Dan Trent: Viper GTS – Race-winner, supercar slayer, sorely missed American hero

23rd January 2018
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

It would be easy to be a little snooty about the Dodge Viper, a car seemingly too excessive even for America given its quiet demise last year. OK, the defining feature remained that outrageous V10 engine, expanded to 8.4 litres and 654hp in its final form. 


But the final Viper had evolved into a more honed and sophisticated machine and launched at a time when American performance cars were proving to the world they were about more than quarter mile times and burnouts. 

I’ve written previously about my love for the current C7 Corvette and the BMW M-chasing qualities of the Shelby GT350 Mustang. Modern Camaros do handling as well as straight-line speed and the various Hellcat-engined Dodges – up to and including the 840hp Challenger SRT Demon – prove pumped-up muscle cars are enjoying something of a resurgence. It’s not like American enthusiasts have become snowflakes and yet, somehow, the Viper found itself curiously out of step, even with the ACR version’s hypercar-beating, SCCA certified lap records around 13 US tracks. 

I remember loving the original concept when it first appeared in 1989. There was nothing sophisticated about it, the bold sweeps of the bodywork, the extreme minimalism of the interior, the side exhausts and the sheer ludicrous excess of that 8.0-litre engine all very much pushing my buttons. If you’d ever wondered what TVR would have been like had it been based in Black Rock and not Blackpool here was the answer.  

I can understand why people might consider it a bit of a knuckle-dragging simpleton though, even if the truth of that ‘truck engine’ is that it benefitted from Chrysler’s then ownership of Lamborghini (something good had to come out of it) and was more exotic than most people think. Nobody seems to mind the Ford GT basically has the same engine as a Ford Raptor these days either. 



People also seem to forget the Viper was a properly successful racing car in the late 90s, wrapping up three consecutive GT class wins at Le Mans, multiple 24-hour overall victories at Spa, Daytona and Nurburgring and series titles in FIA GT and ALMS. Like the Cobra and GT40 before it, the Viper’s international success benefitted from European expertise too, Reynard in the UK laying down the core of the car before Oreca in France completed the assembly and managed the factory effort.  

The racing cars were based on the GTS coupe and, accordingly, if I were to have a Viper this is the version I’d be after. With stripes. It’d have to have stripes, no car having worn this classic American racing livery better since the Shelby era. 

100 GTS-R road cars were built in 1998 and these get lovely BBS wheels and a fixed rear wing like the race version. These are properly collectible, though and I think I’d be happy with a ‘standard’ one, the relatively lazy 450hp probably enough to be going on with. All things relative they’re not actually that expensive either, even a run-out 654hp SRT10 just £90,000. This early model 1996 GTS appears totally out of place on a distinctly unglamorous used car lot in Warwickshire but has my preferred white stripes on blue paint combo and seems an absolute bargain at £40,000. Looks like it could use a bit of love though, this late model, UK-market, one-owner GTS more appealing and looking seriously menacing in black with silver stripes. It’s up for ‘offers invited’ but if we consider equivalently aged 911 GT3s are at least £60,000 it makes for an interesting and unapologetic alternative. And if any Porsche fans sneer just remind them no 911 could touch the Viper in its racing heyday. Before giving that V10 a blip and disappearing in a cloud of tyre smoke.  

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