The Viper Strikes Again!

You know the saying, “you never know what goes on behind closed doors.”  Well, it really worked out well for Ralph Gilles and a team of designers.  While behind closed (and locked) doors, Gilles and Russ Ruedisueli did some serious designing.  Ruedisueli is Chrysler’s head of engineering for SRT and Motorsports,.  If that’s not enough, maybe being vehicle line executive for the fifth-generation Dodge Viper is.  But, it’s not a Viper anymore.  Chrysler management decided that the Dodge name wasn’t worthy enough for something that will cost up to $120,000 (before ANY options in the classier SRT Viper GTS!), so they decided to make SRT a division of Chrysler LLC.

When the last of the Dodge Viper ACR-X’s rolled off the assembly line at Chrysler’s Conner Avenue factory in the summer of 2010, Chrysler was madly plugging leaks with whatever they could find.  Chrysler decided that the Viper brand was going to be given to the highest bidder (ANY bidder, mind you!), but some Viper fans at Chrysler management were able to let themselves be heard, and the Viper brand was shoved to the bottom of the skillet for about a year.  Or so they thought.

Ralph Gilles said, “I knew that the very last thing Chrysler needed during our bankruptcy was a 600-hp sports car.  But I’m an optimist.  I wanted to fight for a chance.  We discussed it for a year.  I got Sergio [Marchionne, Chrysler CEO] to drive one of the last Vipers.  He jumped in and disappeared G-d knows where.  He came back 15 minutes later and said, ‘Ralph, that’s a lot of work.’  He meant it was a brutal car.  But he didn’t say ‘Good riddance’ or anything.  Then in late ’09, I showed him a video of a Viper breaking the Nürburgring record.  He watched all of it and was impressed.  I gave him a list of all the supercars that the Viper had put away.  It’s against the rules here, but we started sketching on the project.  We never asked for permission, we just did it.  Then, in mid-2010, I had a full-size model put together.  We took it to the styling dome and had the place dimly lit like a nightclub, and I got the Chrysler management team sitting almost campfire-style.  So we unveiled the car-with its 32-coat candy-apple paint-and you could have heard a pin drop.  When people started talking, Sergio said, ‘Be quiet! Let’s just take this in.”  Gilles also remembers, “Eventually we got tired of [Chrysler] execs telling us what the car should be, so we staged a research clinic with supercar owners-Audi R8 owners, Nissan GT-R owners, Porsche and Ferrari folks.  They said, ‘The Viper doesn’t handle, it’s only a straight-line wonder, it’s hot inside, it’s badly made, it doesn’t have cruise control.’  It hurt my feelings, but we vowed that the new car would retain its signature rawness and purity, yet we’d bring it into the 21st century.”

Now, the 2012 Viper is the fastest, safest, and most expensive production Viper.  Ever.  VROOM!  Plus, it’s the most fuel-efficient Viper ever thanks to it’s all-aluminum 8.4 liter V10 churning out enough torque to make a Ford F550 jealous (600 lb-ft).  But, we can’t go on without mentioning the 640 horsepower.  Plus, the engine weighs 25 pounds less than before.  The Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission has tighter gear ratios than before.  This makes it a lot of fun on freeway on-ramps.  Instead of having to go from whatever gear you are from to second gear, now you can shift around a few gears.  The old final-drive ratio was 3.07, but it’s been retuned to be 3.55.  A 3.73 would be nice, but that would force them to have a 9-inch rear end which would be much too wide for the frame rails.  The car spent much of it’s development time in a wind tunnel.  Ruedisueli said that the car is currently a 0.364 Cd.  At least two-thirds of that are on the underbody to let the car go over 200 mph.  The data currently points to 206 mph!  VROOM!

Plus, Chrysler recently announced that they will (finally) return to racing.  Ruedisueli said, “We’re getting our arms around that right now.  The ALMS (American Le Mans Series) and Grand-Am are the obvious places.  It’s important that we build on the Viper’s racing heritage.  Our customers expect that, too.”  Dodge recently started work on three prototype 2012 Vipers that have been converted to ALMS specs.  Here’s what one looks like.

For some interesting facts on the Viper’s history, I will go generation by generation until 2009.  The 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10 sounded like a UPS truck, and Car & Driver’s Brock Yates called it the “world’s largest Fat Boy Harley!”  The 1996 Viper RT/10 was a bit better, but not by much – the Viper handled more like a high-performance race-car than a motorcycle with four wheels.  At least it had ABS. . .The 1997 Viper GTS evoked the 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe so strongly that there was something of an outrage in the automotive world until Carroll Shelby came out and said that he had personally helped with the design.  It was true.  Just six years later, the first Viper SRT-10 came out.  It had a couple of creature comforts that one might call standard: a heated backrest and remote  door locks.  The 2006 Viper SRT10 was quite literally a car that could drive around a time bomb.  It stopped from 70 mph in only 159 feet (what it takes a Ford F150 Lariat to stop!) and flew around the skidpad with 0.98 g’s of grip.  The 2009 Viper SRT10 is one of the most memorable rides of the 21st century: the cabin was still hot (nice in winter, torture otherwise), the torque-sensing differential that made the car more stable and forgiving (carried over), and it had variable valve timing (still there) that helped boost power to 600 horsepower.  Plus, it took 3.6 seconds to get to 60 mph.  I have absolutely NO idea how fast the new car can go (however fast, it’s gonna be scary fast!).

You can check out the new Viper in showrooms around the beginning of November, or look at it on the SRT website at

See ya sucka!

What’s Fiat Times 500?

About twenty years ago, Fiat pulled out of the U.S. market because of the chintzy Fiat 500.  Let it be chintzy no more!  Zippy around town, the peppy Fiat 500 is making a comeback that should make you forget any memories of working under the tiny hood of the previous 500.  The 500 has an all-new (to us) 1.4 liter MultiAir engine that pumps out a meager-yet-peppy 101 horsepower (up to 160 in the sporty Abarth version) and a skimpy 98 lb-ft of torque.  It may not sound like a lot, but it’s definitely enough to “meet” with an officer of the law (read CHP…)!  All the reviews rave about the peppy engine and amazing five-speed manual (just add an extra speed, Fiat!).  Fiat recently brought over the amazing Fiat 500 Abarth, which has a 1.4 liter MultiAir engine pumping out a mighty 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque.  Mated to a smooth, quick-shifting five-speed manual.  Oh, and did I mention 0-60 mph in 6.87 seconds!  VROOM!  The engine has an extremely wide rev band (fuel cutoff is at a screaming 8200 RPM!) that, when in Sport mode, will give max torque at 6500 RPM.  The Abarth has a lower, beefier suspension than the normal 500, which makes it a lot of fun in the twisties.  Plus, it has a new muffler that makes the tiny four-banger sound like a Nissan 370Z V6, not a weedwacker!  The Detroit Bureau saw the Abarth go all the way up to a steady 153 mph at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park’s 2-mile dragstrip.  The normal 500 can barely manage 117.  If you want a peppy car for under $30,000, and you’re only planning on having two people in the car at all times, than the Fiat 500 Abarth might just be for you.  Plus, there’s a $2,500 engine upgrade that boosts power to 200.  And the Abarth is a great car for the daily commute and a weekend warrior.  How about it? I even “built” an Abarth for you on Fiat’s website that will only make you pay $25,950!

Fiat has worked really hard to erase any bad feelings about their owning the Chrysler Corporation.  They recently redesigned the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 (awesome job, guys!), plus they redesigned the Dodge Durango and they also freshened the Chrysler Sebring (now Chrysler 200) and the Dodge Avenger.  Just to top that off, they redesigned the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and freshened the rest of the Jeep line.  If that wasn’t enough, they just brought back the SRT (previously Dodge) Viper.  Nice!

I almost forgot to mention that Fiat is health-conscious!  They’ve got a Fiat 500 Pink Ribbon Edition, to promote breast cancer awareness!  I’ve attached the link for the main Fiat USA website below.