But a series of refinements by Lamborghini, then part-owned by Dodge’s parent company Chrysler, resulted in the engine projects growing apart, with the biggest change of all being the switch from a cast iron block to an aluminium one for the Viper.
Remember this the next time someone tells you the Viper had a truck engine: it’s not quite true. The myth is believable, though, largely because the Viper was something of a ‘bitsa’.
Indeed, it’s often forgotten that low cost was one of Chrysler’s stated aims with the project, so the production engineers scavenged parts from wherever they could around the Chrysler organisation.
It showed in that first RT/10, despite their best efforts. “Even with all those cylinders, the engine wasn’t as smooth as you’d think,” says Autocar’s Steve Cropley, recalling the first time he drove the RT/10.
“The car was cumbersome, with really heavy controls. It was the look of the thing, and the torque, that made it extraordinary, but it clearly needed development.”
That development came in 1995, with the advent of the second generation car and, most notably, the new GTS coupé – a late example of which we’re driving today.
Power was up to 450bhp and while it might look similar, in fact 90% of the GTS’s parts were either upgraded or switched out completely. It shows.
A strong shove is still needed to get the gearstick into first, and the combination of a long-travel clutch pedal and hairtrigger accelerator requires careful moderation of each foot when pulling away, but there’s none of the heft you might expect from the steering.
Once rolling, the Viper is remarkably benign, with a smooth and progressive throttle and even a reasonably comfortable ride. But what you really want to know is how well it goes.
Well, even on these cold roads, the Viper isn’t uncontrollable. Lairy, for sure, and a moment’s inadvertent exuberance with the throttle will light up the rear tyres.
But there’s a monumental amount of front-end grip, so the car snicks into corners surprisingly well, and a squeeze of the throttle on the way out hunkers the back end down at first, rather than simply sending it sideways straight away.
But be under no illusion: this is a car that’s happier on the straights than it is in the corners. Simply placing it is the first problem: that long, wide nose obscures half of the road ahead, and then there’s the slow steering and the wooden brakes.