Car Spot: 1997 Dodge Viper GTS

Built when Dodge was in total fun mode …

Bob Lutz is one of my all-time favorite car guys. He brought so much to the automotive world in fun cars like this week’s spot, the Dodge Viper.

Looking to create a modern-day Cobra, the first prototype was tested in January 1989 and went on sale in January 1992 as the RT/10 Roadster. This car was all business when it came to performance. The heart of the beast was a V10 based on Chrysler’s LA V8 and designed with the help of Lamborghini, which was then owned by Chrysler Corp. The engine weighed just 712 lbs. and was rated at 400 hp. The SR I version could accelerate from 0–62 mph in 4.2 seconds, 100 mph in 9.2 seconds, and ran the quarter mile in 12.6 seconds, hitting 113.8 mph. It’s maximum speed was nearly 165 mph. Viper had large tires that allowed the car to average close to one lateral g in corners. However, with no driver aids like traction control the car proved tricky to drive at high speeds, particularly for the unskilled driver. All this fun only set a very enthusiastic owner back $52,000.

The first Vipers were bare-bones performance cars. They had no exterior-mounted door handles or key cylinders and no air conditioning. The roof was made from canvas, and the windows were made from vinyl using zippers to open and close, much like a Jeep Wrangler.

Viper did have some creature comforts, like manually-adjustable leather-trimmed sport bucket seats with lumbar support, an AM/FM stereo, a cassette player with clock and a high-fidelity sound system, and interior carpeting. Aluminum alloy wheels, and a lightweight fiberglass roof was optional on later models. An adjustable performance suspension was also an option for most Vipers.

The car was an immediate hit giving the Dodge brand some much-needed juice among enthusiasts and the automotive press. Its popularity overshadowed the recent failure of Lee Iacocca’s pet car, the TC, which had cost five times as much to develop.

RELATED SPOT: Read about Lido’s Italian Folly.

In 1996 Dodge introduced the Viper GTS, a new coupé version of the Viper RT/10. Dubbed the “double bubble”, the roof featured slightly raised sections that looked like bubbles to accommodate the usage of helmets and taking major design cues from the Shelby Daytona designed by Peter Brock. More than 90% of the GTS was new compared with the RT/10. It came with the same 8.0 L; 487.6 cu in V10, but power was upped to 450 hp/490 lb.-ft. of torque. This was also the first Viper to be equipped with airbags and also included air conditioning, power windows, and power door locks standard. That year it also was chosen as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500.

All this fun came to an end when the Fiat Chrysler group announced the Viper would end production in 2017 due to flagging sales. Also contributing to the axing was that the car was unable to comply with federal safety regulations, requiring side curtain airbags.

What are these worth now? Somewhere around $100K like this one that I saw at a dealership in Southcentral Wisconsin. This Viper looked to be ignored for quite some time as yup, those spots you see all over it are bird shit. What a way to treat an automotive icon, especially if you expect to get top dollar for it.

It’s so sad as next year there will be no V8s available in Dodge cars and trucks thanks to our government which has managed to suck all the fun out of performance vehicles by insisting on electric cars. I’m not happy at all with EVs.

RELATED POST: See why this rush to electric vehicles to so ill-conceived.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots along with some history about it. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend.

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