When the last Dodge Viper rolled off the line in Detroit in 2010, a handful ofengineers from the auto maker’s SRT performance brand missed the event.
They were in Maranello, Italy, visiting their new counterparts at Ferrari, as both brands now were under theumbrella. At the time, the Viper’s future was in question. But if the supercar were to re-launch, engineers would have an extra dose of performance know-how.
SRT engineers already knew what to put under the hood. Behind the wheel was a different challenge.
“In particular, we were studying what they were doing with seats,” Graham Henckel, model responsible-Viper, tells WardsAuto during a walk-around of the ’13 SRT Viper GTS. “The other big thing we were learning from Ferrari, and the most important thing, is that Ferrari has a history and a knowledge of how to wrap everything by hand in the interiors.”
A key part of re-launching the Viper, now christened as an SRT-badged product, was to add a second model above the base car with more interior amenities, he says. When the supercar was introduced in 1992, options such as WiFi hotspots and touchscreen displays were off in the distance.
SRT conceived a new GTS model to meet those demands. “The GTS responds to a lot of those inputs from people who say, ‘I’ve had a basic Viper and that’s cool, and I really want one that’s more like a Ferrari inside,’” Henckel says.
“‘It’s rich and has modern electronics, and I can take it to a local car show and park it next to a Lamborghini and not be embarrassed by the materials in the car.’”
Henckel predicted the GTS, which adds more than $20,000 to the sticker of a base Viper, would garner only a handful of orders. So SRT executives were taken aback when the majority of buyers opted for the pricier package.
“Almost 90% of our orders are for the GTS model,” he says. “That’s almost all of the ’13 model year.”
SRT sought both international and local suppliers eager to gain a foothold in the American supercar business with the GTS. The seats are supplied by Sabelt, a Brembo-owned company that provides special-edition interiors for Ferrari and some Fiats, andinked a new contract with Southfield, MI-based International Automotive Components for the hand-stitched, leather-clad cabin.
The base model seats are manually operated, compared with the power Sabelt seats in the GTS that are covered by grippy, high-performance cloth in bright red. Nappa premium leather seats in black, red or caramel can be had in the GTS as well.
While SRT may have picked up some hints from Ferrari, Henckel makes clear the Viper, and any other potential SRT product, is not an all-out collaboration. Operations at both auto makers remain separate, although their staffs remain in contact and share ideas.
“We have a bunch of real racers on our staff that really understand chassis design very deeply,” he says. “It is a very collaborative thing back and forth, and (CEO) Sergio (Marchionne) is really starting to recognize that he’s got some really powerful capability in his U.S. organization.”
There’s no competition between the two brands, either.
“No one’s going to say, ‘I bought a Viper instead of an Italia,’” Henckel says. “Rich guys will say, ‘I bought a Viper and an Italia.’ We don’t always appreciate this, but Viper had really become recognized worldwide as America’s supercar.
“When we go to Germany or anywhere else, (reaction is) the Viper is an American, iconic supercar.”