The initial idea for the Viper came from Chrysler President Robert Lutz with input from Tom Gale, chief of design at Chrysler’s Advanced Design Studios in late 1987. The concept — a sports car with a modern engine management system, new-think transmission, computer-aided suspension design, and world-class tires. The car would take advantage of the latest in modern technology but would not be a gadget-laden, high-tech wonder bristling with turbochargers, anti-lock brakes, four-wheel steering, adjustable shock-absorber damping, or all-wheel drive. Instead, it would take a mechanically pure approach — loads of power fed to simple rear drive. Some consider it a modern version of the Cobra.
Coincidently, Carroll Shelby was working on a sports car of his own and trying to interest Chrysler in it. So when Lutz approached Shelby with his idea everything fell into place. Shelby was dealing with health issues at the time so although he was involved in the initial design, he did not have a direct hand in the engineering.
Carroll Shelby was key in the development of the RT/10 and subsequent development of the GTS coupe. Notably, the later (1996 through 2002) Viper GTS coupe took a few design cues from the Pete Brock designed Shelby Cobra Daytona. Though the proportions seem similar at first glance, the designs are quite unique.
First generation RT/10 (1992–1995)
Base Price: $50,700 (1992)
The front-mounted engine was produced by Lamborghini, then owned by Chrysler Corporation. They redesigned their V10 truck engine for sports car use by recasting the block and head in aluminum alloy. The 8.0-liter (488-cubic-inch) V10 with 4.0-inch cylinder bores and a 3.9-inch stroke was backed by a Tremec T-56 six-speed manual transmission. Engine output was 400 hp at 4600 rpm and 465 lb·ft of torque at 3600 rpm. The Viper completed a quarter mile in 12.9 seconds and had a maximum speed of 180 mph.
The Viper RT/10 had a side-mounted exhaust, three-spoke 17-inch diameter wheels wrapped in wide Michelin XGT-Z P275/40ZR17 front and P335/35ZR17 rear tires. Parts of the all-independent suspension, such as the tie-rod ends and parts of the front wheel hubs, were sourced from the Dodge Dakota pickup. The disc brakes were larger 13-inch in the front and 12-inch in the rear. ABS was not available.
The body was a tubular steel chassis with resin transfer molding (RTM) fiberglass panels. It had a one-piece nose and over-sized scallop scoops running from the front fenders into the doors. It lacked exterior door handles, side windows, and a roof. Although a soft top cover was available, it was designed primarily for indoor vehicle storage. Side curtains of fabric and clear plastic operated by zippers could be inserted into the door and hand-bolted when needed. It featured inflatable lumbar support and adjustable seats. All of these decisions were made to reduce weight. The battery is located in the sealed compartment over the rear wheel well to increase rear-end weight and traction.
Production: 285 in 1992
Viper GTS Coupe (1996)
Base Price: $73,000
The GTS included such features as roll-up side windows and exterior door handles. The roof was inspired by the classic Cobra Daytona coupes Shelby American used to win the FIA GT Championship in 1965. It had an aggressive ducktail rear spoiler and came in vivid Shelby Blue with classic white stripes. The exhaust was rerouted out the back. The updated 8.0-liter V10 produced up to 450 hp. Also aboard for the first time were OBD-II emissions controls, aluminum links in the suspension system, dual front airbags and a lighter-weight frame.