driver and passenger to fit in
the car while wearing helmets. Other than the occasionally addition or
deletion of color options, virtually nothing changed over the course of
the run of the second generation Viper, from 1996-2002.

However, during the second generation the Viper began making a name for
itself in worldwide professional racing circuits, as well as slowly
becoming a popular car to modify thanks to the introduction of several
Viper-specific aftermarket performance companies. Also, it was during
this time that Chrysler Corporation contacted French racing
organization Team Oreca about taking the reigns of
development/advancement of a race trim Viper for intended competition
in the FIA GT Championship in the GT2 class. This new trim line was
called the Viper GTS-R, and featured several options, the most obvious
of which was the large rear wing. The GTS-R also packed 700 horsepower,
as opposed to the normal 450, but the 100 street ready GTS-Rs
built/sold came equipped with only 460 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of

Team Oreca originally carried a paint scheme which fit in with both
French and American national colors. The car had an asymmetric blue and
red striped design on a white car, and the most familiar of their cars
wore the numbers 51, 52, and 53. Team Oreca drove the GTS-R to GT2
Championships in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, and 2002, as well as winning
its class in the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

Later on, Team Oreca changed to an all red design with white stripes
and trim, and it was in this red and white GTS-R, wearing the number
91, that the Team won the 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona International

The second generation also marked the introduction of the Viper to the
European market, popularized by the success of the Team Oreca race
cars. However, the Viper was badged as a Chrysler due to legalities
overseas, but it is the same car sold here in the United States.

While the Viper had gradually gained popularity over the first few
years of it’s existence, the second generation were the models which
really brought the Viper into the worldwide public eye. Having it
plastered all over magazines, the television, and the internet helped
to boost not only sales, but also the aftermarket, and soon, Vipers
boasting 1000+ horsepower were popping up around the country. Whether
in stock or modified, Vipers became far more common at tracks of all
type, and they were competitive regardless of the level of modification
thanks to the quality of production, and the high amount of engineering
which went into the development of the car as a whole. But, as time
went on, other companies were catching up. Ford Motor Company announced
the intended released of their factory supercharged Mustang Cobra, and
with the non-stop evolution of the Corvette, Ford and GM were hot on
the heels of the Viper. So, Dodge announced in 2002 that the following
year would offer no coupe or roadster, and the car would be completely
redesigned, with a new name, and a new motor.

Third Generation

The release of the new Viper was long awaited, even though there had
been no lull in production. The world was on the edge of their seats as
the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 was revealed to the world at the North
American International Auto Show. While the new Viper was distinctly a
Viper, it was fully redesigned, as a convertible. The previously
rounded edges had been ditched for sharp muscular angles, and this hot
new Viper was set on huge 18 inch wheel set on the front, and on the
rear, 19 inches of high gloss polished aluminum wheel. The hood no
longer opened to the front, taking the fenders with it, but instead,
the new Viper had a standard center section style hood. Another key
addition to the new Viper was what helped name it, which was the new
V10. The Lamborghini engine was a great design, but the need for more
power led the company (now called DCX due to Chrysler merger with
Mercedes Benz) to enlist the Viper into their new Street and Racing
Technology division for the full redesign and new engine. This division
of DCX, also called SRT, is what lends its name to the Dodge Viper
SRT-10. This new engine was an all aluminum 8.3L and with 504
horsepower and 525 lb-ft of torque, this new Viper was once again the
reigning American performance car. The SRT-10 was substantially more,
with a price tag of over $85,000, but even so it was instantly popular,
and companies began making performance parts for this new monster.

The only thing missing was a hardtop, and for the 2006 model Dodge
debuted its new SRT-10 Coupe at the 2005 NAIAS. Offered in a variety of
colors this new Viper offers all of the performance of the rag top, but
with the convenience and chassis rigidity of a hardtop, and to give a
bit of a retro look (if a car only 4 years old can be retro) the SRT-10
Coupe retains the GTS Coupe tail lights, with the integrated rear wing
wrapping over the top of the back end.

Dodge has recently began offering the new Viper Competition Coupe,
which is very much like a modern day, SRT built GTS-R. Unlike the
GTS-R, this new Comp. Coupe is not street legal, and can only be
purchased directly from DCX. The Comp. Coupe has literally no
accessories which are not required for race use. There is no radio, no
heat or air conditioning, no interior trim panels, and no other items
that don’t make the car go faster, and what is included? A full racing
roll cage, a fuel cell, Hoosier slick tires, and a full race-ready
body, not to mention the custom electronic race gauges and seats. The
GTS-R was meant to be a street car that could be raced with some
modification, but the Comp Coupe allows no mistake; it is a race car.

– Patrick Rall

Viper: coolest car from America? Does it feel inaccessible, thus making it more like a supercar import? What are you experiences with the Viper? Were you worried about GM’s plans to sell it?

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