I Told You the Viper Wasn't All Dead. Marchionne Says New Snake "A Possibility"
The reports of the Dodge Viper’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. If I can borrow a concept from William Goldman, it appears that the Viper is only mostly dead.*
Back in October, when the labor agreement between the United Auto Workers and FCA was hammered out, there was a flurry of reports stating the Dodge Viper was bound for death. That was based on a contract that indicated Chrysler’s Conner Avenue Assembly, where the Dodge Viper is hand-built, had no products planned beyond the life cycle of the current Viper model.
At the time, I said that while the news didn’t bode well for Dodge’s V-10 supercar, the death of the Viper wasn’t certain. Now, at a press conference at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has said that “ there is a possibility that a new version of the Viper may surface.”
Closing Conner Avenue wouldn’t make a lot of sense for FCA. The company only recently invested millions of dollars to completely refurbish the plant in 2012 while Viper production was on hiatus. That investment was part of Chrysler’s restructuring following its bankruptcy and bailout by U.S. taxpayers, so I presume it, and the Viper’s survival, was part of a larger strategic plan. It doesn’t necessarily hurt a large automaker to run a small boutique facility like Conner Avenue or General Motors’ Performance Build Center. That gives them the option when doing limited edition cars of building them either in-house or by a vendor, as Ford has done both ways with their factory NHRA drag racing special Cobra Jet Mustang.
If the Viper does survive, it will almost certainly radically evolve. The current model is still based on Chrysler’s ZD platform, unique to the Viper. The sportscar is also Chrysler’s sole product that doesn’t share its platform, which is pretty ancient by today’s standards, with another vehicle. With the industry having moved to shared architectures and modular platforms, it’s hard to make a case for a car that is sui generis, a thing unto itself. Marchionne said making a car on a unique platform like the Viper “doesn’t make sense to me.”
So upon what platform would a next generation Viper be based? Marchionne’s fuller remarks give us some hints.
“Given the architectural development within the brand, there is a possibility that a new version of the Viper may surface. Whether it will surface in time [before the current Viper ends production] is unclear to me.”
That’s likely a reference to FCA’s new rear-wheel-drive-based (and all-wheel-drive capable) Giorgio platform, the first example of which is the new Alfa Romeo Giulia. That architecture will also underpin the replacements for Chrysler’s current rear-wheel-drive cars — Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Challenger — as well as being the basis for whatever they end up branding the Barracuda or ‘Cuda when that storied nameplate returns as is rumored.
I’m sure that it’s a capable chassis, but I wonder if something based on the Giorgio platform, and mundane enough to be the basis for a variety of sedans, can be extreme enough for Viper enthusiasts.
If the Viper does get new life, the snake will likely shed its V-10 engine. The new Giulia is available with longitudinally mounted inline-four and V-6 engines. That means that while there is likely enough room in the platform for a V-8 (which is about as long as an inline four and as wide as a V-6), the current Viper’s longer V-10 probably won’t fit.
From a power standpoint, a V-8 powered Viper wouldn’t necessarily be an issue. Chrysler’s Hellcat V-8 puts out significantly more power than the Viper’s current V-10.
From an image standpoint, however, that V-10 engine, originally a Lamborghini (then Chrysler owned) gloss on a Dodge truck powerplant, has been part of the Viper’s persona and aura since it was born.
Would a Viper without a V-10 still be a Viper? To start off the discussion, I asked TTAC’s resident Viper fanatic, Jack Baruth, how he felt about a V-8 powered Viper. His answer? “A V-8 Viper is better than no Viper at all.”
What do you think, would a V-8 Viper still be a Viper?
* If you’re under the age of 30 and you can tell me the source of both of those cultural references without searching for the answer, I’ll send the first correct answerer some swag from the 2016 NAIAS.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.
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