The groundwork for the eventual debut of the Dodge Viper was laid in the winter of 1988 after Bob Lutz, then head of global product development at Chrysler Corporation, and Tom Gale, the automaker’s head of global design, began talking about creating a sportscar that would be built in the same vein as the original Shelby Cobra. Three years after that discussion, the Phase I Viper debuted at the 1991 Indianapolis 500 before going on sale in January 1992.
In a recent question and answer session with the readers of Road & Track magazine, Lutz gave his opinion on why the Dodge Viper has now gone the way of the Dodo Bird. According to him, the biggest draw of the Viper initially was that it was faster and quicker than much of its competition, but after losing comparison tests to the Chevrolet Corvette, the big V10 sportscar lost much of its luster.
“The Viper ran out of good reasons to live: The original premise was “more power and speed than anyone else,” Lutz writes. “But the Viper was, in recent years, trumped by the Corvette ZR1 and Z06 and even in its own family by the Hellcat.”
It seems Lutz is referencing the Motor Trend comparison test in which the then-new Dodge Viper was bested around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca by a Corvette ZR1. The result of that test prompted Dodge to build the Viper TA (Time Attack), which MT eventually returned to Laguna Seca with and beat the ZR1’s time. When MT tested the Viper ACR and Z06 together, the publication found the Z06 to be easier to live with, however the Viper ACR beat it around Laguna Seca by nearly three seconds.
The Viper’s performance in comparison to its rivals likely isn’t the only reason consumer interest in the car has tanked. The Viper is an expensive proposition and with a manual transmission, stiff ride and general lack of creature comforts, it’s easy to see why your average supercar buyer might be turned off. Unfortunately, the investment banker with the money to buy six-figure cars would rather pull a paddle than row a stick. That buyer also wants a quiet, refined ride, comfy seats and a good audio system. Unfortunately for Dodge, the Viper doesn’t really check any of those boxes.
In short, the Viper has died because the type of consumers that want a 640 horsepower, rear-wheel drive manual sportscar are few and far between and the competition is offering what shoppers are looking for. We’d love to see a Viper with a dual-clutch transmission, quieter cabin and more advanced tech, but as of now, such a product seems very far out.