The original Shelby Cobra still holds a special place in American automotive fandom and history. Little wonder, then, that another American automaker, Dodge, would want to recreate it. That was the original design brief for the first-gen Dodge Viper RT/10. And while some later Vipers are more ‘luxurious,’ in his latest video, Doug DeMuro shows just how back-to-basics the first cars are.
The 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10 has a Lamborghini-designed V10 powertrain and not much else
Admittedly, the Shelby Cobra wasn’t the only car Dodge chased with the original Viper RT/10, MotorTrend reports. Then-Chrysler-president Bob Lutz also wanted to take on the contemporary Corvette and create a reasonably-affordable Ferrari rival. But the Cobra was the original inspiration. In fact, its creator, Caroll Shelby, even helped out with the Viper’s development somewhat.
After Dodge showed the Viper concept car at the 1989 North American International Auto Show, the production RT/10 arrived in 1992. Originally, the automaker planned to give it the V10 from the contemporary Ram Heavy-Duty truck. However, it was too heavy and not powerful enough. At least, not until Lamborghini, which Chrysler owned at the time, redesigned it, Road & Track explains.
As a result, the production 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10 has an 8.0-liter V10 with 400 hp and 465 lb-ft, The Drive reports. That output goes to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual. And with it the 3534-lb car goes 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds, Car and Driver reports. That’s still fairly fast by modern standards. And it’s even more impressive when you consider the Viper RT/10 is only about 1.5’ longer than a Miata, Doug DeMuro reports.
Plus, that speed isn’t tempered by any modern safety performance features, hence its ‘widow maker’ reputation. To be fair the Dodge Viper RT/10 has 4-wheel disc brakes and a fully-independent suspension with Koni coil-overs, R&T reports. it doesn’t have ABS, stability control, traction control, or even airbags, Automobile reports. And that’s just the beginning of what it doesn’t have.
No, really—Doug DeMuro demonstrates how little else a 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10 has
The 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10 in Doug DeMuro’s video isn’t just a first-gen model. It’s actually the fifth Viper ever made and is cared for by the Petersen Automotive Museum. As such, it’s an excellent example of how stripped-down these first-gen models are.
Although Dodge offered an optional fiberglass hardtop starting in 1994, the earliest Viper RT/10s have optional fabric roofs, Automobile reports. The first-gen Viper also lacks exterior door handles and built-in windows, Car and Driver reports. Interestingly, though, it has door locks. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a secure car.
While the Viper RT/10 doesn’t have windows housed in its doors, it does have plastic clip-in windows. And, because the car doesn’t have exterior door handles, the windows un-zip so you can get inside. This makes the door locks functionally pointless. And this is just the start.
The first-gen Dodge Viper RT/10 doesn’t have an in-cabin hood release. Instead, the release is mounted inside the front bumper/grille. There’s also no real storage space inside the cabin apart from the glovebox. The Viper RT/10 also lacks A/C, and despite how it looks, the black bar running across the top isn’t actually a roll bar. And in a final interior note, there are plenty of exposed screws and the plastics are incredibly—and unapologetically—cheap, Doug DeMuro reports.
However, to quote Car and Driver, “[e]xactly none of that matters.” Because in ditching creature comforts, the first-gen Dodge Viper RT/10 captures the Cobra’s essence perfectly. Yes, the lack of aides requires “driving skill and steady hands at the wheel,” Hagerty reports. But the first-gen car is “remarkably easy to drive,” Petrolicious reports.
The steering is precise and full of feedback, the shifter’s throws are solid and precise, and the Viper RT/10 has tons of grip. It also rides fairly comfortably. In some ways, it’s almost like an extremely-powerful NA Miata, Car and Driver reports.
First-gen models are still surprisingly affordable
While later-gen Dodge Vipers have appreciated in value, first-gen RT/10 models are still fairly affordable. Apart from Lee Iacocca’s personal Viper and a few very-low-mileage cars, many sell for less than $40,000 on Bring a Trailer. And while pristine examples can cost up to $70k, an excellent-condition one is closer to $45k, Hagerty reports.
However, while Vipers are generally reliable, first-gen models have a few notable issues, R&T reports. The very earliest cars have piston ring issues that lead to increased oil consumption. Their thermostat gaskets are also known to leak, and the power steering pump pulley can crack over time. Though admittedly, the piston rings were typically replaced under warranty, or the entire engine was.
The bigger issue is finding replacement parts, The Drive reports. The Dodge Viper RT/10’s plastic body panels aren’t easy to find, especially the one-piece clamshell hood. And the car’s original tire sizes are rather unusual. However, it’s possible to install modern wheels on the first-gen cars, allowing owners to fit ‘conventionally-sized’ tires.
Driving a first-gen Dodge Viper RT/10 means giving up quite a bit of refinement. But if you’re after that Cobra bite, it absolutely delivers. Just make sure to mind your legs around those side-mounted exhaust pipes.
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