- First year of production for the Viper GTS coupe
- One of 1,166 produced
- 4,900 miles
- 8.0-liter 450-hp V10 engine
- 6-speed transmission
- Viper Blue with white stripes
- Power windows and locks
- Air conditioning
|1996 Dodge Viper GTS coupe
|1,166 (1996 GTS)
|Original List Price:
|Median to date, $41,600; high sale, $60,500
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Base of windshield, driver’s side
|Engine Number Location:
|Serial number on lower right front, above oil pan. VIN stamped in rear of block near bellhousing
|1992–95 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, 2001–06 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat
This car, Lot S55.1, sold for $51,700, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Harrisburg event in Harrisburg, PA, on July 21–23, 2016.
I have a vivid memory of dragging my mom to the mall on a Saturday night in 1992. The destination? A cutlery shop that sold model cars. They had Dodge’s all-new Viper on their wall display, next to a Li’l Red Express and a Tri-Five Chevy. Thirty-five dollars was a significant chunk of my 10-year-old net worth, but that curvy red RT/10 was the coolest car I’d ever seen, so the money didn’t matter. I had to have that model, and to this day, I still do.
That was exactly the type of response the Viper was designed to pull from gearheads all around the world. Here was a brash, sexy roadster with big power, marketed to a group of fanatical buyers who’d grown accustomed to the ho-hum ’80s performance scene and longed for more.
The Viper was their dream turned reality — a long-shot concept car unbelievably green-lit by Chrysler and designed to perform, period. Under that slippery Tom Gale-designed body was a 400-hp aluminum V10 based on the LA Chrysler V8 and designed by Lamborghini, and behind that was an all-business 6-speed manual and unbelievably wide 335-series radials. These cars were fast, loud, and raw to the core — the epitome of American muscle.
Chrysler the car company may have been saved by millions of dull K-cars and their derivative minivans, with their tan velour and woodgrain appliqué sides, but Chrysler the performance icon was saved by this topless, windowless, sidepipe-growling, Shelby-Cobra-like monster. Kids like me ripped down their Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach wall posters and put up Vipers in their place. The American halo car was back, and boy, did it look good.
From curiosity to car
The Viper was a dream machine — no doubt about it — but living with it on a regular basis could be a challenge. First off, the cars were hot inside, with sidepipes running under the rockers on either side. They didn’t have a/c, which didn’t help. And with no side glass and a canvas top that had a nasty habit of ejecting at high speed, the cars weren’t exactly weatherproof. Add to that a lack of outside door handles on early examples and you’ve got a logistical challenge for anything other than a drive that starts and ends in your driveway. None of that is jarring for someone used to roadsters — and rawness was a real selling point here — but there was room for improvement.
That improvement came in mid-1996 with the introduction of the GTS coupe. This was a Viper that had been sent to — and kicked out of — reform school. It was still edgy and had 15 more horsepower than the earlier model, but it also had power windows and locks, airbags and a/c. But it was the addition of a double-bubble roofline that brought something to the Viper shape that most of us didn’t even know was missing.
The GTS, with its Shelby Cobra Daytona looks, is beautiful, and Dodge made no bones about what it was meant to do. Most of the RT/10s had been solid red. This blue car, as seen in all the major automotive publications in 1996, was the first production car in a decade to legitimately wear a pair of racing stripes. While the red RT/10 was the car people dreamed of, the blue-and-white GTS coupe was the one they actually wanted.
Evil in the best way
The Viper has a reputation of being hard to handle. I’ve heard rumors of everything from stiff clutch pedals to harsh spring rates and insane amounts of torque that make wet-weather driving impossible. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.
I’ve spent a lot of time behind the wheel of ACC’s 2000 Viper ACR. It’s supposed to be the track-day special edition of an already hardcore car, but I was surprised to find that it’s completely tractable.
The clutch is as easy as a street Corvette, the 6-speed shifts are bolt-action-rifle crisp, just like they were in my ’01 Camaro SS. Power delivery is smooth and instant. The V10 makes gobs of torque — so much that you never have to downshift unless you want to, and it’ll cruise all day at 90 mph in sixth gear. The suspension is firm but not punishing — even after a 530-mile drive from ACC HQ to Reno, NV. The V10 can even return pretty good mileage if you’re not prodding it too much. But under all that it’s still performance first and comfort second, and that mindset reveals itself in small ways, like an a/c system that shuts down under heavy throttle application. Driver and passenger are rewarded with a wave of heat at every drop of the pedal.
The trouble with the Viper lies in all that tractability. The GTS deserves its reputation, but only because it’s easy to drive all the way up until the edge of its capabilities, and that gives drivers a false sense of security. It begs you to push it harder and harder until you do something stupid and scare yourself. Driving this car is like having a little devil on your shoulder, pushing you to test the limits. Owners get constant little reminders that they’re playing with fire here, and if that’s the sort of thing that appeals to you, the Viper’s your vice.
Blue and white
This car was a first-year example of the GTS in the most desirable and iconic paint scheme ever applied to a Viper. It was all stock and had under 5,000 miles, which means it’s still minty but was used enough to not be dried up.
Median first-year GTS pricing sits right at $41,600 in the current market. This car certainly deserved more than middle-of-the-road money due to its condition and colors, but a $10k boost does seem a little steep. However, I’d consider it a sign of the times to come.
This is the American poster car of its generation, and as I’ve said before in ACC, as buyers of a certain age continue to flow into the collector car market, they’re going to spend big chunks of their net worth to own the performance icons they’ve always coveted. The Viper has always been a special car — these things turn just as many heads now as they did when they were new — and that bodes well for its future as a collectible. All things considered, I’d call this one both well bought and sold today, but I expect we’ll see it go up in value from here.