2021 Dodge Viper Mid Engine Review – Throughout its 25 years and five generations, Dodge Viper remained true to its traditional recipe: a naturally aspirated v10, a manual transmission, and a front-engine, rear-drive layout. The Old-School Vibe was part of the Allure — as other performance cars grew softer and more civil, the Viper remained raw. It was brash and American, and fans loved it for that. So Imagine my surprise when, over at Hagerty, Thom Taylor published an article explaining that in the mid-1990s, Dodge embarked on a side project to explore the possibility of building a mid-engine Viper.
2021 Dodge Viper Mid Engine Review
It’s a well-known story to Die-Hard Viper fans and the folks who were working at Dodge at the time. But outside of these circles, it’s a barely-known bit of Viper lore. As Taylor points out, the stillborn Mid-Engine Viper has a surprising relationship with another Mid-Engine American performance car, the Ford GT. You should definitely read his piece explaining that connection.
I wondered about something a little different: Why not Dodge pursue the Mid-Engine Viper further? That’s a particularly relevant question when you consider the state of the American performance car today. Ford has built two generations of mid-engine supercars in the 21st century; the long awaited Mid-Engine Corvette is imminent. If a few things had gone differently, could Dodge have punched them both?
Shown above, a road & track rendering of what a mid-Engine Viper might have looked like, based on a photograph of a prototype built by Dodge in the mid-90s.
It’s easy to see how the idea of a mid-Engine Viper got started. Just look at the team that brought Viper into production. Lee Iacocca was president of Chrysler; Bob Lutz was president. Tom Gale, the man who wrote Prowler as well as Chrysler revolutionary cab-forward cars, was the head of design. Chris Theodore, who later headed the 2005 Ford GT, was the general manager. Francois Castaing, a Vice President, had been a race car engineer in France before joining AMC and then Chrysler. Roy Sjoberg, previously involved with the Zora Arkus-DUNTOV experimental Mid-Engine Corvettes, was chief engineer.
Car guys, all of them, who were the dozens of people they recruited to the Viper team. So it’s no surprise that somewhere around 1996, some of them started toying with the idea of a mid-Engine Viper.
The Mid-Engine project was actually proposed twice. The first time around was the debut of the second generation Viper – the update that brought roll-down windows to the Roadster and introduced the GTS Coupe. The second time was a little later, about 1998, when work was about to begin on the third generation sports car.
The proposal went far enough for the team to build a full-scale mockup along with some interior design models. They studied the packaging and layouts of the main components — engine, gearbox, dashboard, driver and passenger seats — and took a preliminary crack at styling.
So what prevented the idea from moving on? “One word: investment,” Roy Sjoberg told me. “You always get into a problem, be it with a Ford GT or a Corvette or a Viper, you fight mainstream [vehicle programs] for investment dollars. And the mainstream doesn’t like what they think they would make more money by make a better minivan or Camaro or Mustang. “
In particular, many people I spoke to pointed to a potential expense that killed the Mid-Engine Viper: the gearbox. Two gear system layouts were proposed. One would require a brand new Tran to mount behind the engine, something a source told me could cost tens of millions of dollars to produce. Another setup, similar to Lamborghini missions of the day, would use the standard Viper s gear system, rotated 180 degrees so that the transmission faced forward, then send power to the rear axle via a jack shaft. None of them were investigated much further than a few mock-ups.
But there was another reason why some folks on the Viper team were reluctant to the mid-Engine idea: tradition.
Helbig was the Senior Manager of Vehicle Synthesis at Viper from the model’s debut until his retirement from Chrysler in 2008. He has remained deeply involved in the enthusiastic community — the “Viper nation” —and his work to keep Viper raw and naked throughout his life. career has earned him a nickname: Grailkeeper.
“My side of the fence was, this is definitely at odds with Viper,” Helbig said, explaining his stance on mid-Engine proposals at the time. “If you want to build a mid-engine sports car, fine, don’t call it a Viper. Because the Viper is a front-engine rear-drive car. It’s a Cobra for the ’90s. They didn’t build any Mid-Engine Cobras last once I checked. “
And according to Helbig, some Viper fans at the time felt the same way. “Somewhere along the line, Word leaked that there may be a mid-engine car in the works. And Viper Nation, as I recall it, wasn’t very excited about a mid-engine car,” Helbig told me. Devotees loved the brashness, the American-Ness, of Viper. A mid-engine variant, Helbig said, felt too European.
So he was relieved when the technical and financial challenges of the project led Chrysler’s top brass to abandon the idea. “I don’t want to say everyone came to their senses, but when they looked at the whole picture, they said it’s probably not the right thing to do,” Helbig told me. “I was lucky because I just sat back and got my way without really having to do a whole lot. Those things kind of killed because of the investment. I didn’t have to get up on the table and start bouncing around and shouting about my hot rod. “
In compiling this article, I spoke with a number of people who were involved in the Viper program throughout the history of the car. Some asked not to be quoted, others referred me to colleagues. But each one I contacted described this small group within Chrysler as a collection of some of the best brains in the business.
Helbig echoed the sentiment. “One of the great things about our team was, I could tell my top management what I thought, without fear of reprisals, and I wasn’t the only one,” he told me. “We had respect and understanding at the highest levels of the business. I could call Bob Lutz and say it’s not right, sit down like the guy who said this is the wrong thing to do for our car.”
I asked Helbig if, with a mid-engine Corvette on the way, his opinion on the mid-engine Viper’s proposal has changed. It would be pretty big, I said, if each of the big three had a mid-engine supercar on the market.
“I’m glad they’re building a mid-engine Corvette,” he told me, “because it just keeps separating the Corvette from the Viper. And I don’t regret for a moment that we didn’t build the mid-engine car. “
Since the fifth generation Viper production ended in 2017, Dodge has been missing a true Halo car. Sure, it has its Supercharged trick ponies — Hellcat and demon — but the Mopar faithful need something to set up against Chevy’s and Ford’s mid-engine sports cars.
As before, the new Viper will use a built-in with independent suspensions front and rear. A long hood with a motor tucked behind the front axle, a Viper staple, will remain. Learning from its unfortunate fifth generation product planning flaws, Dodge will offer a convertible from the beginning; The Coupe comes a few years after launch. Aluminum and carbon fiber will multiply, keeping the mass as low as possible because the Viper is likely to lose a little grunt, at least to boot.
Sorry, 10-Pak fans, Viper’s cuts. Chrysler is (finally) developing an aluminum block V-8 to replace the aging iron block anchor it calls Hemi. We’re guessing that a naturally aspirated V-8 will be the new Viper’s first engine. Taking a side from the Corvette team, the Dodge SRT is likely to offer the Viper in multiple performance levels. Think 550 horsepower to boot and a super charged 700-plus HP variant (mainly a second-gen Hellcat engine) comes a year or two later. And if we know anything about the engineers at SRT, you’d better think there will be a tough road rider in the works designed to challenge Porsche’s GT cars and Chevy’s upper register’s corvettes on the racetrack. A manual transmission will make it stand out against the increasingly automatic-only competition.
What can go wrong
With the Conner Avenue assembly closed to Good, it is likely that a vendor will be tapped for bolt Vipers together and that could extend development time (think Multimatic-built Ford GT). We at SRT can build a fantastic track car; The FCA just needs to make sure it’s a track car that people actually want to own.
Estimated arrival and price
The January 2019 Detroit Auto Show will be the 30th anniversary of the Viper Concept debut. It would be a fitting tribute to the next Viper to go public then, though we don’t expect to see it on the road until the end of 2020 as a 2021 model. Borrowing an engine from elsewhere in the FCA lineup can have a massive impact on the base price. Unlike starting in the low six figures, the new Viper was able to expand its appeal a little by starting under $ 90,000.