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Dodge Viper Buyer’s Guide
The Dodge Viper is one of the most iconic All-American muscle cars ever built. 2017 was the last year of production after a 25-year run from 1992-2017. There are five generations of the Dodge Viper.
The Viper has always been known for its power, torque, top speed, and acceleration, with later models incorporating more and more upgrades in these areas and others.
If you want to dive deep into the Viper’s incarnations over the years, look no further – your ultimate buying guide awaits.
The Dodge Viper Origin Story
On a Sunday afternoon in 1988, Bob Lutz reflected on how much he loved his Ford Cobra.
Lutz was having a hell of a time driving his customized Cobra around twisty Michigan back roads. Having just switched to Chrysler from Ford, Lutz felt a pang of guilt for enjoying the Cobra so much given that it represented his current competitor.
But there was just no way around the fact that at the time, Chrysler/Dodge didn’t make cars that were as exciting to drive as the Cobra. They didn’t have a rear wheel drive car that was competitive with the Corvettes and Cobras of the world.
And so here Lutz was, driving a Ford car with the Ford emblems removed, enjoying his driving experience but feeling guilty for doing so. He wished that a Chrysler car could offer him the same thrill that the Cobra was currently giving him.
All of a sudden it hit him – all of the parts necessary for a true American muscle car were available at Chrysler.
Lutz recounts in the foreword to The Viper Buyers Guide that Chrysler was planning on building a new V-10 engine and five-speed manual transmission, along with independent front suspension parts that had enough strength for a muscle car. Excited by these parts’ potential, Lutz talked to his head of engineering and got a concept car started.
Although he initially disliked the early takes on the new muscle car, Lutz says that “All my doubts were erased when I saw the first clay model, with its powerful, bulging surfaces and heroic proportions.”
Now that you know how this legendary supercar came to be, let’s get into the nitty gritty details of each generation.
Gen 1 (1992-1995)
Image source: Petrolicious
If you just want to go fast in a straight line and turn heads, the first generation of the Dodge Viper is exactly what you’re looking for. Sure, it’s not the car with the most creature comforts – but none of that matters when the naturally aspirated V-10 opens up on a long stretch of asphalt.
Backstory of the First Generation
The first generation of the Dodge Viper was built with one goal in mind: raw performance. Specifically, the Viper was built to outshine the AC Cobra, with a specific performance goal of going from 0 to 100 mph and back to a halt within 15 seconds.
To accomplish this goal, Dodge engineers decided that the engine came first – and then built the rest of the car around it. And boy, what an engine it is.
The V10 is based on a truck engine, and has massive torque to match. Specifically, the engine produces 400 HP and 465 ft·lbf of torque at 3600 rpm, leading to incredible acceleration and top speeds.The power of this engine demands a very stiff chassis that leads to this car feeling like it’s born for the drag strip.
Dodge brought out the concept car version of the Viper, (called the “Copperhead” at the time) at the 1989 North American International Auto Show to gauge public reaction. They started getting orders before the show ended – which was a clear sign to greenlight the Viper project to the public.
The first generation of the Viper is only available as a convertible, as the coupe wasn’t introduced until Gen 2.
Final word: If we had to describe the Generation 1 Dodge Vipers in a few words, they would be “massive horsepower and torque”. Although hell – those words apply to all the generations of the Viper!
Fun fact: The roots of this generation of the Viper cross over with Lamborghini, as the prototype engine block used in the concept car was developed by the Italian supercar company, as they were a subsidiary of Chrysler at the time.
Gen 2 (1996-2002)
Image Source: Viper Owners Association
Within a few years of launching the first generation of the Dodge viper, a group of hardcore fans gathered around the car. They loved the muscle car attitude the Viper represented – pure speed, torque, and acceleration embodied.
Chosen as the pace car for the 1996 Indianapolis 500, the second generation of the Dodge viper was even more high performing than the first, while also adding some much-needed amenities and safety features.
As Dodge’s “halo” car, the Viper represented the pinnacle of what the company had to offer, and so every Dodge Viper was a moving advertisement. Following along these lines, the second gen Viper was sold in Europe as well as the States.
Finally, the Viper was made to appeal to a wider audience by offering a coupe version (dubbed the GTS) as well as the convertible (dubbed the “roadster”). These two versions would both exist for the rest of the generations of the Viper.
More Horsepower, More Torque, and Better Handling
On the performance side, the second generation had a top speed of about 25 mph faster than the first generation, and could do the quarter mile about 0.7 seconds faster. This was due to the increased horsepower and torque numbers – 450 HP and 488 lb·ft of torque.
This generation of the Viper also had much better handling, due to 123 changes that Dodge engineers made in order to win the 98 Le Mans GT2 division (more on that below).
On the safety and amenity side, AC became standard along with airbags, power locks, and power windows. As the model years went on, you even got a CD player and speaker system in the car to pump some music while driving really, really fast. Finally, in 2001 antilock brakes were added into the mix for a bit more safety.
However, make no mistake – these Vipers are not cars for beginners. They demand more control and focus than most muscle cars, due to the fact that the Viper is much more powerful than most muscle cars.
The GTS-R and Winning the Le Mans
In 1995, Chrysler put out the Dodge Viper GTS-R.
The GTS-R went on to win the GT-2 class at the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans race, finishing in spots 1-2. The GTS-R team repeated this performance in 1999 and 2000, proving to the world that Chrysler was capable of building a world-class racing machine.
The Dodge Viper GTS-R also won numerous other series and races, including the 1999 and 2000 American Le Mans Series.
The Dodge engineering team completely overhauled the suspension and chassis of the 1st Gen Viper in order to transform it into a track-ready monster, as while the 1st Gen was known for horsepower and torque, it wasn’t exactly a track superstar.
And all of that engineering knowledge got put into the street versions of the 2nd Gen Vipers, leading to a much better handling car.
Final word: The 2nd Gen Viper takes all of the good stuff about the Viper (massive horsepower and torque, sexy looks) and adds in more safety features, creature comforts, and way better handling.
Fun fact: After winning the 1998 Le Mans, the Chrysler team celebrated by building 100 street legal versions of the GTS-R, called the “GT2 Championship Edition”. These special edition Vipers had upgraded horsepower and torque numbers, an aerodynamics package, and a bunch of cool visuals to distinguish them from the normal 2nd Gen Vipers.
Gen 3 (2003-2006)
Say what you want, but Dodge knows what Viper owners want in their cars: power.
And the third generation of the Viper provides that in abundance, with 500 horsepower and 525 ft·lbf of torque standard. The engine is still a naturally aspirated V-10, and it now boasts 8.3 liters of displacement, making it even more massive than before.
Massive Brembo brakes (the go to choice for supercars) allow the Gen 3 to control all this power. Dodge engineers continued to work on the suspension and transmission, leading Car and Driver to say “The major impression from our short drive of the car is one of improved sophistication….from what feels like a stiffer, better-isolated structure through a more refined suspension, a slicker transmission, and a more linear steering gear.”
Other changes in this generation include a convertible hardtop that’s easy to use, even more torque, a 0-60 time of under 4 seconds, and redesigned seats that are a bit more comfortable. Additionally, the 3rd Gen Viper looks quite different from previous generations, with a sharper, more angled design.
Finally, on the comfort side, a 6 CD changer was made standard as well as a “dead pedal” to rest your left foot on.
As a side note, no Vipers were made in 2007, as Dodge was too busy preparing to launch the new generation in 2008.
Final word: After sharpening the Viper’s handling with the second Gen, Dodge continued to improve through a more comfortable interior and a more enjoyable driving experience. Oh, and more horsepower and torque as well.
Fun fact: Dodge used a hilarious ad campaign for this generation of Viper. Just take a look at this one:
Gen 4 (2008-2010)
Image source: Car Gurus
The fourth generation of the Viper is when this car starts to reach ridiculous levels of power production. For example, it took 3 generations and 11 years for the Viper to get from 400 HP to 500. Then, in 2 years and one generation, the Viper jumped up to 600 horses and 560 ft·lbf of torque.
The hood and design are much more aggressive looking as well – and they produce a lot more downforce.
This and many other changes make the fourth generation of the Viper incredibly powerful, but also incredibly easy to drive. As Car and Driver puts it, the Viper has a “neutral, progressive, perfectly balanced chassis enhanced by aerodynamic downforce….Its friendliness is nothing short of amazing.”
And this performance shows on the track – the 2008 Dodge Viper boasted better times around the Virginia International Raceway than the Corvette Z06, The 911 GT3, and the Audi R8. Car and Driver also notes that the shifter on the fourth generation feels “pretty sweet”.
The first two generations of the Viper have, at times, been criticized for an exhaust note that doesn’t fully represent how powerful the car is. Well, the fourth generation changes all that, with a very satisfying array of cockpit sounds at different speeds.
Final word: 600 horsepower. That’s a lot. This car is monstrously powerful, and has more angular looks (and much more downforce) than previous generations of the Viper.
Fun fact: It’s worth remembering that each and every Viper is handmade at a single Detroit factory – making its craftsmanship even more impressive.
Gen 5 (2013-2017)
Image source: Dodge.com
The 5th generation of the Dodge Viper may be one of the best handling and most powerful muscle cars ever built by any company, ever.
It takes everything that Viper owners love about the car, and then adds MORE. More power (645 horses). More torque (600 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm.) More acceleration (hitting 60 mph in 3 seconds flat). And even better handling.
Instead of plastic and fiberglass, the 5th Gen Viper uses composite material body panels for increased stiffness and less weight.
Speaking of the body – this Viper looks absolutely stunning. With the 5th Gen, Dodge decided to go back to how the 2nd Generation Vipers looked – curvaceous with soft lines, as opposed to the angular look of generations 3 and 4. It can actually be hard to tell the 5th and 2nd Gen Vipers apart at first glance.
There are two models of the 5th Gen Viper, the base and the GTS, in addition to a ton of special edition versions. Both models have Pirelli tires, electronic stability control, launch control, and cruise control.
Purists should have no fear however – the electronic aids can be turned off if you prefer a more natural driving experience.
The GTS version of the Viper also offers the ability to choose different “modes” for driving the Viper according to whether you’re on the road or the track.
A Luxury Experience
In the past, while the Viper had creature comforts, it was never about luxurious interiors, nav systems, or anything akin to that. The Viper stood for pure power and performance, and it delivered.
However, with the final generation of the Viper, Dodge decided to make the car more comfortable as well as more powerful. The base model Viper has a leather and vinyl interior, a leather topped dashboard, an infotainment system, and a digital display. The GTS model adds on to that with more leather inside and electric seats.
There are also numerous options available, including:
- The Laguna interior package, which upgrades the upholstery in the car to swanky levels of leather goodness
- The Track package, which includes lighter wheels, stickier P Zero Corsa tires, and aluminum-hat StopTech brake rotors
- An optional satellite navigation system
The ACR Viper – The Ultimate Track King
The Dodge Viper ACR, a special track version of the 5th Gen Viper, has set records at over 16 race tracks and holds more track records than any other production car in the world.
A Road and Track article exclaiming the benefits of the Viper went on to say:
“When you think of the ultimate street-legal race car, you probably think of the McLaren P1, Porsche 918, or the Ferrari LaFerrari. Unfortunately, if your definition of “ultimate” involves putting down the fastest possible lap time at a track, you’d probably be wrong to pick any of those three.
Yep, on tracks like Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, and Virginia International Raceway, if you want to set the fastest time, you’ll need to be driving something a bit more American—a Dodge Viper ACR.”
Final word: The 5th Generation Viper is everything you love about the Viper in an even more powerful package – that also comes with some swanky creature comforts and useful safety mechanisms. Car and Driver may have said it best: “The new car is more comfortable and easier to drive, but it still feels authentic”.
Fun fact: Pennzoil teamed up with Viper to create a short movie called “The Last Viper”, and it’s absolutely amazing. If this video doesn’t put goosebumps on your skin, you might want to check your pulse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrehQjsz5ck
The Viper as An Investment Vehicle
The Viper makes a great investment vehicle for two reasons.
- The demand for the Viper already exceeds the supply.
- The Viper boasts low maintenance costs.
Let’s start with maintenance – since the Viper has a manual transmission and a naturally aspirated V-10 engine with roots in a truck engine, it’s relatively straightforward to maintain.
The engine is like a tank – it can take a lot of abuse and not get wrecked, unlike Porsches, Ferraris, and other exotic cars that require expensive maintenance if you push them too hard.
Supply and Demand
It’s a basic law of economics – if you keep the supply the same size, and demand goes up, then prices will go up.
This is one of the main reasons that the Viper is a good investment – Dodge isn’t making them anymore, and it’s not like Dodge made a ton of Vipers to begin with. There were probably about 40,000 Vipers total built over all the years of production. To give some scale, there were about 40,000 Corvettes built in ONE YEAR (2016).
Additionally, the Viper simply is a sexy car. It has classic good looks inspired by the Shelby Cobra (which started out at an MSRP of $9,000 dollars and is now worth about a million and half bucks).
Finally, the story behind the Viper, the Le Mans wins, and the numerous track records set by the Viper ACR have created a legend around the Viper brand that will only get stronger with time. Hardcore fans of the Viper are numerous, and extremely…. hardcore. They LOVE their Vipers with a passion.
Demand Is High… and Rising
Demand is already extremely high for the Viper, and it will only rise in the future. For example, we here at American Supercars had to give many deposits BACK to customers who had paid for 5th Gen Vipers, because Dodge simply wasn’t able to build anymore. They ran out of parts.
This is pretty much unheard of in the auto world and shows that Dodge is serious about not making any more.
Just to repeat: we had customers put up substantial deposits for these Vipers up front, and Dodge essentially said, “Hey, sorry, we’re only able to make so many of these. You’re going to have to refund those orders.”
The Dodge Viper is a car that we’re extremely passionate about, and we would love to chat with you about any questions you may have about the supercar.
If you’re interested in a Viper, give us a call at 559-917-7165.
We look forward to speaking with you.
Christian’s favorite car is a 1996 Dodge Viper GTS with Blue with White Stripes. He loves marketing and social media almost as much as sports cars. You can reach him at: [email protected]