1992-1995 Dodge Viper Buying Guide

The Viper set the tone for all American supercars to follow. Here’s how to bag a solid example of the first-generation brute

How much to pay

• Project $15,000-20,000 • Good $25,000-35,000 • Concours $35,000-50,000 •
• Most expensive at auction $120,000 (1992 RT/10)

Overview

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★★★
DIY friendly ★★
Investment ★★★★★
Desirability ★★★

Sometimes the most amazing things come from the most unlikely places – and the genesis of the Viper has become the stuff of legend.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Dodge came back from the brink of disaster and had an economic resurgence by building K cars and other budget-minded, boring transportation devices. According to the mythology, in 1988 Chrysler president Bob Lutz was using a Shelby Cobra with the Ford tags removed as his daily driver, because he enjoyed the car too much not drive it despite his position with a competitor. Chrysler didn’t make anything like the Cobra at the time, but Lutz set out to change that.

He suggested to designer Tom Gale that Chrysler develop a modern Cobra, and a few months later Lutz was presented with a clay model of the concept. A little later, a steel prototype was created by Metalcrafters and introduced at the North American International Auto Show in 1989. Public reaction to the newcomer – christened the Copperhead – was so strong that it was decided to turn the concept into a production vehicle.

The car was then handed over to chief engineer Roy Sjoberg, who was given the job of creating the production version. Sjoberg went to then Chrysler-owned Lamborghini to develop a prototype aluminium V10 engine block. The pre-production car was completed in 1989, and in 1990 Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca gave the project – now named Viper – its official green light.

The story gets even better, because in 1991 none other than Carroll Shelby – the origin of the influence for the Viper in the first place – piloted a pre-production model as the pace car for the 1991 Indianapolis 500. The first production models were delivered in January 1992, and the rest is history.

Engine

The aluminium V10 with the Lamborghini-designed block is an extremely strong engine. Based on the Chrysler LA V8 design, this 8-litre monster has 400bhp and 465lb ft of torque, enabling the Viper to reach in excess of 150mph and a 0-60mph time of 4.6 seconds. All these motors seem to require are regular oil services.

Avoid modified cars, as Vipers with heavy engine mods tend to have spent a lot of time on track, and have lived hard lives. There are lots of performance parts out there for these models, but reliability will suffer when too many of them are added.

It’s common for these Dodges to need a cooling-system service at this point, more due to age rather than any real issues.

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Gearbox

The six-speed transmission is a sturdy unit, despite the level of power on offer. There are no issues beyond worn shifter bushings on older, higher-mileage cars.

Suspension and brakes

All Vipers have independent front and rear suspension set-ups. These feature unequal-length upper and lower A arms and coil-over springs made of micro-grain alloy steel, and high-performance gas-filled shocks.

Viper tyres are huge Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s that were created especially for the model; sizes are 275/40ZR17 front and 335/35ZR17 rear. These are really the only new choice for these cars, and as you can guess they are expensive at nearly $1,500 in their home country.

Suspension bushings can also be worn due to age, but many of these cars have lived pampered lives.

As with the engine it’s advisable to avoid cars with suspension modifications, as again these examples are likely to have seen extensive track time. The best models to buy are ones that are original and stock.

Bodywork

The bodywork should be perfect. Keep in mind that these cars have not always lived gentle lives, and avoid any example with replacement panels or other evidence of body repairs. Panels are quite expensive, with the clamshell bonnet costing as much as $15,000 to replace.

A hardtop was available for these cars, and we would advise finding a model that has one, as there is little or no difference in price.

Interior

The Viper is a very basic car, and for the most part the cabin utilises Chrysler parts-bin switchgear of the era. It tends to look cheap – but as a result, replacements are also cheap.

The interiors all feature leather trim, which is not the hardest-wearing hide ever put in a car. These models also boast some strange colour combinations – the worst being a red exterior with yellow leather seats.

History

  • 1992: 285 total cars built. Likely the one to buy for maximum return on investment.
  • 1993: 1043 cars built. Early ones have a external radio antenna on the rear wing, and are consequently known by Viper fans as the ‘remote-control’ cars due to the fact they look like a RC model.
  • 1994: 3083 cars built. The highest production year for the first-generation cars, and also the least expensive. This is the first year that the Viper received air-conditioning.
  • 1995: 1577 cars built.
  • 1996: 721 cars built, and the final year for the first-generation car. This is our no.2 pick for rarity and significance.

AutoClassics says…

The Dodge Viper is a breath of fresh air for those of us used to supercars with every electronic aid and convenience known to man. The first-generation cars do not even have door windows, but instead make do with British-style side curtains. The top is more of a thing to keep the rain out of the car when parked, and takes as much time to erect as the build-it-yourself top on an early MGB.

The first-generation Viper to buy is one that is completely stock and as original as possible. Collectors will always chose a well preserved stock Viper rather than a heavily modified car. The stock car is possibly the most economical supercar ever built.

That said, the Viper is a true supercar capable of more than 170mph – and has amazing handling to go along with it. The Dodge is for a person who loves high-performance machines and wants a vehicle that magnifies their skill behind the wheel. They have nothing that isn’t needed to experience a true high-performance drive. Traction control is your right foot and your hands on the steering wheel.

This is a raw and pure sports car. It truly is the modern-day Shelby Cobra, and a car like this will never be built again in the US. The driving experience is much more 1960s then 1990s – which is part of its charm.

Bob Lutz summed it up best when, at the model’s introduction, he said : ‘The Viper is not for everyone. This car is only for the enthusiast who wants a great-driving car and nothing more.’

Specifications

Dodge Viper MkI
  Engine 8.0-litre V10
  Power 400bhp
  Top speed 175mph
  0-60mph 4.7sec
  Economy 20mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

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