Updated: Nov 2, 2020
How does a sports car gain a reputation for being notoriously difficult to handle and actively trying to murder its pilot? It might have something to do with a traditional formula from the 1960s with a large displacement engine in a lightweight chassis and minimal assistance. The Shelby Cobra comes to mind as being the literal definition of it. But what if there was a more modern version of it?
The Cobra was the brainchild of Carroll Shelby, who went to AC Cars and requested an Ace Roadster to be built with room in the engine bay for a V8 as their engine supplier Bristol Cars had ceased production. Shelby reached out to Chevrolet for a V8, who declined for fear that it would provide too much competition to the Corvette. Shelby then turned to Ford, persuading then Vice-President/GM Lee Iacocca into providing a small-block V8 to shoehorn between the Cobra's fenders, turning it into an absolute legend.
Fast forward to 1978, Iacocca was fired from the Ford Motor Company (partially due to the recalls behind the Pinto and clashing with Henry Ford II) and was quickly scooped up by Chrysler to help save the sinking ship. Iacocca helped introduce several models, such as the K-car and Dodge Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country.
However, he felt the need to inject some performance into the lineup. Iacocca brought in Carroll to do just that, creating performance cars such as the Omni GLH/GLHS (Goes Like Heck/Goes Like Heck Summore) and Charger Shelby sport-compacts, but it just wasn't quite enough.
Bob Lutz, who was president of Chrysler during the late 1980s, suggested that the company produce a modern Cobra considering Carroll and Lee's past relationship. After a few months in the design studio, the Viper (which was chosen because Cobra was trademarked) was unveiled at the 1989 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) with an excellent initial reaction from the public.
The project was approved in May 1990, and a pre-production model was later driven by Carroll Shelby in the 1991 Indianapolis 500 as a pace car to showcase the new model for 1992.
Further into the future to the present day, the Viper is now in its fifth generation that lasted from 2013-2017 and has made quite the name for itself. Going from a wild, untamed animal to a precision instrument with no remorse. The new Viper was more refined and was significantly updated. The crosshair grille remained but was redesigned. New headlamp assemblies feature xenon projectors with LED daytime running lights and turn signals framing it, mimicking a snake's eye.
The clamshell hood was now made of carbon fiber and featured venting to provide cold air to the snarling engine under the hood and remove heat efficiently. The roof and rear hatch are also made the lightweight material. The side profile is unmistakably Viper with its trademark exhaust outlets exiting before the rear tires, albeit much better covered to prevent leg burns the early cars were so notorious for. The car's rear has new LED taillamps that feature lenses that have a surface similar to snakeskin and a carbon fiber tail panel.
However, this is no ordinary Viper (as if that wasn't extraordinary enough). This bright orange serpent is known as a T/A or Time Attack and featured several exterior updates to improve track performance. New carbon fiber canards were mounted on either side of the front bumper, and below it was a carbon splitter.
At the rear, a new adjustable pedestal rear spoiler made of the lightweight material was added and was further complemented by a diffuser situated below the rear bumper. All of this combined to produce 181kg (400lbs) of downforce at 241km/hr (150mph). This Viper is finished off in an exclusive hue known as " Yorange" and has colour matched stitching throughout the black interior along with gunmetal accents surrounding the shifter assembly, along with the center console and embedded in the Sabelt produced bucket seats that hold tight during a spirited track session.
Under the long vented carbon hood resides the heart of the beast—an 8.4-liter all-aluminum V10 equipped with single overhead camshafts and variable valve timing. The engine can trace its roots back to the "LA" series of small-block V8s produced by the brand and could be thought of as a 5.9L Magnum V8 with two cylinders added on. An iron block version of the engine was originally produced to be placed into the Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups for improved towing and hauling capacity.
Under the direction of Bob Lutz, Lamborghini (which was under Chrysler's ownership when the Viper was conceived) was used to engineer the block from Aluminum for use in the then new Viper. Apart from having an aluminum block and cylinder heads, the V10 uses diecast magnesium valve covers to improve sealing. The ten cylinder generates 645hp and 600lb/ft of torque. Helping put all of that power to the ground is a Tremec TR6060 6-speed manual transmission equipped with a twin-plate clutch and aluminum flywheel, which sends it all to the rear wheels through a speed-sensitive limited-slip differential. The serpent is capable of 0-100km/hr (62mph) in 3.5 seconds, crosses the quarter mile in 11.5 seconds, and slithers on to a top speed of 332km/hr (206mph).
Beneath the carbon and aluminum skin, the Viper rides on double wishbone suspension all around, using cast aluminum control arms.
The T/A package adds Bilstein electronic shock absorbers at all four corners with two dampening adjustment levels, stiffer coil springs, and heavier duty stabilizer bars. Further enhancement includes a carbon fiber "x-brace" in the engine bay, replacing the standard aluminum unit.
Brembo handles the braking with fixed aluminum multi-piston calipers which are coated black to improve heat dissipation clamping down on two-piece floating brake discs. Framing the stopping power is a set of staggered "Sidewinder" aluminum wheels coated in matte black measuring 18" (front" and 19" (rear), which are wrapped in 295 and 355 wide Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires borrowed from the ACR package.
This serpent may be more refined than its predecessors and inspiration, but that doesn't mean it won't bite.