Chrysler relaunches the Viper

  • 05-Apr-2012 03:04 EDT

The 2013 SRT Viper has a carbon-fiber hood, roof, and deck lid with aluminum door panels and superplastic aluminum fenders.

Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology division returned its Viper sports car to enthusiasts at the 2012 New York International Auto Show following a brief hiatus. With more power, less weight, and more distinctive styling that hews more closely to that of the first-generation car, the 2013 SRT Viper addresses many of the issues that led to the previous models' discontinuation.

"This car's not going to make a lot of money for us," acknowledged SRT President and CEO Ralph Gilles. Building a cash cow wasn't the reason for returning the Viper to production, it was to "show we still have a soul," he said.

The car's fundamentals remain intact, with an enormous 8.4-L aluminum V10 engine and Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission powering the front-engine, rear-drive two-seater, dismissing wild rumors of the car's switch to a Ferrari- or Maserati-based platform as a result of Fiat leadership.

However, the latest iteration of the engine is pumped up to 640 hp (477 kW) and 600 lb·ft (813 N·m)—the highest-torque naturally aspirated engine in the world, according to Gilles.

Optimization of the engine block for reduced mass, a switch to a composite intake manifold, and the installation of an aluminum flywheel trimmed 28 lb (13 kg) from the engine's weight. New carbon fiber and aluminum body panels contribute to an overall weight reduction of 100 lb (45 kg) compared to the old car. The Metalsa S.A.-supplied frame employs additional high-strength steel and is reinforced with an aluminum x-brace under the hood and a cast magnesium beam in the dashboard to boost torsional rigidity by 50% compared to the old car, Gilles reported.

Tweaks to the engine include forged pistons, sodium-filled exhaust valves, and low-restriction catalysts for reduced exhaust back pressure. The transmission features an array of closer-spaced gear ratios in place of the previous six gears, of which fifth and sixth were primarily intended for fuel saving.

The 2013 Viper's ratios are more closely spaced and the final drive ratio has been reduced to 3.55:1 from 3.07:1. "Fifth and six gear are in play now," Gilles said, while before they were strictly for highway cruising. This is evidenced by the fact that the car now achieves top speed at redline in 6th gear rather than in 5th, which was the case before. Making these more useful ratios more accessible, the shifter is shorter and has shorter throw, so enthusiasts will be more interested in flicking among the gears now.

Similarly, the car's suspension has been redesigned to make it realistically possible to toss the car around casually with less fear of a catastrophic outcome. Until now the Viper has been notorious for its unwillingness to indulge such treatment, earning it a reputation as an easy car to crash.

The new car has revised suspension geometry to enhance stability, such as having the rear toe links moved forward for better toe control. The Bilstein DampTronic Select shock absorbers, optional on the base car and standard on the GTS, have track and street settings to tune the damping curves to suit the conditions. Standard Pirelli P Zero tires also contribute, and along with the greater suspension compliance made possible by the stiffer frame, make the car both more forgiving and more comfortable than before, said Gilles.

The optional SRT Track Package includes Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires and trims away another 57 lb (26 kg) by deleting equipment and substituting carbon-fiber components for a curb mass of 3297 lb (1495 kg).

Four-piston aluminum Brembo brake calipers act on 355-mm (12.4-in) vented rotors, with StopTech two-piece slotted rotors available as part of the Track Package.

Inside the car, the Viper borrows the 7-in Magnetti Marelli instrument cluster display seen previously on the Dodge Dart. For the Viper, it provides driver-selectable information about the car's performance.

Sabelt provides Kevlar/fiberglass shell racing seats that mount 20 mm (0.8 in) lower than before and which provide an additional 90 mm (3.5 in) of seat travel. A power seat adjuster is available for the first time.

While the exhaust pipes have traditionally provided the Viper's sound track, the 2013 car features a 32-V Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system driving as many as 18 speakers through up to 11 channels. The speakers all use rare-earth metal magnets for reduced mass delivering the system's acoustic power, which is double that of the old car's stereo.

Outside, the Viper wears a carbon-fiber hood, roof, and deck lid with aluminum door panels and superplastic aluminum fenders that combine for a 0.364 coefficient of drag. It includes functional vents for a differential cooler and brake cooling. The 70-mm (2.8-in) projector beam headlights are bi-xenon high-intensity discharge, while the running lights, turn signals, and taillights are LED.

Supporting the new car's introduction was the announcement of Viper's return to competition. The company will campaign cars in the American Le Mans Series starting this summer, with a goal of qualifying to race in the Le Mans 24-hour race in 2013.

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