Dodge wasn't doing anything particularly special back in the Eighties — just Google the 1984 Caravan for proof. But it caught the world off guard when it displayed a sleek and powerful two-door concept called the Viper at the Detroit motor show in 1989. With an 8.0-litre V10, it was dangerously fast while people fell head over heels for its voluptuous body. Carroll Shelby, who was associated with Chrysler at the time, said it was a worthy successor to his 427 Cobra from the Sixties.
The Viper was an exercise in mechanical minimalism. It didn't have all-wheel drive or electric seats. It was a rear-wheel drive throwback and that packed a heck of a punch. Its sole purpose was to generate tonnes of power and burn the rubber off its fat tyres. It was such a sensation at the show, that Dodge had no choice but to put it into production, and fast.
The Viper captured the hearts and minds of every petrolhead around the globe. They were mesmerised by its 488 cubic-inch engine and 4in cylinder bores backed by a six-speed manual, a fibreglass body and independent suspension. Though it was just a concept, it was as good as ready for production. Just three years later, it rolled off the assembly line.
The first generation Viper RT/10 roadster in 1992 looked just like the concept and featured a long bonnet, huge air scoops, three-spoke 17in alloys and just room for two. Visually, it was astonishing and it had plenty of bite to go with its bark. The all-aluminium 8.0-litre V10 mated to a Tremec T-56 six-speed manual produced 400bhp and hit 0-100kph in 4.4 seconds — truly frightening numbers back in early Nineties.
Shelby drove the RT/10 at the start of the Indianapolis 500 and the reception it received from race fans was beyond comprehension. Not much changed from 1993 to 1995, apart for the addition of AC and new colours, but for the second-generation in 1996, the GTS Coupé with a ‘double-bubble' roof and painted in Shelby Blue with white stripes, arrived. It looked better than ever. It retained the 8.0-litre V10 but it was improved to the tune of 450bhp.
In 1999, an American Club Racer (ACR) package was made available for the Viper. Boasting 18in alloys, Koni shocks, stiffer springs, a K&N air filter and now 460bhp and 0-100kph in 4.2 seconds, it was for those planning some serious hooning on the track. It was refined further in 2002 but now 10 years old, it was time for a new Viper with yet more venom to hit the streets.
The third-generation Viper SRT-10 debuted in 2003 with a sharper and more angular body. Now with an 8.3-litre V10 under the bonnet, it produced 500bhp. It had the fattest rear wheels, measuring 19 by 13in, fitted to a stock US car at the time. Horsepower had grown to 510 and as much as 725Nm of torque by 2006 but that was nothing when the 2008 fourth-gen Viper SRT-10 debuted. Its 8.4-litre V10 had a ridiculous 600 horses. It had been refreshed again, this time featuring functional bonnet louvres, which also enhanced the Viper's aggressive looks. It also received deep-cut side scallops, swept-back fenders and the signature Dodge crosshair grille.
With age, you begin to slow down, right? Not the Viper. And with news of a brand new model coming our way by 2012 with more than 600bhp, this is one snake that just gets wilder with age.