SRT boss Ralph Gilles had the look of a relieved man when unveiling the new SRT Viper. At the New York motor show, he gave a very honest account of the troubles the all-America muscle car faced in its conception.
SRT was once up for sale during Chrysler’s woes, but Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne’s refusal to “sell one of our own” has seen Chrysler’s tuning and motorsport brand emerge as a brand in its own right, selling 20,000 cars per year.
During the Viper’s development, Ferrari and Maserati engines and platforms were looked at to try and drive down costs, but in the end the old car’s steel architecture and 8.4-litre V10 were retained but completely renengineered.
“If we used anything else, it just wouldn’t be a Viper,” said Gilles. “Cars like this may make a little bit of money but, it’s really about showing we still have a soul and what the company is capable of when we really go for it.”
Gilles said criticism of the old car “had hurt”, particularly in some of the criticism of the interior. He admitted “no love” had gone into crafting the old Viper, which ended production in 2010, as Chrysler had taken a mass-market approach to what is a very specialist car.
“We’ve really learned from Ferrari and Maserati here though,” said Gilles. “This car belongs to the US, it’s an icon that we respect. We’ve had to evolve it in a respectful way, even if it means being ‘un-American’ in our approach.”
There’s certainly a very un-American feel to the Viper. Of course, the muscle car styling is as in your face as ever but the interior could easily be out of a German or Italian sports car. And for once the Viper is cutting edge in something other than having the biggest engine out there (even though it still does).
Carbonfibre has been used for much of the bodywork and magnesium is used to strengthen the structure. It’s much lighter than before and has a full armoury of electronics including tradition controls, four-stage ESP and launch control to try and reign in its 631bhp and 600lb ft, a figure that’s never been achieved before in a normally aspirated engine.
Apparently right-hand drive is possible (although a major technical challenge), should there be enough collective demand (at least 500 units per year) from markets including the UK, Japan and Australia. Start writing your letters to Mr Gilles now.