1992 Dodge Viper: 100 Cars That Matter

1992 Dodge Viper RT/10 Roadster

In the late 1980s, post-K-car Chrysler was desperate for attention. The good fortune of the decade had begun to dwindle and the automaker knew it needed something big to turn the limelight back on its aging products.

Enter the Dodge Viper.

Chrysler made more than a splash in 1989 when the Viper concept debuted at the North American International Auto Show that year. The brainchild of former Chrysler executive Bob Lutz, the Viper spared nothing to reincarnate the magic of another American sports car icon: the Shelby Cobra. Lutz campaigned to build the modern-day hot rod, and as usual, he eventually got his way.

1989 Dodge Viper RT/10 concept

1989 Dodge Viper RT/10 concept

1989 Dodge Viper RT/10 concept

Two years after the concept bowed in Detroit, Carroll Shelby himself paced the Indianapolis 500 in a pre-production Viper after helping bring the car to life. In early 1992, the first examples reached Dodge showrooms.

The Viper marked a turnaround for Chrysler. Unlike the boxy K-cars of the 1980s, the Viper was sexy, smooth, and powerful. The Viper became the halo vehicle Dodge and all of Chrysler so desperately needed, just before it relaunched its car lineup with its string of LH sedans. The Viper starred in a number of “The New Dodge” advertisements throughout the 1990s, ads meant to show every car from the brand was cut from the same cloth.

At the Viper’s core was a no-replacement-for-displacement 8.0-liter V-10. The engine, on loan from the Dodge Ram, was sent to Lamborghini—which Chrysler owned at the time—for refinement. It returned with an aluminum block and heads, and a steamy 400 horsepower.

ALSO SEE: Dodge almost turned the Viper into a mid-engined car

The no-frills approach to the Viper made it an American sports car weapon. Road & Track clocked a quarter-mile time of 12.9 seconds and 0-60 mph came in 4.6 seconds in 1992. The sinister performance came with no apologies and gave no quarter. Drivers bitched about poor ventilation and high cabin temperatures from the mammoth V-10 up front and a differential spinning right in their low back, and side-exit exhaust pipes scarred more than a few drivers, colloquially known as “snake bites.” The Viper’s removal targa top should have came with a written apology from Lutz himself.

Alas, it did not. The Viper somehow endured numerous ill-fated ventures, including a little math exercise called DaimlerChrysler. The Viper never apologized: It only grew more wicked along the way, until its 2017 demise. By the time it died, the same V-10 engine had swelled to 8.4 liters of displacement and provided 645 hp. An automatic transmission? Forget about it. This was a driver’s car.

For 25 years, Chrysler gave American sports car enthusiasts a modern-day beacon with a soul from simpler times. And with that said, it will be impossible to erase the Viper from our memory.

Note to readers: Motor Authority has compiled 100 cars that have forever changed enthusiasts. From supercars and sedans to SUVs and muscle cars, these are the cars that have sparked our love for cars. Think we’ve missed something? Leave a comment below or contact us here.

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