What lies up the road for America's meanest supercar?
Future Dodge Viper: In 2008, Dodge sold 1172 Vipers; in 2009, only 659. Prior to that, close to 2000 Vipers were rolling off dealer lots per year. Over 25,000 of these venomous sports cars have been sold since Dodge introduced it in 1992, making the Viper a success, at least until last year’s dismal performance.
Things actually started going downhill in 2008 when it was announced that the Viper brand was for sale. Within a year Chrysler went bankrupt and then a deal was struck with Fiat that saved Chrysler and, strangely, also the Viper. A quick succession of management changes seems to have worked in the Viper’s favor. In June of 2009, Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne was appointed CEO of Chrysler Group. The next month came news that not only was Viper no longer for sale, but that Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s vice president of product design (and a known Viper fanatic) would be the new CEO of Dodge Cars and be directly responsible for the Viper. He extended production of the 2010 model as far as it could go, which was this past June, because in July it would have to become a 2011 model. While there won’t be a 2011 model, we have reason to believe we’ll see a concept for a new Viper sometime in 2012, destined for production the following year.
The next Viper will use the same 8.4-liter V-10 making 600 horsepower. There’s nothing wrong with this, especially since the pushrod engine is apparently capable, with reasonable modification, of meeting emissions requirements up to 2018. The simple addition of direct injection could see power output rise to 700 bhp. Ilmor Marine sells the engine in 650-bhp and 725-bhp configurations, built at the Viper factory. Interestingly, Ilmor is still selling the engine even though the Viper plant is closed. Could it be the Ilmor folks know that Viper production will start up again before they run out of engines? It’s a safe bet they do.
Believe it or not, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG was destined to be the next Viper’s kissing cousin. Although those plans have since been scrapped, the manual transaxle and longer wheelbase developed in the process will likely be kept for the next-generation Viper, which would help with heat management, interior space and finally allow the driver’s seat, steering wheel and pedals to all line up.
The steel frame and general construction of the Viper will remain basically the same, as it’s already very light and strong. It’s also possible a less-powerful V-8 version would be created as a stepping-stone to the Viper—think Chrysler Firepower concept. Apparently Dodge engineers have even talked to Ferrari about performance stability control and how to improve the car’s steering feel.
But rest assured, the next Viper will not be a Ferrari—Gilles is too much of a Viper fanatic to allow that. The car is guaranteed to have a true manual gearbox and a real off button for the stability control. It will be significantly better than the current version, yet still retain the brutish nature that only serious car enthusiasts revel in. The Viper saga is not over. It’s just on hold.
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