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Visceral Viper

The V10 Dodge Viper - so much fun there's probably a law against it!

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Dodge Viper RT/10
  • 8-litre V10
  • Steel tube chassis and composite panels
  • 335mm rear tyres as standard
  • Raw fun!
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If you’ve never driven a Dodge Viper, boy, are you missing out! While there are numerous other high-performance cars that’ll sprint to 100 km/h quicker or shade the Viper at Nurburgring, the big Dodge has an appeal that impossible to quantify with numbers. From its barking side-exit exhausts and musclebound V10 donk to its imposing stance, the Viper doesn’t need to be driven at ten-tenths to put a smile on your face. There’s something deeply primal about its appeal.

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For the sceptical, it’s easy to point at the truck-based engine, the mammoth kerb weight and dismiss the whole concept as some kind of over the top joke. Well, yes, it is over the top, but when you want to get down an’ have a good time, the Viper strikes Porsches and Beemers with venom.

The Viper began life as a high-profile concept car (the sort we’ve seen a thousand times) but, this time, the concept went through to production. Conceived as modern American muscle car, the Viper was first seen by the public in 1989 and, after a huge response, it was rushed into production by 1992.

The most attractive aspect of the Viper is its engine – people can’t wait to grab a peak under the bonnet.

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Faced with a limited budget, Dodge employed an existing 8-litre V10 engine that was being used in Dodge Ram commercial vehicles. However, to achieve high performance from the naturally low revving, high-torque engine, Lamborghini (which was then owned by Chrysler) recast the block and heads in aluminium. Those budget constraints meant a two-valve-per-cylinder layout was carried over – there wasn’t the cash to develop multi-valve heads. The engine uses forged aluminium pistons (working in iron cylinder liners), a 9.1:1 compression ratio, a dual valve spring arrangement, dual throttle bodies, sequential fuel injection and stainless steel tubular headers. It’s all pretty traditional.

Thanks to its huge displacement, the Viper RT/10 engine has no problem churning out 400hp (298kW) at 4600 rpm and 450ft-lb (612Nm) of torque at 3600 rpm. Of course, there are plenty of other hi-po cars that pump out similar outputs but none have the astounding flexibility of the Viper – supercars aren’t meant to be this easy to drive! In addition, the low rpm torque of the engine also allows the use of relatively tall gearing – this contributes to fuel consumption that, while far from impressive, isn’t as bad as you might expect...

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With a standard Borg Warner T56 six-speed manual gearbox and LSD rear-end, the Viper has claimed 12.9 second quarter mile performance and a top speed of 264 km/h.

The chassis and body were clearly designed for limited volume production rather than mass production. The Viper is built on a rectangular tube steel frame which some sources claim is the stiffest sportscar chassis ever built. Conversely, there are other sources that suggest the early Viper chassis is a bit crude – something like a Cobra kit car... The naked frame is draped in RTM (Resin Transfer Moulded) fibreglass composite panels including a ‘clamshell’ bonnet which is forward-hinged. As you can probably identify, the Viper is a massive vehicle – nearly two metres wide...

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The suspension comprises unequal length upper and lower A arms, coil-over struts and a swaybar at each end while there are toe control links found at the rear. Traction control didn’t make an appearance until relatively late in the Viper’s production. A responsive feel is created by the power-assisted rack and pinion steering arrangement which delivers just 2.4 turns lock to lock.

The brakes are capable of meeting Dodge’s goal of running 0 – 100 mph (161km/h) – 0 in less than 15 seconds. The Viper runs 330.5 x 32mm discs at the front and 330.5 x 22mm discs at the rear (ventilated at each end). Four-pot calipers are used at the front but ABS was not fitted in early models.

With huge longitudinal and lateral forces able to be generated, the Viper rolls on equally huge rubber. Front tyres are 275/40 17 while the rears are gargantuan 335/35 17s! Theses are mounted on forged aluminium wheels.

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The Viper is a made-to-a-price supercar so don’t expect a luxurious trim - far from it. The standard equipment list includes seating for two, sports-spec analogue instrumentation, basic HVAC controls and wind-up windows can be found in many examples. Storage? Pack lightly because there’s only 19 litres of vacant space...

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Visually, the Viper makes its go-fast intentions abundantly clear. Its long bonnet hints to the huge engine and the huge tyres confirm it. Oh, and who could ignore the wonderful side-exit exhausts? Early Vipers were sold as open-top Roadsters (as seen here) using a folding roof and zipper-type side windows. After a coupe of years of production, a hardtop model was added to the line. Interestingly, the aero Cd is an abysmal 0.495 in open-roof guise or ‘just’ 0.45 in the hardtop. The side-exit exhaust system was dropped from 1996 and in 1997 the second generation model was released. The second generation Viper remains similar in appearance to the original but boasts 450hp (336kW).

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Driving the Viper is an unforgettable experience. With the roof down, the on-coming airstream blasts you in the face and your senses are further tickled by the thunderous exhaust note. And then you put your foot down. The Viper’s V10 is unlike most other high-performance engines because it produces a huge wallop of torque from any rpm. It’s the ultimate neck-snapper. Keep the throttle open and the 1488kg Viper bustles past 100 km/h with almost surreal effortlessness but, for the inexperienced, tackling corners can be intimidating. This is a big car and with a grunting V10 under the nose, you can never be 100 percent sure whether the Viper will bite. Remember, there’s no traction control or ABS in the early models...

The 1993 Viper RT/10 Roadster we drove – supplied by Sydney’s Autostyle Performance Cars – had been imported from Japan and converted from left-hand drive to meet ADRs. The car felt as-factory except the steering rack (replaced as part of the conversion) required more turns than expected and there was minimal foot space.

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And the price of owning a Viper? Well, as you might imagine, these beasts are in high demand but AutoStyle Performance Cars typically sells examples like this for around AUD$100.000. But be warned – if you can’t afford it, the experience of driving a Viper could be dangerous!


Autostyle Performance Cars 0414 444 930

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