Mecum: First Generation Vipers Still Have Quite a Bite


by Bill Stephens

The Dodge Viper burst onto the automotive scene in 1992, shortly after its initial introduction to the public at the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The reaction to the Viper and its elemental approach to a raw, unrefined, no-frills sports car—based on the Shelby Cobra of the 1960’s—was sensational to say the least.

It took Chrysler barely any time at all, at least in automotive industry terms, to bring the Viper to market and it was soon on the leading edge of a New Generation horsepower glut which was to revitalize the high-performance marketplace. An all-aluminum 8-liter, 400 horsepower V10 gave the Viper the capability to dust just about anything else on the road with 0-60 times of 4-seconds and a top speed of 165 MPH. And at a sticker price of around $50,000, compared to the various big-dollar foreign-built exotics it competed with, such as the Lamborghini Diablo, Ferrari F40, or even the Chevrolet Corvette, the Viper was a genuine bargain.

Eight liters, 400 horsepower, and all the torque anyone could ever use. The engine in this First Generation Viper can push this reptile to 165 MPH.

The First Generation Vipers were true to their Cobra genetics. No power accessories, no ABS, no automatic transmission, side-curtains, and side-mounted exhausts were the order of the day in early Vipers. Over time, more sophistication and refinement were worked into the recipe and a GTS coupe debuted in 1996, which received a 50-horsepower increase while resembling the lines and bearing of the 1965 World GT Championship-winning Cobra Daytona Coupe. The 1996 model Viper, although very similar in appearance to its predecessors, signaled the Second Generation due to many mechanical and structural changes that took place beneath its menacing snakeskin.

The interior in this 1995 Viper roadster reflects the gradual efforts to civilize Dodge’s sucessor to the Cobra after its primordial debut.

In 2003, the Viper got a new body, another 50 horsepower bringing the V10’s output to 500, and a Mamba Edition with just a tad more spunk. The next generation arrived in 2008 with 600 horsepower, added features and upgrades, and little of the rough-hewn, mega-macho image with which the Viper had been born. The Viper was still a serious, hard-hitting sports car which took real skills to control, but now it had learned a few manners.

Of course, all manner of competition versions of the Viper were created either by Chrysler or a long lineup of out-of-house boutique race shops throughout its lifespan and the racing resume of Dodge’s muscular two-seater documents numerous victories both here and overseas.

After briefly considering ending the Viper’s production, Chrysler reversed its field and this year, the most powerful Viper ever built—640 horsepower—was unveiled at the New York Auto Show and is slated for a 2013 coming out party. The latest Viper has also undergone a comprehensive triple-digit weight reduction program which will give it the best power-to-weight ratio in its history and is promised to be the fastest and most intimidating automobile ever to come from the Big Three.

For the collector, 1992 to 2002 Vipers have become very attractive investment opportunities, not to mention cars which can still rip the asphalt right off Main St. When it comes to world-class sports car performance, a deadly countenance that can’t be mistaken for any other car from half a mile away, and a well-earned reputation as a reptile without a conscience, the Viper is in a class by itself. Despite the fact that the production numbers of the Viper fall well below those of most of its domestic peers, low-mileage First Generation Vipers can be bought for under $40,000.

In my travels with the Mecum Muscle Car Auctions, I’ve seen clean and unmodified Vipers from between 1993 and 2002 sell for as little as $30,000 and rarely do they bid beyond $40K. That, in my opinion makes those early Vipers a no-brainer for anyone who wants the maximum for the minimum.

But don’t wait too long. The market has a habit of catching up with itself.


Watch this 1995 Dodge Viper roadster cross the Mecum Auction block in Houston Friday and Saturday on Velocity. Prediction? It will sell for under $40,000. Check our listings for our live Mecum broadcasts!


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