Chrysler recruited Carroll Shelby as consultant for their Dodge Viper project. Previously, he had been linchpin of the AC Cobra. Shelby lavished what he had learned from the Cobra onto the Viper – in terms both of its venom-spitting power and serpentine lines. On its début – at the ’89 Detroit Motor Show – the Viper mesmerised all who saw it. Such was the frenzy that the concept car created, that Chrysler hastily hatched plans to put it into production. Fast-forward two and a half years – and the Viper was sliding onto the highway. Its 8-litre V10 gave 400bhp. Top speed was 180mph. Its wheels featured wide 13″ rims – helping transfer torque to tarmac. And torque there most certainly was – a churning 450 lb ft of it.
Indeed, the Viper’s motor began life in a truck. That was before Lamborghini got hold of it, though. They re-cast the iron block to aluminium. And topped that off with a bright-red cylinder-head. Even so, it was far from a cutting edge engine – comprising just two valves per cylinder, plus hydraulic lifters and pushrods. Which is when Carroll Shelby came in. Basic though the set-up was, he coaxed big numbers out of it. Thankfully, the transmission, at least, was state-of-the-art. A 6-speed gearbox was still a rarity, in the early ’90s.
Styling-wise, the Viper hit the spot. Its sinuous bodywork was seriously aerodynamic. ‘Enthusiastic’ drivers loved it. Seals of approval do not come much bigger than selection as pace car for the Indy 500. Stateside, the sports car sector had been in the doldrums. The Viper reinvigorated it. As for Carroll Shelby – the Cobra was always going to be a tough act to top. Tribute to him, then, that the Dodge Viper had ’em dancing in the aisles. Well, in the passenger seats, at least!