It was 1992 when Dodge let ‘er rip with the V-10 Viper. This crude, rude, road rocket packed more punch than Thor’s hammer, and instantly became a Motown icon. But unlike many icons which burn brightly and quickly fizzle, the Viper has thrived, and 2003 heralds in an all-new chapter in its fast history. So prepare for a spine-tingling thriller!
Those thrills started on the rolling back roads of Northern California, where we first rested our hands on the all-new 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10. But it’s not easy relaxing in a big, hairy-chested muscle machine like the Viper, and any illusions one might have about quiet drives through the California wine country are quickly drowned out by the roar of 500 horses.
That’s right, 500 horsepower! That’s the output of the 2003 Viper’s heavily revamped 8.3-liter, or 505 cubic-inches for you traditionalists, V10 alloy engine. And if that’s not impressive enough, how about 525 pound-feet of torque? This is big bore power! All harnessed by a new steel spaceframe chassis that’s substantially stiffer, and extends the wheelbase by 2.6- inches to 98.8-inches overall, and wrapped in bodywork derived from the Viper GTS/R concept car. It’s more refined, less cartoonish than the original Viper, but still uniquely snake bitten aggressive. It features both classic hot-rod side pipes, a feature missing on Vipers since 1996, and very modern elements like a reshaped under tray to control airflow and increase aerodynamic down force. Wheels are huge 18-by-10-inches up front, and an even bigger 19-by-13-inches in the rear. Previous Vipers had either the RT/10’s clumsy removable targa-style top, or the sleek hard top of the GTS. The new Viper is offered as a roadster only, but with an easy-folding manual soft top with glass rear window and defroster!
The new Viper’s interior still has the feel of an aircraft cockpit, but it’s now substantially larger with a lot more leg room. The canted dash is more ‘‘finished’’ than the original, though Dodge designers chose to revert back to the exposed fastener look of the earliest Vipers. The seats are plush, leather-covered buckets, but with plenty of side support to hold you in place at high speeds.
And speed is what the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 is all about, though public roads and the California Highway Patrol required us to exercise a certain amount of discretion during our first drive. But even at less-than-race-track speeds, the Viper is still a thrill ride. Mash the gas pedal, and the massive torque punches you back in the seat, catapulting to 60 in a mere 4.0 seconds. It’s as close to a jet fighter on afterburner as most of us will ever get. Albeit one with a most manageable 6-speed Tremec gearbox, thanks to a new tighter, short throw shifter. Punch it hard out of a corner, and you can easily light up the rear tires. Make no mistake, the Viper is still a monster.
But one with more grip and slightly more benign handling, thanks to a revised coil-over- shock suspension that provides quicker turn-in, a more progressive feel at the limit, and a reduced tendency for the rear end to come around. Steering is also improved, with more weight and better feedback. Refined too are the Brembo disc brakes and less intrusive ABS system. Those refinements are just enough to make this Viper a better driver, without losing any of its in-your-face character. The 2003 Viper is the same overdose of testosterone that it always was.
And it still takes deep pockets to own one. Base price for the 2003 Dodge Viper is $80,795. But that trunk full of cash buys a street full of driving excitement. Excitement that hasn’t let up for over a decade! And after our first drive in the all new 2003 Dodge Viper SRT- 10, we proclaim that this second chapter of the Viper saga is even more spine-tingling than the first!
Engine: 8.3-Liter [505 Cubic-inches], V10
Torque: 525 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.0 Seconds