Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Legendary Snake's career Slithers to a Halt for good...


1995 Dodge Viper RT/10 Roadster. (Image source: grautogallery.com)  

One of the BADDEST ARSE Front engine Supercar Coupes of its era, helped by an ex-Chicken Farmer turned Snake Charmer shed's its final skin...

For Mwah, whenever I envision the Dodge Viper, I immediately think of that Oh, So Beautimous 1996 GTS Coupe resplendent in "Guardsman Blue" with twin white stripes - a la Shelby's fabulous GT 350 & GT 500 Fastbacks! With the '96 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car indelibly etched in my cranium...

Not to mention having a 1:18 Diecast version purchase some two decades ago. For which sadly, is the last Non General Motors vehicle to pace the iconic race...

Yet if I go even further into Thy Wayback Machine, as know it's somewheres' in Thy voluminous book collection, I've got a red softbound book upon the making of the Viper - resplendent with that AWESOME Snake logo upon the cover.

Perhaps it's somewhat of a stretch, since really not sure how involved 'Ol Shel, nee Carroll Shelby was on that project dubbed Team Viper, but you've got to admit that first,  the Viper Roadster, and then the Coupe are best described simply as modern day incarnations of the All conquering Cobra and Daytona Coupe respectively!

As I tend to recall that Chrysler took a page outta Henry Ford's playbook, Y'all know 'Ol Henry's famous quote 'bout you can have your Model T in any colour as long as it's Black! For which I tend to believe that the first Viper RT/10 Roadsters were originally only available in Red.

But it's pretty funny what we let escape our 'Ol Noggin's, eh? As I've completely forgotten that the Viper's paced the Indy 500 not once, but twice, with the second time being the aforementioned GTS coupe - being driven by Bob Lutz, then Chrysler's Global Product Development Chief.

And how many of Y'all recall the legendous' Shelby, then 68 being the Pace Car driver a quarter century ago in a pre-production Viper for the 1991 race after an out crying of national Jingoism over Dodge's Seester' brand; Err Mitsubishi's involvement in the Dodge Stealth's "Platform Engineering."

As the Stealth, that year's intended Indy 500 Pace Car not only shared many components with the Mitsubishi 3000GT, which it was a virtual carbon copy of, but was built  in Japan on Mitsubishi's Okazaki, Aichi production line where the 3000GT was known simply as the GTO!

Yet it's not hard to imagine Shelby's involvement as a consultant on the project, especially being wooed to spice up Chrysler's NO FRILLS image of the late 1980's by his good buddy Lee Iacocca, whom after all had engaged Carroll to swoosh up the iconic Ford Mustang and Wallah! The Shelby GT 350 and its racing version, the potent GT 350R were born and the rest as they say is History!

As 'Ol Shel once again blew his Snake dust upon several of Chrysler's small car products, with my favourite being the Shelby GLHS, which I cleverly coined as Goes Like Hell Sometimes, Sorta, Sporadically; but I digress...

As the Viper first appeared as a styling project being unveiled in 1989 at the North American International Car Show, with public reaction so overwhelmingly positive that Iacocca gave the green light to get I-T into production pronto! For which the aforementioned '91 Pre-production version paced Mother Speedway before the rosso Roadster went on sale to the public in '92.

And I will not even attempt covering every singl variant or model change, as I'd still really enjoy taking a ride aboard a first generation GTS Coupe, whilst having had the privilege of riding in a 2002 Roadster in Minnesota nearly a decade ago, Ya Sure Yuhs Betcha!


And whilst the Roadster is more brutish and got the ball rolling, as I've already confessed, it's the Coupe that wows me the most. And although presumably the latest version coupes are better performing then the  originals? since sometimes later iterations grow more plush 'N plump!

As visions of Thy ex-1981 Nissan 280ZX come to mind in regards to sporty cars losing their minimum list appeal...

Nonetheless, when I could see, these second and now third generation versions simply didn't turn my crank vs. those 1996 GTS Pace Car replicas running loose in public.

As I still fondly recall being overtaken in thee W-E-T STUFF! Going up the hill towards Renton on the Highway (I-405) at a sedate pace and being blitzed by a wondrous blue with twin white stripes Viper some two decades ago...

Whilst also fondly recalling almost, NOT! Gettin run over by an angry trio of these same Viper Pace Car coupe's at Laguna Seca when sauntering towards the entrance for the '97 Monterey Hystericals', which just so happened to be honouring Shelby that year!

Not to mention drooling over an excellent grouping of Viper's in all colours of the rainbow at a vintage car race weekend at Portland International Raceway...

The GTS coupe was the basis for Viper's foray into endurance racing in the guise of the GTS-R, which always makes me think of Justin Bell who drove one to capture the new for '97 FIA's GT2 Driver's crown.

 
But I'm getting slightly ahead here, as first Chrysler had to give the green light for the coupe's production, which was specifically geared towards International Endurance Racing in order to improve sales abroad.

Chrysler turned to Hugue de Channac's Oreca racing & engineering organization to build and maintain its fleet of GTS-R racing cars, for which reportedly a total of 57 were built, with Reynard sub-contracted to produce the basic chassis before shipping to France for assembly at Oreca's Magny Cours facility.

And presumably, Oreca built the 100 road going GT2 variants resplendent in white with twin blue stripes, mimicking Viper Team Oreca's racing colours, as Oreca was the European Factory Squad for Viper, while a totally unheard of team called Canaska/Southwind ran Dodge's factory team Stateside, albeit just the first year of competition.

One of Zakspeed's Viper GTS-Rs from the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. (Image source: wikipedia.org)
The Viper GTS-R appropriately made it's racing debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona, nee Rolex 24 in 1996 with Canaska finishing 29th with one entry, while both squads ran two car entries at Le Mans before focusing upon their respective series.

And like all new racing  cars, the GTS-R started off somewhat slowly, before the Viper Team Oreca juggernaught slithered it's way to multiple victories worldwide, along with multiple championships.

Obviously, the feather in Chrysler's cap was the Viper winning it's class at le 24 Heurs du Mans between 1998-2000, along with the FIA GT2 Teams title circa 1997-99, beforeOreca dropped its factory Viper programme in order to focus upon Chrysler's short lived foray into Prototype racing, scoring a fourth place finish at Le Mans in '01 before quitting it's five year association with Oreca and shelving the Prototypes indefinitely...


Thus for the new Millennium, the Viper GTS-R's were left in the capable hands of customers, most notably Chamberlain Engineering, before first those NASTY Fly Yellow Corvettes knocked them off their perch, followed by those NARLY Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello's defeating everyone in their path, seeing the Viper's last entry at Circuit de la Sarthe coming in '03.

While the Viper GTS-R was also victorious in other series, most notably the American Le Mans Series, (ALMS) now today's Weathertech Sports Car Championship, taking outright victory at Daytona in 2000 and a class victory at Petit Le Mans in '99 and the Sebring 12 Hours in 2000.

While as mentioned, the Viper's success was international, with wins and championships coming in such countries as Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Japan and Italy.

As Zakspeed, the former Formula 1 racing team won the prestigious Nurburgring 24 Hours race three times overall, 1999 and 2001-02.

Whilst I was unawares' that some Cat known as "The Professor," nee Four-times F1 world champion Alain Prost ran a Chrysler Viper GTS-R C50 in the French GT Series in honour of his 50th birthday, eventually winning one race in '05.

And now we come to the end of the road, as Fiat-Chrysler's B-I-G' Cheese Sergio "The Ax!" Marchionne has told the company to discontinue the iconic Viper at the end of 2017, which marks the 25th anniversary of the venomous Snake's production debut, which will be a sad day indeed!

Since who knows if the new Chrysler will ever be Ballsy enough to unleash another normally aspirated V-10 Supercar upon us Diehard Petrolheads, eh?

thus, any of Y'all with the monetary means can step up to the plate and order one of the now available final five special edition variants, i.e.; 1:28 Edition ACR (American Club Racer), recognizing the Laguna Seca single-lap record of 1:28.65 ($138,795); GTS-R Commemorative Edition ACR ($140,245); VooDoo II Edition ACR ($136,095); Snakeskin Edition GTC, which was inspired by the original Snakeskin ($113,795); and the Dodge Dealer Edition, a Viper ACR special edition available through Tomball and Roanoke Dodge dealers. (price N/A)

While I suppose one of those 'Uber rare Viper GT2 "Stradale" Street Cars would be the ultimate Collector's version, eh? Although NO idea if they're U.S. emissions legal, or still exist?   

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