The Dodge Viper is a V10-powered sports car manufactured by the Dodge division of Chrysler LLC. Production of the two seat sports car began at New Mack Assembly in 1992 and moved to its current home at Conner Avenue Assembly in October 1995. The car, as well as numerous variations of it, have made countless appearances in TV shows, video games, movies, and music videos.
The Viper was conceived as a historical take on the classic American sports car. The iconic AC Cobra was a source of inspiration, and the final version of the Viper bears this out with its powerful engine, minimalist straightforward design, muscular and aggressive styling, and high performance. Some saw claims to kinship with the Cobra as a marketing exercise, ignoring that Carroll Shelby was heavily involved in the initial design of the Viper, and subsequent design of the Viper GTS coupe. Notably, the later (1996 through 2002)Viper GTS coupe took a few design cues from the Pete Brock designed Shelby Cobra Daytona. Though the proportions seem similar at first glance, the designs are quite unique. Carrol Shelby was key in the development of the R/T 10 as well as having a hand in the development of the GTS model.
The Viper was initially conceived in late 1988 at Chrysler's Advanced Design Studios. The following February, Chrysler president Bob Lutz suggested to Tom Gale at Chrysler Design that the company should consider producing a modern Cobra, and a clay model was presented to Lutz a few months later. The car appeared as a concept at the North American International Auto Show in 1989. This concept vehicle was originally named Copperhead because of its low, wide appearance characteristic of reptiles. All engines for the Viper have since been know as "cooperhead". The name would later be changed to Viper. Public reaction was so enthusiastic, that chief engineer Roy Sjeoberg was directed to develop it as a standard production vehicle.
Sjoberg selected 85 engineers to be "Team Viper", with development beginning in March 1989. The team asked the then-Chrysler subsidiary Lamborghini to cast some prototype aluminum blocks based on Dodge's V10 truck engine for sports car use in May. The production body was completed in the fall, with a chassis prototype running in December. Though a V8 was first used in the test mule, the V10, which the production car was meant to use, was ready in February 1990.
Official approval from Chrysler chairman, Lee Iacocca, came in May 1990. One year later, Carroll Shelby piloted a pre-production car as the pace vehicle in the Indianapolis 500 race. In November 1991, the car was released to reviewers with first retail shipments beginning in January 1992.
Following the release of the Viper in 1992, several North American and European teams attempted to race Viper RT/10s. Based on production cars and using an added roof for rigidity, the cars were not able to perform as hoped. Although they were never officially backed by Dodge, they got the company interested in developing a fully-backed race car by time the second generation Viper was under development. This was also Featured in the TOCA Series.