But no one complained about more power.
It didn’t take long for Dodge to make some major revisions to the first gen Viper. By 1996, the competition was beginning to heat up, partly thanks to the pending arrival of the C5 Corvette. But Dodge still wanted to prove the Viper wasn’t just some one-hit wonder halo car; it was the real deal and the automaker had every intention of sticking with it and then some. Thus came the Viper Phase II, consisting of an improved RT/10 roadster and the more track appropriate GTS. What were some of the key updates?
For starters, those exposed side exhausts, known to burn leg hair and flesh on a regular basis, were swapped out in favor of a single muffler at the rear with two large central tail pipes. That also helped to improve output, now rated at 415 hp (up from an even 400 hp). Torque also saw an increase of 23 lb-ft for a total of 488 lb-ft. Effort was made to cut weight by replacing a few steel suspension components with aluminum. There went 60 lbs. Other new conveniences included airbags, a removable hard top and sliding glass windows. The optional fabric top also received improved weather sealing. Basically, the idea was to make the RT/10 somewhat more livable, but the real story here is the GTS, unveiled in 1996.
Just like the original RT/10 was inspired by the classic Shelby Cobra, the GTS took its inspiration from the Pete Brock-designed Shelby Daytona Coupe. Dodge designers once again made bold styling choices with that double bubble roof – needed to accommodate racing helmets worn by occupants – and an aggressive ducktail rear spoiler. And just to remind everyone of its Shelby influences, the first show cars were given that iconic Shelby Blue paint job with classic white stripes. The production-spec Viper GTS made its debut as the Indianapolis 500 pace car in 1996. Like its roadster counterpart, the GTS was powered by the same 8.0-liter V10, however power was further boosted to 450 hp.
Dodge claimed that more than 90 percent of the GTS was new compared to the RT/10. Performance, as expected, was impressive. Thanks to the reworked V10, 0-60 mph happened in 4.0 seconds, the quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds at 119 mph, and it topped out at 185 mph. Once again, ABS brakes weren’t offered. Not only did that make the Viper more difficult to drive and handle than it already was, but the poor braking didn’t stand up well to the competition at the time, including the Ferrari 355, Porsche 911 Turbo, Acura NSX, and the Toyota Supra. A Motor Trend comparison test showed the Viper having a much longer stopping distance.
Official test drive reviews were also mixed, with one Edmunds writer stating that the Viper "is one of the least practical sports cars money can buy. The interior reeks of cheap plastic, the gaps between the exterior panels could pass for fault lines, and if the drivetrain lash doesn’t slap some sense into you, nothing will." Bottom line: "The Dodge Viper is one of the least practical sports cars money can buy." 1997 saw the RT/10 receive the GTS’s updates as well, including that 450 hp output. Further revisions came in 1998 when both coupe and roadster had an "Off" switch installed for the passenger air bag, a few mechanical tweaks, and new body colors like metallic silver.
The following year Dodge gave the world the Viper American Club Racer, or ACR. It was targeted specifically to buyers who craved an even more track-focused Viper. Additions included 18-inch BBS wheels, new shocks, unique springs, and special badging. Output again increased, this time to 460 hp. It also beat the Mustang Cobra R and Corvette Z06 in pure numbers. 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 12.3 seconds at 115.9 mph, according to Edmunds. Still though, the Viper ACR was an absolutely terrible thing to drive on the road, despite it kicking ass on the track. And it was also very expensive, costing $86,860 (about $116,800 today). The Z06 cost nearly $40,000 and was deemed the better car overall.
Finally in 2001 Dodge wisely added ABS brakes to all Vipers. After 10 years, 2002 was the final production year for the first generation Viper. It accomplished everything Dodge needed it to do, mainly to revive the automaker’s performance reputation. But times had changed, competition was brutal, and Dodge was ready to strike back with a new set of Viper fangs for 2003.