An all-new Dodge Viper bowed in 1996, marking an evolution from a barely tamed brute of a machine to a more usable car than it had been in its first incarnation. Although the second generation Viper looks the same, it’s a very different car underneath.
For the Viper’s second generation, Dodge redesigned the chassis, suspension, and brakes to make the car more manageable without losing its over-the-top performance. Engine power was still provided courtesy of an 8-liter V-10 engine with 415 hp for the roadster version, and 450 hp for the new Viper GTS coupe. The roadster received the uprated engine in 1998 and thereafter.
The Viper GTS coupe was an instant hit with performance enthusiasts who weren’t sold on the Viper roadster’s all-weather open top idea. The coupe roof design includes two “bubbles” over the seats to accommodate drivers wearing racing helmets, and that wasn’t just a gimmick, as Viper coupes found immediate success in sports car racing. Both in SCCA national championship racing and in the professional World Challenge series, the Viper was the first car to seriously challenge the Chevrolet Corvette for dominance.
Chrysler released an “American Club Racing” version of the Viper in 1999, specifically designed for use in SCCA racing. The ACR included an alternate air intake that bumped hp to 460. More than 50 pounds of weight was removed – generally by omitting interior trim and the stock fog lights. On the underside, the ACR received a stiffer racing suspension. Most of these cars went straight to SCCA racers and have never seen street use.
Vipers from 1996 to 2002 received dual front airbags, but in keeping with the Viper’s pure sports car creed, the Viper did not include anti-lock brakes until 2001, and has never included traction or stability control. Still, the second generation Viper could make 0-60 in 4 seconds flat, 0-100 in 8.6 seconds, and turn a quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds. With an honest top speed of 185 mph and 1.01g on the skid pad, performance enthusiasts are hard pressed to find a more gutsy sports car.
Street-minded collectors should look for 1999 Vipers featuring the Cognac Connolly leather option, or 2001-2002 Vipers with anti-lock brakes. Performance enthusiasts should scour the race car sites for a well-loved and un-crashed Viper ACR coupe. Regardless of the model, the best advice is to sit down, strap in, and hold on tight.