Cars

14 Things You Didn't Know About The SRT Viper

You likely know the urban legend about how the Viper was born, when then-Chrysler president Bob Lutz suggested one cold February morning that Chrysler should build a modern Cobra. That's not how it really happened, since he was inspired while driving his replica Cobra around in the summer. Chances are you know, too, that it used a truck motor when it came out. That's not really true, either, though one of the prototypes did have a Lamborghini engine. Read on to find out what else you might not know.

1. Despite popular opinion and car guy folklore, the very first Viper wasn't red.
It was white, which is one of America's traditional racing colors. It also didn't have a faux roll bar like the red one you generally think of as the first Viper.

2. It's first engine was borrowed from a Ram Van.
Dodge was planning a massive V10 for the upcoming Ram, but it was ungodly heavy, so they were going to use an aluminum V10 for the Viper. The catch? Such a thing didn't exist yet, and with no money to have one built overnight, they used a production V8 from the trucks and vans of the day so they could do some chassis tuning, since it was a similar weight to an anticipated aluminum V10.

3. It's second engine though? It was a hand built aluminum V10, made by Lamborghini.
Chrysler owned Lambo at the time, so once the decision was made to spend the cash on a proper V10 for testing purposes, they picked up the phone and told the Italians to get to work.

4. The Viper was almost the Challenger.
Head of Global Product Development for Chrysler at the time, Bob Lutz went through many different names while creating the Viper, including Asp, Python, and Sidewinder, before rejecting them for various reasons ("you didn't want 'Sidewinder' because... you could see all kinds of buff-book headlines with the car going sideways"). Once he settled on Viper, the marketing team fought him, wanting to use the Challenger moniker to conjure up images of Dodge's muscle car past. Thankfully, they lost.

5. It debuted the same day as Lexus and Infinity.
Really. The 1989 Detroit Auto Show was kind of a big day in the automotive world.

6. The guy who assembled Team Viper to develop the cars previously built Formula 1 cars.
Francois Castaing spent time at Renault, where he led an Alpine to victory over Porsche in 1978, and helped introduce the dominant Renault turbo to Formula 1.

7. He also signed his name to the first year's cars in a very dark place.
As the first few hundred cars were produced, legend has it that he stamped his signature into the inside of the oil pan, meaning the only way you'd ever find his name is after your car had suffered a rather dramatic death.

8. The 1991 Indy 500 Pace Car was almost a Japanese-made Dodge Stealth (not a Viper) by accident.
Dodge was slated to provide the pace car, and they were all set to run the Japanese-built Stealth, until the United Auto Workers union caught wind of the plan and demanded that an American car pace America's race, and you don't get more American than the Viper.

9. The 1992 Viper assumed there were no objects in your rear view mirror that could keep up.
You know that little warning on your passenger side mirror that says "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear?" Yeah, the Viper assumed that by the time you actually read that, anything that was once in your mirror would be a distant memory, so it didn't have the warning.

10. The Viper GTS-R won Le Mans three times thanks in part to the British and French.
Chrysler contracted with French racing team Oreca to run a European race program. Oreca, in turn, partnered with Reynard, an English company making IndyCars at the time. It worked: three Le Mans class wins and a host of championships across Europe followed.

11. Vipers are customizable on the fly.
Dodge realized that their car would be a lot to handle but they didn't want any excuses when you were pounding the clutch at 120 mph, so they designed the pedal position to be fully adjustable — a feature that wouldn't become commonplace 'till years later.

12. They almost built a Viper Motorcycle.
They once stuffed a Viper motor into a bike called the Tomahawk. It was more than a little insane, but if they had been able to find someone equally insane to ride it, it had a mathematical top speed of nearly 400 mph. Perhaps fortunately, they never did.

13. They also once made a baby Viper.
Called the Firepower Grand Tourer, the car was built on the Viper's chassis, but used "only" a Hemi V8 with 425 hp.

14. An Alfa Romeo Viper? Yep. It's real.
Designed by the legendary Zagato firm, they're actually making the Zagato TZ3 Stradale for people who can afford them. Take a Viper, re-skin it with a dead sexy Alfa Romeo body, and you get the picture.

Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor. He believes everyone should know how to drive without traction control, even though no one from the tire manufacturing industry pays him to think that. You can follow him on Twitter.