For the second time in five years, it looks like the iconic Dodge Viper could once again become a thing of the past. As contentious negotiations between FCA and the U.A.W. grind on into another week, Allpar, the online bible for all things Mopar, reports that in the current draft of the labor contract, the FCA’s Connor Avenue assembly plant in Detroit will be shuttered in 2017, leaving the Viper without a home. And with the reborn 2013-to-present Viper having such a rocky road, it’s unlikely that FCA will shuffle the deck to find a new home for its halo car.
In 2010, at the nadir of the financial crisis, new parent company Fiat put the Viper on pause while it reshuffled Chrysler, eventually reemerging as FCA. It returned in 2013, but it hasn’t exactly been a homecoming for the iconic supercar. A few months into production as an SRT-branded car, low demand forced FCA to reduce production at Connor Avenue from nine cars a day to six. For 2014, it had to halt production for two months altogether, as the $100,000-plus cars sat on dealer lots. Lopping $15,000 off the top has improved sales some for 2015, but as the performance segment changes, the Viper is increasingly looking like the odd man out.
Introduced in 1992, the Viper was a shock to the automotive status quo. It was a throwback to the iconic Shelby Cobra – so much so, that Carroll Shelby himself had a hand in development. It was little more than a no-frills roadster strapped to a massive 711 pound, 400 horsepower 8.0 liter V10. Trivialities like side windows, traction controls, airbags, exterior door handles, and a roof weren’t included. But it didn’t matter, because unlike the tiny Shelby-American company of the ’60s, the Viper had the full might of Chrysler behind it.
The Viper marked the return of American brawn to the supercar game. It came out fully-formed at a time when Chevy’s Corvette was just starting to regain its footing after a long time in the Malaise Era wilderness. In 1996, Dodge released the GTS, a coupe with a profile inspired by the legendary Shelby Daytonas, with power bumped up to 450 horsepower, a zero to 60 time of around four seconds, and a top speed of 185 miles per hour.
A next generation car bowed for 2002, with displacement for the big V10 bumped up to 8.3 liters, a zero to 60 time in the high three-second range, and a top end that flirted with 190. But by mid-decade, Chrysler was in trouble and despite a refresh for 2008, the Viper was growing old quick. Today, it’s still unlike anything else on the road – that big 8.4 liter V10 now pumping out 645 horses, a zero to 60 sprint in 3.4 seconds, and a top speed of 207 miles per hour. But the landscape is changing, and with FCA’s small, 49-year-old plant not getting any younger, increasing competition, and rising safety and emissions standards could all be working to push the mighty Viper out the door.
While it stood alone 23 years ago, the Viper now has to contend with the Corvette Z06, Ford’s Shelby GT350, the Tesla P90D, and even Dodge’s own Hellcat twins, which offer the similar performance and a lot more comfort – for a lot less money. The Viper is still unlike anything else in the world to drive, but with its crude habits, hefty weight, questionable build quality, and still lofty price, it seems like little can be done short of a radical reinvention of the car, and that just doesn’t seem like something FCA is willing to do. For those Viper fans out there, don’t start planning the funeral yet; FCA’s supercar will still be sold through 2017, and if the “final” 2010 model year taught us anything, we’re likely to get a glut of self-celebrating special editions between now and then. After all, the Viper embodies the “live fast, take chances” motto better than anything else on the road. Now’s as good a time as any to live it up.
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