Dodge Viper RT/10 and Dodge Viper GTS. Modern Mopar Muscle
The Chrysler Corporation may not have invented the muscle car, but it certainly stretched the concept to the breaking point. Hemi-powered Roadrunners and Super Bees, tall-tailed Super Birds, and 440 ’Cudas were outrageous vehicles to watch, hear, or drive. As memorable as these cars were, Chrysler cars of the 1970s and early 1980s were forgettable. The company teetered on bankruptcy, but fought back to gain financial respectability by building bread-and butter family transportation such as the minivan.
Churning out minivans may be good business, but it is a bit boring. Fortunately, Chrysler’s president at the beginning of the 1990s was Bob Lutz. Lutz encouraged the development of exciting concept cars that were conceived by a design team headed up by Tom Gale. The first of these concept cars to be dangled before the public was the Viper RT/10. The RT recalled the designation Dodge applied to its high-performance models at the late 1960s and early 1970s and implied that it was ready to rumble on the road or on the track. The “10” stood for the number of cylinders in the Viper’s ample 8.0-liter (488 cubic inches) power plant. Stretched around this V-10 was a minimalist but muscular-looking body that was as wild looking as any of Chrysler’s cars from the 1960s.
Chrysler unveiled the Viper concept in January 1989; in May 1990 it was approved for production, and Chrysler was back in the muscle car business. Chrysler also re-entered the muscle truck business in the 1990s. In 1978 the company was way ahead of the sport-truck curve with the Li’l Red Express truck, which was notable thanks to a 360-ci V-8, and two tall, chrome “big-rig” exhaust stacks that sprouted up on each side of the cab. With the new Dodge Ram SS/T, the stacks were gone, but the “big-rig” look was back.
Dodge Viper RT/10
When it gets down to priorities, Mopar muscle machinery has emphasized raw power over style and sophistication. This tradition lives on in the Dodge Viper RT/10. Like a gunslinger ready to draw, the Viper’s intimidating posture crouches low to the ground with its huge wheels spread in a wide stance. It peers at you with slanted evil-eye headlights. Muscular, bulging fenders dare you to take a ride. The RT/10 has an outlaw attitude to match its lean and mean looks. Coiled up inside the engine compartment is an 8.0-liter (488 cubic inches) V-10 engine that can unleash sufficient amounts of torque and horsepower to leave muscle cars past and present cowering in the shadows.
While most engineers behind today’s muscle machines take great pride in their sophisticated approach to high performance, Chrysler designed the RT/10 as a throwback to the wild and woolly Shelby Cobra. The original RT/10 (RT stood for Road and Track, and 10 was the number of cylinders) was unveiled on January 4, 1989, at the Detroit auto show. Its purpose was to be a one-of-a-kind concept car to gauge how willing the driving public was to trade in comfort and convenience for outrageous performance. The public turned out to be very willing.
Before the Viper display came down at the end of the show, Chrysler’s order books had a list of customers ready to buy an RT/10. It took the next three years for Team Viper (a handpicked group of about 100 Chrysler engineers, designers, and managers who volunteered) to develop the concept car into a limited-production sports car. Team Viper acted as an independent group within Chrysler to the point of selecting their own suppliers. Official approval for production of the aluminum V-10-powered sports car was announced in May 1990. A year later, the Viper hit the bricks as the official pace car of the Indy 300.
The first ol 285 1992 Viper RT/10 roadsters rolled off the assembly line in December 1991. The base price was $50,000 plus $700 in destination charges, $2,600 in tax penalties for being a gas guzzler, and $2,280 for being an over-$30,000 luxury car. Anyone who expected to play with a car delivering 400 horsepower at 4,600 rpm and 465 ft-lb of torque at 3,600 rpm should expect to pay for guzzling luel, but a luxury tax added insult to injury on a car that had a skimpy folding top with ill-fitting plastic zippered side curtains. Even MG owners smirked at the Viper’s protection from the elements.
Red was the only exterior color available. Air conditioning was an option, although a premium AM/FM/cassette stereo sound system was standard. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, plus leather seat surfaces and white-faced instruments, were the most luxurious features on the initial RT/10. The interior accommodations were also on the skimpy side. In order to get into the vehicle, you had to squeeze through the narrow door opening and climb over the wide door sill to fall into the high back bucket seats. The cramped quarters have you positioned at an angle to the foot pedals. Take a stab at the clutch with your left foot and you are more than likely to hit the brake.
Hitting the brakes—albeit an excellent four-piston front caliper, four-wheel vented disc system—was not a high priority among most of the Viper buyers. Pressing the pedal to the right opened the door to the Viper’s magic. Judicious use of your right foot could, if you didn’t slew sideways, get you from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds on your way to a top speed of 165 miles per hour. In muscle car numbers, that comes out to 12.9 seconds at 113.8 miles per hour in the quarter-mile. For comparison, Motor Trend tested a 425-horsepower, 427-ci Cobra street version in September 1966, which netted times of 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds and 13.8 seconds at 106 miles per hour through the quarter-mile. Wheel spin off the line was a problem with the Cobra. It was a notorious problem with the Viper despite gigantic Michelin tires sized at P275/40 ZR17 (front) and P335/35 ZR17 (rear) on six-bolt 17-inch aluminum wheels measuring 10 and 13 inches wide, respectively.
Team Viper continues in its quest to convert Michelin’s best efforts into tire smoke. The 2000 Viper RT/10 has 450 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Torque is up to 480 ft-lb at 3,600 rpm with over 60 percent of that available just barely past idle at 1,200 rpm. According to Motor Trend, this was good enough to knock off 0.4 seconds on the climb to 60 miles per hour while motoring down the quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds at 118.2 miles per hour.
Don’t even think about coming anywhere close to within a second of those times in any of the original muscle cars in full street trim. Besides becoming more powerful, the Viper has undergone some other significant changes. Black became a second exterior color offering lor the 1993 model year, followed by bright yellow and emerald green in 1994. In November 1995, production was moved to the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit, where 200 workers assemble each car with pride. The big news for 1996 was the debut of the GTS Coupe, but the RT/10 also benefited by receiving an all-aluminum version of its four-wheel independent suspension, and the re-engineering of its tubular space frame with center spine structure. In all, 200 pounds were shaved from the RT/10.
In 1999, wheel diameter was increased to 18 inches with corresponding tire sizes increased to P275/35 ZR18 (front) and P335/30 ZR18 (rear). The RT/10 has also become more luxury oriented. An upscale cognac-colored Connolly leather interior package is an option, along with a removable hardtop. Standard equipment now includes air conditioning, a 200-watt stereo with CD player, and driver adjustable foot pedals. The base price lor a 2000 model is $70,000. In a little over a decade, that “one-of-a-kind RT/10 has been joined by about 10,000 Vipers around the world. This is good news for anyone who believes that muscle cars are not only part of our automotive history, but also a part of the future. Dodge Viper GTS It is amazing what a little resin transfer-molded (RTM) composite surgery can do.
2000 VIPER RT/10 AND GTS SPECIFICATIONS
Body/Chassis of Viper RT/10- Resin transfer-molded (RTM) composite body panels with sheet-molded compound (SMC), forward-tilting hood/fender assembly/Tubular space frame with center spine structure.
Engine of Viper RT/10 – 8.0-liter (488 ci) OHV V-10, cast-aluminum block with cast-iron cylinder liners, aluminum heads and oil pan, forged-aluminum pistons, forged-steel connecting rods, and 9.6:1 compression ratio.
Transmission of Viper RT/10 – Six-speed manual, limited-slip differential, 3.07:1 final drive.
Power Ratings of Viper RT/10 – 450 horsepower @ 5,200 rpm, 490 Ib-ft torque @ 3,700 rpm.
Brakes of Viper RT/10 – Four-piston front calipers, single-piston rear 13-inch vented rotors front and rear.
Wheels/Tires of Viper RT/10 – Front: 10xl8-inch; P275/35 ZR18, Rear: 13xl8-inch; P335/30 ZR18.
Suspension -of Viper RT/10 Four-wheel independent with cast-aluminum control arms; coil-over shocks.
Wheelbase of Viper RT/10 – 96.2 inches.
Length – 176.2 inches (RT/10), 176.7 inches (GTS).
Height – 48 inches.
Curb Weight – 3,460 pounds.
Weight Distribution, Front/Rear – 48/52.
When Chrysler designers grafted a sleek fastback roof and tail assembly to the open-top Viper RT/10, they dramatically changed the car’s appearance from an ornery-looking hulk of a roadster to a super slick GT. The cosmetically altered car appropriately made its first appearance at the Los Angeles auto show in 1993. Just like the RT/10, the next time the public saw the handsome blue metallic coupe with its wide white racing stripe was at Indianapolis in May 1996, where it served as the official pace car of the Indy 500. Production of the GTS Coupe began the same month it joined the RT/10 Roadster in the 1996 Viper model lineup. Unlike the roadster, which only had 285 units produced in its debut year of 1992, there were 1,166 1996 model year GTS Coupes built, according to the Viper Club of America production registry.
Fortunately, at least as Vipers are concerned, beauty is only skin deep. Under its aerodynamically friendly skin, the GTS is every bit as mean and tough as the RT/10. In order to maintain the extraordinary performance level achieved by the RT/10, it was necessary for Team Viper to implement more than just cosmetic surgery to develop a coupe version. Chrysler claims that the changes resulted in a car that was more than 90 percent new. The 1996 GTS Coupe with air conditioning weighed nearly 100 pounds less than the 1994 RT/10 without air conditioning.
Many of the changes developed for the GTS Coupe were also later applied to the RT/10, specifically the conversion to an all-aluminum suspension system and a re-engineered frame that was lighter, yet stiffer and stronger. The GTS Coupe body was designed to improve aerodynamics as well as passenger comfort and convenience. The twin-bubble roof allows for ample headroom and minimizes wind resistance. Headroom was also the determining factor lor using a taller windshield than on the roadster, although the angle, width, and curvature remain the same. The flush-fitting one-piece glass hatch covers a cargo area that is 70 percent larger than the roadster’s. The spare remains a compact I6x4-inch tire, but the roomy rear compartment can transport a full-size rear tire for repairs if necessary. The lower lip of the front fascia was extended to balance the cosmetic and aerodynamic effect of the rear spoiler. Louvers atop the front fenders enhance engine cooling, while a polished aluminum “racing” fuel filler cap recessed into the right rear roof panel simply exudes coolness. As you would guess, the coupe is more slippery than the roadster with a drag coefficient of 0.39 versus 0.50.
Changes were made to the doors on the GTS to accommodate power windows and exterior door handles, neither of which were part of the original RT/10. A neat touch is that the doors are opened from the outside by means of pressing a button, which electrically activates the door latch. Inside, the simple door pull of the roadster is retained. Other concessions to civility in the coupe are standard air conditioning, an increase of about 2.3 inches in seat travel, lightweight hut more comfortable seats, and an adjustment knob that allows 4 inches of movement for the foot pedal cluster to increase driver comfort.
As part of the GTS-reducing plan, engineers shaved over 80 pounds of weight from the engine and cooling system. The lightweight engine (thanks to new heads and block) of the GTS also had a higher compression and revised camshaft to put out 450 horsepower compared to the 415 ponies available in the 1996 RT/10. A NACA-design intake duct on the leading edge of the hood rams cooler outside air to the engine. A foam gasket seals matching flanges on the air cleaner and the underside of the intake duct.
A unique water separator system in the air cleaner cover deflects incoming air into the engine whileemploying inertia to force any incoming water to accumulate into a trough where one-way valves, activated by the weight of the water, drain to the ground. A rear-outlet exhaust system, first available on the 1996 RT/10, improved power, lowered cockpit noise levels, and added a throatier rumble to the V-lO’s sibilant exhaust sound. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of a 1996 GTS was $66,700, including destination charges. Gas-guzzler and luxury taxes added another $6,300 to the bill. A 1996 RT/10 was $58,500 without taxes.
In 1997, the RT/10 was upgraded to the 450-horsepower engine along with the power windows and the metallic blue with white racing stripe color scheme of the GTS. In exchange, the GTS could be ordered in red. According to Viper Club of America statistics, the GTS outsold the RT/10 1,166 units to 721 in 1996. Coupe sales were even stronger the next year as GTS sales totaled 1,671 versus 117 for the RT/10. A big surge of the early coupe sales came from RT/10 owners eager to own a matched set of*Vipers. Through November 2000, Chrysler has produced a total of 7, 1 9 1 RT/ 1 0s since 1992 and 4,484 coupes since 1996. According to Chrysler’s 1999 statistics, 96 percent of Viper owners are male, with the average age being 48 years old and an annual household income of $191,000.
The GTS went racing in the form of the GTS-R that was first introduced in 1995 as a limited-production car made specifically for worldwide GT racing. Indy car chassis builder Reynard Racing Cars partnered with Team Viper to develop this car. Wearing a carbon-fiber bodysuit stretched over a stress-relieved steel space frame welded onto the stock chassis, the GTS-R came equipped with a standard 525-horsepower V- 1 0 to show off American muscle overseas in European road racing. Optional power plants were rated at 650 and 750 horsepower. In 1997, a Viper GTS-R won the Federation Internationale de Vautomobile (FIA, the international motorsport ruling body) GT2-class championship for production-based sports cars. In 1998 the GTS-R won its class at the legendary 24 Hours ol Le Mans, a feat repeated in 1999 and 2000. To commemorate its racing success, Dodge built 100 white-with-blue-stripe GT2 Championship Edition Coupes in 1998. Among the modifications to these specials were a GTS-R-style biplane rear wing, a 460-horsepower V-10, and 18-inch BBS wheels. The GT2 listed for $85,200, including shipping.
In 1999, the ACR, basically a GT2 minus the rear wing and special paint scheme, became part of the Viper lineup. The ACR (American Club Racer) is primarily aimed at sports car club racers who need something to race on Sunday and still drive to work on Monday. ACR engines have 460 horsepower and develop 500 ft-lb of torque at 3,700 rpm. At 3,356 pounds, the ACR weighs a little over 100 pounds less than a standard Viper thanks to the deletion of the driving lamps (replaced with air intakes), air conditioning, and the audio system. The latter two items remain as options. The ACR package includes fivepoint safety belts, K&N filters, aluminum-bodied Koni shocks, one-piece BBS forged-aluminum wheels with “Viper Head” center caps, special badging, and 2.25-inch-internal-diameter racing springs. The ACR sits an inch lower than a stock Viper. A 2000 model ACR lists for an MSRP of $72,225, plus $775 in destination charges.
A comparison of test numbers carried out by Motor Trend revealed that Team Viper has done an excellent job of keeping performance levels remarkably close between the roadster and various coupe iterations. The 1999 GTS turns in a 0-to-60-mile-per-hour time of 4.1 seconds with a quarter-mile posting of 12.2 seconds at 1 19.8 miles per hour. A 2000 RT/10 comesin 0.1 second slower in both tests, while the GT2 model was quickest at an even 4 seconds in the run to 60 miles per hour. At the drag strip the GT2 clocked 12.1 seconds at 120.5 miles per hour. As good as these numbers are, the great news lor muscle car aficionados is that Team Viper is still looking at ways to improve the Viper.
«Modern American Muscle»
Patrick Paternie and Dan Lyons