Project Viper Cover

Project Viper GTS: Part 1 – Intro and History

by Billy Johnson

The Dodge Viper has been competitive on the world stage by doing it the American way: with big wheels, big brakes, big tires, a big engine, and not a lot of refinement.  While it has always been a highly capable car on the track, used car prices have finally dropped to the point of being affordable by the masses and it has become a realistic option as a track day car.  This project hopes to clarify some of the stereotypes that surround the Viper and bring the truth to light of a very cool platform.

At MotoIQ, it does not matter if the car is from Japan, Europe, or the US.  If it’s cool, we like it.  The Viper is no exception and is a very unique, modern-day hotrod.  It’s surprising that the Viper even exists at all in a day where pretty much every car has satellite radio, back-up cameras, park-assist, turbochargers, all-wheel drive, and heated and cooled seats.  While its ergonomics aren’t much better than an Elise and refined has never been a part of the Viper’s vocabulary, it has been a top contender at the Nurburgring and racetracks around the world and there is no question that the car is fast.  To me, a driver’s car is pure, engaging to drive, and responds to your inputs (for better or worse).  The Viper easily fits this description and having a ridiculous amount of torque in a sleek body that nearly tops 200mph never hurts and adds to the fun factor.


GTLMContinuing the race winning pedigree, Team SRT captures the 2014 Tudor United Sports Car GTLM championship wearing a red and white stripes livery as a throwback to the paint scheme used when the Viper took the 1999 & 2000 ALMS GTS Championships.



It’s pretty common knowledge that the Dodge viper is a modern rendition of Carroll Shelby’s historic AC Cobra.  Carroll was an iconic Hot-Rodder or “Tuner” if you will, who famously took a small, light, great handling (but underpowered) British-built AC Ace sports car and stuffed a big American Ford V8 into it to create a world-beating juggernaut.  Project V8 RX7 follows this formula by taking a great handling but torque-less FD RX7 chassis and stuffing a monstrous LS3 V8 engine into it to create one of my all-time favorite combinations to drive.

In the 1980’s, Dodge had a pretty lame product line and the company desperately needed a halo car to improve the brand’s image and to get people into showroom floors.  The mastermind behind the Viper was then Chrysler President Bob Lutz.  Bob was previously the Executive VP of sales at BMW before becoming the Executive Vice President at Ford Motor Company where his affinity toward the Shelby Cobra resulted in him buying a Roush-powered 427 Autokraft continuation Cobra.


Viper 1989 PrototypeThe body of the 1989 Viper prototype was the vision of Tom Gale, who gave the car a modern and progressive design that tips the hat to Shelby’s AC Cobra with a distinctly curvaceous body featuring a long protruding hood.

Chrysler didn’t want to just make another Corvette and they had to differentiate themselves in the sports car world.  While on a drive in his Autokraft Cobra in 1988, Lutz came up with the idea of building a modern version of the Shelby Cobra.  A back to basics roadster complete with side exhaust just like the Cobra, but made from the massive Chrysler parts bin and powered by a 10-cylinder version of the Magnum V8 that was being developed for the Dodge Ram pickup.  The goal was to build a car to compete with the upcoming Lotus-developed 375hp, DOHC LT5 Corvette ZR1 while being a more bare-bones, basic, and much more affordable alternative to Ferrari’s 300hp 348.


Viper VM-01 muleWith a body made out of fiberglass fabricated by a former Team Shelby craftsman, the first Viper test mule was known internally as “VM-01” and had a production-intent chassis and suspension layout.  It made use of a 300hp cast iron V8 which simulated the weight of an aluminum V-10.

After a meeting with Tom Gale (then VP of Design) and Francois Castaing (then VP of Engineering and ex-Renault Sport Technical Director) and with Carroll Shelby on the payroll as a consultant, the idea was not too hard to sell.  Within a year a running prototype was completed in time for the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  The concept was met with a hugely successful response including many people putting down deposits before the car was even confirmed for production.  This success warranted Lutz to have a $50 million budget and 3 years to get the Viper in to production.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015 10:38 PM
what do you think about a 4 cam turbo v6 swap and a sequential trans?
Wednesday, January 07, 2015 10:47 PM
i mean think about it you could sell the powertrain for a pretty penny, maybe even enough for a good second hand hollinger, maybe do a vr38dett. it would make a huge difference in handling, im not sure if the vr motor fully dressed may not be that much lighter i think the packaging would let you build a more competent track and street car

my .002$
Thursday, January 08, 2015 2:14 AM
Holy wheel gap batman! Better overnight the KWs!

Should be a fun project :)
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Thursday, January 08, 2015 3:23 AM
Nice! Look forwards to seeing where you go with it.
Thursday, January 08, 2015 5:26 AM
Wow Billy, this is just awesome. My love for the Viper growing up is what initially attracted me to the body lines of the FD RX-7 (strikingly similar for those who have never thought about it). Looking forward to the progression of this build!
Thursday, January 08, 2015 6:36 AM
The Viper is the ultimate muscle car and I'm super happy to see one on MIQ. Billy, you own my dream car, I want a GTS in blue with the white stripes. Major jealousy!!!

An engine swap in a Viper??? Are you nuts??? These engines can make 1,000 horsepower without even trying and when you do try you can make double that. 2JZ has nothing on the Viper V10.
Thursday, January 08, 2015 7:11 AM
Oh man, 12 year old me is super jealous. I used to dream of a Viper in blue with white stripes and mesh wheels (like the Viper GT2). I had a gas RC car with the Oreca blue and white livery you posted. I used to play Viper Racing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viper_Racing extensively and this is where I first learned about understeer and oversteer as a kid before I got into Gran Turismo.

More recently I have noticed how low the prices have come on those and have toyed with the idea. Congrats on a 7000 mile example. Really looking forward to updates on this, probably one of the cooler MotoIQ project cars.

Oh and all I read in theneil's comment was something about SR20s commanding a premium before race wars, mad tyte JDM, etc. Someone revoke his license.
Thursday, January 08, 2015 7:23 AM
Very well written and enjoyable article! I'm quite intrigued to see how much you're willing to modify to improve the car. Also, who makes parts for such a beast?
Thursday, January 08, 2015 8:04 AM
I used to detail and deliver at a Porsche/Rolls Royce dealer in the mid 90's. A customer brought in a gen 1 Viper roadster as a trade-in with what looked like a shark bite on his left calf. Turns out the exposed side pipe on the roadster took that large bite out of his leg. I remember opening the door and looking at the 6" sticker that said WARNING! Since the car is so racecar anyway they should have put the sticker on the side of the door panel instead of the doorsill.

Nice addition to the MotoIQ fleet!
Thursday, January 08, 2015 9:22 AM
This is close to the last car I would have thought for a MotoIQ project, but very cool. I look forward to the updates and seeing what you do to it.
Connor Harrison
Connor Harrisonlink
Thursday, January 08, 2015 10:21 AM
Definitely a good addition to the fleet, nice grab Billy.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Thursday, January 08, 2015 10:49 AM
{Runs to check on used Viper prices}
Thursday, January 08, 2015 2:03 PM
Unfortunately, used Viper prices aren't quite as low as I'd hoped after reading this article. But they aren't out of reach.
Thursday, January 08, 2015 2:04 PM
Time to go back to dreaming of buying a used NSX.
Thursday, January 08, 2015 2:21 PM
Ive always viewed the FD RX7 as a 9/10 scale Japanese Viper.

The market for Vipers is really slow right now. There was a lot more of them for sale at lower prices just a more nth or two ago. Good luck on the NSX front, they are exploding in value and getting hard to find a good one.
Thursday, January 08, 2015 9:43 PM
how else will you make room for all the awd components with that 5 foot long motor? let the butchery begin!
Friday, January 09, 2015 2:54 PM
So any chance there will be a buyers guide for the viper? It all sounds well and good but I would love to know what to look out for when shooing one of these (not that I will be).
Friday, January 09, 2015 8:58 PM
Really enjoyed the history of the car and learnt plenty. I'm looking forward to future articles!
Sunday, January 11, 2015 4:42 AM
Protodad: the main thing for the Gen 2s is the 998 recall. Some of the other concerns will be covered in future articles. For the most part they are pretty bulletproof and simple cars.
Thursday, January 15, 2015 11:08 AM
You are living the dream sir. I've wanted to do a Viper build since I was 10 years old.
Anonymous User
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015 11:24 PM
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