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By Jim Flammang
March 27, 2002
Vehicle Overview Fans of old-time muscle had better hurry if they want to drive home a high-performance Dodge Viper RT/10 roadster or GTS coupe. Current versions of both retro-look body styles are scheduled for extinction by the end of the 2002 model year. The Viper will be replaced by an even hotter model.
The superheated 2003 Viper SRT-10 will come only as a convertible. It will be powered by a 500-horsepower V-10 engine rather than the 450-hp V-10 that is equipped in the current Viper. A folding, manually operated convertible top will be installed, which should please drivers whove struggled with the fabric on earlier models. Owners of existing Vipers have been given the first opportunity to sign up for a new SRT-10, so the first years production is already sold out.
Meanwhile, the last 360 cars built on the 2002 platform will be GTS Final Edition models. They will be the first production cars painted Viper Red with dual stone white striping. This paint scheme was used on the GTS-R/T racecar that won the 2000 Daytona 24-hour sports car event, as well as consecutive American Le Mans Series manufacturer championships. Available with or without the American Club Racer (ACR) Competition Package, the GTS Final Edition will feature a red-stitched/black leather steering wheel and gearshift knob, along with a sequentially numbered dashboard plaque. Production of these final 360 Vipers begins in May 2002 and will continue until the redesigned 2003 Viper SRT-10 begins to roll off the assembly line later this summer.
No other sports car on the market is on par with the Viper. It is considered a throwback to the era of all-out muscle machines. In fact, no other production car uses a V-10 engine, though a less potent version is used in Dodge Ram 2500/3500 pickup trucks. Full-bore performance gets the nod over luxury and occupant convenience by a long shot. When equipped with the ACR option package which is intended for competitive use on a racecourse the Viper is lighter in weight and comes with a stiffer suspension. But it lacks some of the usual amenities. A total of 1,388 Vipers were sold during 2001, which represents a decrease from the 1,470 units sold in 2000, according to Automotive News.
Despite its decade-old design, the Viper still draws attention. Demand from collectors is a consideration when buying a Viper even more so now that a new version is coming. More than 40 chapters of the Viper Club of America are active.
Exterior The Viper is designed to bring back memories of the Shelby Cobras seen on American roads and racetracks back in the 1960s. This sports car ranks as an exercise in automotive excess but one thats basically simple in styling. Both the convertible and coupe models 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, and a removable hardtop is available as an option. Vipers ride on P275/35ZR18 front tires and even larger P335/30ZR18 rear tires; they are mounted on forged-aluminum-alloy wheels. A racing-inspired suspension is also installed.
The Viper rides a 96.2-inch wheelbase, is more than 176 inches long overall and measures 75.7 inches wide. The convertible stands 44 inches tall, and the GTS coupe is 3 inches taller.
Interior Two adventurous occupants sit in low, reclining bucket seats that have lumbar adjustment and a fixed position. The 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, a theft-deterrent system, and power windows, door 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 the Viper. A Comfort Group is available for the GTS coupe with the ACR option package.
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 eager to drag tree stumps out of the ground. This engine is still the largest, most powerful engine offered in an American production automobile. And if that isnt enough, the ACR Competition Package adds an additional 10 horses. A six-speed-manual gearbox is the only available transmission.
Safety Dual front airbags and all-disc antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags and traction control are not available.
Driving Impressions Whether youre on a racecourse, an open highway or in urban traffic, piloting a Viper is a memorable experience. Brute force is its theme, and civilized behavior is nowhere to be found. The current Viper is more refined than some early versions.
Its impossible to ignore the throbbing exhaust from the mighty V-10 and its forceful response to the motion of your throttle foot. Shifting the six-speed properly also demands practice, primarily because its mated to a clutch with a heavy pedal feel. But once its under way, the driver almost forgets that he or she is occupying a snarling beast that hails from the muscle-car era.
Even while cruising merrily along a two-lane road, the Viper makes plenty of noise and feels heavy but its not exactly ponderous. 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. Its a car that elicits a visceral response from people who see it and from those who get the opportunity to take charge of all that torrential power.