All-disc antilock brakes are new for 2001 on Dodges high-performance, retro-styled RT/10 convertible and GTS coupe. Dodge also has added two new body colors: Sapphire Blue Pearl and Viper Race Yellow, the latter of which is available with black center stripes. A new Comfort Group is available for Viper GTS coupes equipped with the American Club Racer (ACR) option package, which is intended for competitive use on a racecourse. The ACR version is lighter in weight, with a stiffer suspension and lacking some of the usual amenities. As a running change, the RT/10 gets an internal emergency trunk release.
No other sports car on the market is on par with the Viper, a throwback to the era of all-out muscle machines, whose V-10 engine cranks out no less than 450 horsepower. In fact, no other production car uses a V-10 engine, though a less potent version is used in Dodge Ram pickup trucks. Full-bore performance gets the nod over luxury and occupant convenience by a long shot. Dodge markets the Viper more in the league of the startling-looking Lamborghini Diablo than in the more genteel, rarified area occupied by such two-seaters as the Mercedes-Benz SL600. A total of 1,470 Vipers were sold during 2000, according to Automotive News.
Because Vipers still draw attention, despite being nearly a decade old, collector demand is a consideration when buying. More than 10,000 Vipers have been sold since the snorting rear-drive two-seater debuted as a 1992 model. More than 40 chapters of the Viper Club of America are active (see Resources for a list of sports car clubs).
Designed to bring back memories of the Shelby Cobras seen on American roads and racetracks back in the 1960s, the Viper ranks as an exercise in excess but one thats basically simple in styling. Both the convertible and coupe share such design features as a bold crossbar grille, huge side scoops in the front fenders and a long, wide hood. A manually folding soft-top is standard on the RT/10, with a removable hardtop available as an option. Vipers ride 275/35ZR18 front and even bigger 335/30ZR18 rear tires mounted on alloy wheels.
Two occupants sit in low reclining bucket seats, which have lumbar adjustment but are fixed in position. Pedals are adjustable over a 3-inch range to compensate for the lack of fore and aft seat adjustment. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, fog lights, a theft-deterrent system, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The GTS coupe includes a rear defogger, overhead mesh storage pouches and a trunk light. Other than a cognac-hued Connolly leather option group, no luxury items can be installed in a Viper.
Under the Hood
A brawny 8.0-liter V-10 engine beneath the Vipers hood puts out 450 hp and 490 pounds-feet of torque the kind of torque that seems ready to drag tree stumps out of the ground. Its the biggest, most powerful engine offered in an American production automobile. A six-speed-manual gearbox is the only available transmission. Dual front airbags and all-disc antilock brakes are standard, but traction control is not available.
Piloting a Viper is a memorable experience, whether youre on a racecourse, an open highway or in urban traffic. Brute force is its theme, and civilized behavior is nowhere to be found on the other hand, the current Viper is more refined than some early versions.
Starting from a standstill, its impossible to ignore the throbbing exhaust note from the mighty V-10 and its forceful response to the motion of your throttle foot. Shifting the six-speed properly also demands practice, especially since its mated to a clutch with a heavy pedal feel. Once under way, however, the driver and rider almost forget that theyre occupying a snarling beast from the muscle-car past.
Even while cruising merrily along down a two-lane road, the Viper feels heavy, though not exactly ponderous, and makes plenty of noise. Steering demands more than a little effort. With so many horses eager to be unleashed, pushing too hard on the throttle can be asking for trouble, especially if the pavement is slick. More than anything else on the market today, the Viper is a relic of the past, but one that elicits a visceral response from people who see it and also from those who get the opportunity to take charge of all that torrential power.