The 488 cubic-inch ‘big block’ V10 was the largest production car engine at the time. The massive red intake manifold had very small diameter, long runners and a twin plenum that is restrictive at high RPMs. Gen 1s have 4 steel ribs on top of the plenum while Gen 2s have 3 larger ribs. The Gen 3 engine centralized the intake manifold with larger and shorter runners to improve high RPM breathing.
Team Viper succeeded with an 8.0L, 400 horsepower, 450lb-ft of torque all-aluminum V-10 with independent suspension using unequal length control arms front and rear (like a proper car). It also had a resin transfer molded body (like the Elan and Esprit, which is slightly different from regular fiberglass), and no electronic stability controls or anti-lock brakes. The car was such a stripped down and ‘pure’ roadster that it did not even have outer door handles and the plastic side windows had to be slipped in place as did the time consuming makeshift roof. There really was no way to lock this car. In the end they created an iconic roadster known as the RT/10.
There was even a crime-fighting TV series called “VIPER” based entirely around the car in sort of a “Knight-Rider” theme with a car that morphed into a high tech rocket-equipped vehicle similarly to those driven by James Bond. The show lasted 5 years and 78 episodes.
If the RT/10 was the Cobra’s spiritual successor and wind in your hair looker, the GTS was the world-beating performer. Shortly after completion of the Viper RT/10, Chrysler went to work on a coupe version of the Viper, known as the GTS which was to be styled after Shelby’s successful Daytona Coupe. The Daytona Coupe was originally built to beat Enzo Ferrari at LeMans since the Coupe’s improved aerodynamics gave it a 30mph+ advantage over the roofless Cobra in the 3 mile long Mulsanne Straight. This helped the Daytona Coupe beat the Ferrari 250 GTO and Porsche 904/4 GTS to win the GT class at LeMans in 1964. The car also took wins in the 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Daytona, Nurburgring 1000km and many more.
Designed by BRE founder Peter Brock, the Shelby Daytona Coupe was the inspiration for the design of the Gen 2 Viper GTS, with a sloping fastback roof and downforce producing rear spoiler.
Why does this matter? Well consider the Daytona Coupe was designed by Peter Brock. Yes the same Peter Brock who designed the original Corvette Stingray and who more importantly (to the JDM readers), founded Brock Racing Enterprises “BRE” of Datsun 240 and 510 racing lore. The blue with two white stripe paint scheme, long hood, compact cockpit that sits very rearward on the car, and a sloping tear-drop shape that terminates at a big lift-reducing spoiler lives on in the Viper GTS.
The Gen 2 Viper GTS maintains the catalytic converters and side mufflers of the Gen 1, which really heat up the side sills, but routes the exhaust out of the rear of the car and has an additional canister to further meet ever stringent sound requirements.
What is known as a “Gen 2” Viper was made between 1996-2002 (1997 for the RT/10) and is a far more practical car than the original RT/10. With power windows that actually roll up and outer door handles, you can almost call the Viper GTS civilized. Well, maybe not, but it’s far better. Since the 8.0L aluminum engine was so over-built, there was a lot of room on the table to lighten the engine by 80lbs (to total 650lbs) by revising the cylinder heads, camshaft, and engine block which also increased the output by 35hp to total 450 horsepower and 490lb-ft of torque (up from 415 and 488lbs respectively). The Gen 2 also lost its iconic side pipes in favor of a rear-exit due to sound restrictions.
The Gen 2 GTS also benefitted from a 25% stiffer chassis due to the coupe construction that incorporated a “double-bubble” roof. The frame was lightened by 60lb from meticulous computer analysis, and the addition of all aluminum suspension links (replacing the Dakota lower control arm) and better brakes turned the Viper into a world-beater.