Outside of the obligatory exotic Lamborghini Diablo or magical Ferrari F50, only a handful of cars throughout the course of history elicit an actual visceral reaction from onlookers and passersby. A few of these unique vehicles create questions like, “Wow! What is that?!” from kids and even the most uninformed, non-car-oriented people.
When the Dodge Viper RT/10 roared onto the scene in 1992, it simultaneously launched Chrysler into the future of performance vehicles while at the same time allowing everyone to see what the world of hot rods was like back in the 1960s.
When the godfather of Ford’s performance, Carroll Shelby, created his mythical Cobra in the 1960s, it was a purpose-built, road-going nightmare made for one purpose: to defeat the (nearly) unbeatable Ferrari at Le Mans, which it did, placing 1-2-3 in the 1966 Le Mans. Then, just as fast as it came into existence, the Cobra was gone.
Fast forward nearly three decades later, and Carroll Shelby is recruited by Chrysler’s then-president Bob Lutz for a special project. Lutz, who was a true hot-rodder at heart, with the help of designer Tom Gale and CEO Lee Iacocca, brought to life a modern rendition of Shelby’s iconic Cobra called the Dodge Viper.
This low-slung, sinewy sports car was as no-frills as it gets. The Viper was rough, crude, and utterly beloved by the automotive public. Dodge’s (then) new halo car spat in the face of many of its European (and American) rivals, offering up a ferociously engaging and frequently terrifying driving experience that left an indelible mark on the hearts and souls of drivers worldwide.
The old-school hot-rodding mantra, “There’s no replacement for displacement,” was alive and well with the creation of the Dodge Viper. For the Dodge Viper engine, Bob Lutz greenlighted the use of a massive 8.0-liter V10 borrowed from the Ram, which then got delivered to one of Dodge’s sister companies, Lamborghini, for finishing school. That school may have been of the “old” variety. Still, the result was a whopping 400 horsepower and stump-pulling 465 pound-feet of torque — more powerful than any of the Viper’s high-tech competitors from Porsche or Chevrolet.
That power then got sent through a Borg-Warner T5 6-speed manual transmission and onto the rear wheels, where huge Michelin 275/40ZR-17 front and steam-roller sized 335/35ZR-17 rear tires waited to put all that power to the pavement. The Viper’s undeniably good-looking plastic exterior stretched over a robust tubular steel frame that rode on top of a suspension consisting of unequal-length control arms.
The RT/10’s side-exit exhaust was literally piped along the base of each door. On the positive side, those side pipes gave the venomous Viper one of its best-looking signature features. However, the Dodge’s back-to-basics brutality was also displayed, as many drivers had their calves seared if they forgot to extend their legs beyond the pipes’ reach.
The Dodge Viper RT/10’s hardcore persona extended beyond its powertrain and driving personality. Once you’re accustomed to striding over those oven-hot side pipes, it becomes easy to nestle comfortably into the leather-faced bucket seats that offer a reasonable amount of support. But the seats are about where the comfort begins and ends.
There were no door handles outside the Viper, so you must reach inside for the lever to open the door. That feat was easier to achieve than expected because the Viper also had no fixed roof (Dodge provided a canvas soft top at no charge) or even glass side windows to impede access.
You could also forget such luxurious items as air conditioning, ABS, or even a reverse lockout for the transmission. But the Viper’s white-faced gauges and AM/FM stereo (with cassette player), with its speakers mounted between the seats, offered some distraction, though piloting one of these cars typically required the driver’s full attention. And speaking of attention, the original 1992 RT/10 was available from the factory in any color you wanted, so long as the color you wanted was Viper Red.
The Dodge Viper RT/10 quickly made a reputation for not only embarrassing overconfident Porsche owners but also making a mockery of its own inexperienced drivers from time to time, thanks to its propensity to snap oversteer with seemingly no hesitation.
But learn to charm this snake, and it will reward you with a blistering sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and 0 to 100 mph in just 9.2 seconds. Keep on the throttle and watch as the quarter mile comes and goes in just 12.9 seconds, and only the bravest (or dumbest) of souls would dare to reach for the Dodge’s 165 mph top speed.
Unlike many of the muscle cars of days gone by, the Dodge’s new road warrior was more than a straight-line serpent. Around the skid pad, the Viper could post an incredibly impressive 0.96 g, which, even by today’s standards, is remarkable, never mind during the beginning of the Clinton administration.
The first generation (SR I) of the Dodge Viper RT/10 spanned from 1992 to 1995. In its final two years, Chrysler finally acquiesced to those who loved the Viper’s look but didn’t enjoy sweating quite as much. Air-conditioning became available in 1994, as was a removable fiberglass roof to help keep the rain off drivers’ heads. However, the plastic side windows still (literally) hung around until the second generation (SR II) showed up in 1996, when the fixed roof Viper GTS showed up, and the convertible RT/10 got some sorely needed upgrades.
Except for the inaugural 1992 Viper car, the first generation Dodge Viper price is relatively cheap. Like most special cars, the first and last years tend to fetch the highest resale prices. The 1993-1995 models will cost in the neighborhood of about $50,000, depending on mileage and condition. The 1992 car, however, can double that price point due in no small part to the fact that only 285 examples were ever produced.
In subsequent years and generations, the Dodge Viper did get more powerful and much faster. But it all started in 1992 when Chrysler decided to reincarnate one of the most prolific sports cars the world has ever seen. The name, the emblem, and the attitude of the Viper all reflected the Shelby Cobra in the form of what can only be described as a modern exotic muscle car. The Dodge Viper was and continues to be a head-turning highlight in the history of the automotive world.
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