Dodge Viper VM-01 & VM-02 (1989)
Brilliant concept cars were an effective means to Chrysler’s image-propping ends during one of their many brushes with extinction. After enjoying a thrilling weekend drive in his Autokraft continuation Cobra, Lutz directed Gale to create an update with Chrysler touches. The Corvette ZR1 was looming and Lutz wanted Chrysler to deflate that balloon by any means possible.
Months later, the media gathered at Chrysler’s Highland Park, Michigan, design dome found a low, menacing form hidden under a drop cloth. When the cover was whisked away, jaws dropped and the room’s pressure momentarily fell as every attendee inhaled in synch.
What Gale had created was a flame red phallus on wheels – long of hood, short of deck, low of profile. Like the production design the followed, there was room under the exaggerated front end for a large and powerful V-10 engine. Header pipes rippling like tensed muscles from the fender vents dumped hot exhaust to atmosphere just ahead of the wide rear tires. This was a pure roadster with no targa bar, roll up windows, or nod to weather protection. The assembled scribes were stirred by Chrysler’s boldness but skeptical if this radical departure from behavioral norms could survive beyond the concept phase.
The walls creaked, the roof moved when the Viper rolled onto a Cobo Hall stage with guttural undertones to make its public debut at January’s North American (Detroit) Auto Show. A low targa bar had sprouted on the deck but Tom Gale’s suitably aggressive sculpture was for the most part intact.
The response from show goers was overwhelming. Some posted deposit checks even though there were no production plans. That spurred Lutz to quickly breathe vitality into Chrysler’s cobbled up concept.
Hundreds of engineers descended upon a meeting established to recruit a handful of chassis, powertrain, and manufacturing experts needed to move the Viper to production. Lutz gave the team a $50-million budget and a three-year gestation period.