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Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

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On: Thu, May 26, 2011 at 10:52AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

Everyone remembers the first time they saw it. It instantly captured the imaginations of men, younger men, some women, and every child that laid eyes on it. The Dodge Viper roared off the production line in 1992 and carved out a place in the human heart that no American car had in nearly three decades. 

Inspired by the first car to bear a snake badge (and had the fangs to match), the Viper became the modern rendition of the perennial Shelby Cobra. In its initial public offering, the Viper was incredibly close to the Cobra, not only in design, but in options as well. No roof, no door handles, no side windows (unless you count zipping up pieces of plastic), no air conditioning, no traction control, or anti-lock brake system.

The big difference between the two snakes was that the Viper did have some modern updates, starting with the mammoth 488 cubic inch V10 engine sitting under the reverse opening hood. Producing 400 horsepower and a stump-pulling 465 pound-feet of torque out of the gates, the Viper outgunned every production American car other than the ZR-1 by no less than a hundred ponies, and even the mightiest of Corvettes was handicapped by more weight to push around, and still gave up 25 horsepower and 95 pound-feet.

As if that wasn't enough of a challenge for the rest of the world, the first generation Viper got an upgrade to the RT/10 in 1996, and introduced the first real hardtop Viper, with the advent of the GTS. Although the 1996 GTS got a head start on upgrades, eventually the RT/10 got all the goodies the GTS brought to the party in 1997: 450 horsepower 490 pound-feet of torque thanks to a modified engine that not only put down more power, but also trimmed 60 pounds off the powerplant. Exhaust moved from the side to the rear (it would eventually return for the next generation), and the balls-out Viper actually offered some creature comforts like air conditioning (added in 1994), as well as dual front airbags (in 96/97 for the GTS/RT/10), and even ABS was added in 2001. Bigger wheels, improved hood vents, and the aforementioned exhaust change were the big visual tell-tale signs between the original and the upgraded versions.

As one would imagine, the performance numbers for the mightiest Mopar are about as intimidating as the car itself: In 450 horsepower guise, the Viper ran to 60 mph in a blistering 4.0 seconds flat, and scorched through the quarter mile in 12.2 seconds @ 119 mph. Thanks to its mammoth P275/35/ZR18 front and P335/30/ZR18 rear tires and some pretty trick suspension bits, the Viper managed to rip through the slalom at 73.6 mph and pull a stomach-churning 1.01 g through the skidpad.

But, for all the power and performance the first generation Viper brought to the table, as many Corvettes and Porsches as it embarrassed at racetracks and stoplights around the world, the Viper was more than the sum of its numbers. Dodge's mean monster was every man's deepest, darkest, hope for himself personified. It was a shot of warm Jack Daniel's in a world that was trying to be martinis; it was Dirty Harry amidst a pack of boy bands. It was rough, loud, mean, and beat the snot out of everything in its way, including its owner if his pride outmatched his driving skill. The Viper was anything but delicate, and made damn sure you knew it was very proud of that fact. It drew stares, gawks, and finger points from almost every passerby that had at least one eye open, and for good reason. The first generation Viper was the embodiment of road-going power that had not been seen since the last Shelby Cobra went into storage, and with thirty years of ass-kicking to make up for, the Dodge Viper didn't waste any time at all.

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AutoHistory | 4:46PM (Thu, May 26, 2011)

Awesome! I'll take two.

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