A number of precedents have been set in the long and illustrious history of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. For today’s 80th running of the “500,” the pace car is almost as fast as many of the race cars it will lead for the start.
The pace car is the Dodge Viper GTS Coupe, a new four-wheeled rocket that is stock production except for the lights and safety equipment required for the “500.”
Compared to the Viper RT/10 roadster, the GTS Coupe is downright civilized.
In the GTS, Chrysler Corp. president Bob Lutz goes a long way toward his sought-after 200 mph production automobile. The coupe isn’t quite to that mark — about 180 mph — but the car’s technical attributes are headed in that direction.
A great leap in speed was achieved when the Viper was given a closed passenger cabin. The roadster’s 0.50 co-efficent of drag is somewhat like pushing a barn door through the air when the car reaches upper speed limits. The coupe’s co- efficient of drag drops to 0.39 which is the equivalent of finding free horsepower.
The GTS comes by its performance characteristics naturally. Roy Sjoberg, who formerly worked for General Motors on the Corvette, now wears the title “Executive Engineer for Viper Programs.”
The Viper already was president of the big engine club with a displacement of 488 cubic inches (8.0-liters) in roadster form. As a coupe, power has been increased by 35-horsepower courtesy of some redesigned camshaft work and new aluminum cylinder heads.
This monster engine is an aluminum V-10, the biggest production car motor in the world. While the valve gear is a conventional push rod/rocker arm arrangement with but two valves per cylinder, advanced engineering techniques result in 450 horsepower and a whopping 490 foot- pounds of torque.
There’s an adage that says, “You can’t beat inches.” The Viper GTS is a prime example of the fact that it’s tough to beat 488 of them without resorting to super-expensive race-car technology.
A hammer- down throttle application when leaving the line with the car’s six-speed manual transmission leaves two black streaks from the coupe’s gargantuan 335/35ZR17 Michelin radials on the Viper’s rear wheels. The affect is akin to an Indy car leaving its pit following a stop during the race.
The initial Viper RT/10 was developed with the idea of restoring some of the thrill of outdoor roadster motoring. The GTS is still designed to offer thrilling driving, amidst comfort and convenience features that include air conditioning, stereo with a six-speaker CD system, power windows, power doors with a security system, adjustable pedals and dual airbags.
One of its more interesting features for enhancing driver comfort and control is an adjuster system for the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals. A knob under the steering column allows up to 4 inches of fore-and-aft pedal movement to accommodate all drivers.
The cockpit layout varies a little from the usual state-of-the-art instrumentation. The GTS is, of cou rse, a two-seater, with driver and passenger sitting low in the chassis and separated by a center console that holds the gearshift lever and emergency brake lever.
The gauge package is arranged a bit differently, with the speedometer and tachometer directly in front of the driver and four support gauges spread across the middle of the dashboard above the center console.
They are easy to read, featuring a white background with black numerals and a red indicator arrow. But you have to turn your head to see them.
The coupe has general basic sports car dimensions for its type, with a wheelbase of 96.2 inches and an overall length of 176.7 inches. Curb weight is about 3,400 pounds, which is a real piece of engineering magic considering its big V-10 engine.
Ride characteristics have been made more user-friendly by recalibrating the roadster’s suspension system to give it an easier ride without compromising control.
The Viper GTS Coupe is a formidable competitor at virtually bargai n prices when measured against some foreign super-cars whose prices run well into the six figures. The base price is $66,700. Additional gas guzzler and luxury taxes increase the bottom line to approximately $73,030.