CENTER LINE, MI – Owners of Chrysler’s new ’13 SRT Viper begin taking delivery of their supercars this month, gaining entry to or renewing membership in a near-exclusive club that almost ceased to exist.

During tough times for Chrysler in the thick of bankruptcy, CEO Sergio Marchionne considered selling off the Viper’s assets to pay the bills. Instead, after some internal lobbying, the car was granted a stay of execution.

On Detroit’s east side, where the 2-seat sports car is hand-built by craftsmen at a small plant, the fifth-generation Viper is regarded as something of a symbol of Chrysler’s renaissance. The facility was shuttered after the auto maker’s bankruptcy, but later was reopened to continue output.

The Viper also holds a special status as Chrysler’s only model built by hand. Indeed, few cars anywhere are hand-built today.

“Like most supercars, it’s not a vehicle we sell 10,000 of a year,” Mark Trostle, head of SRT, Viper, Mopar and Motorsports Design, tells WardsAuto. “It’s a vehicle that lends itself to be built by hand. We’re so proud of the performance this vehicle has. We’re talking Bugattis – we can compete on that same performance platform.”

Chrysler has maintained a dialogue with Viper owners since the car’s debut in 1995, even after production was halted in 2010. The auto maker regularly sends top executives, including SRT President and CEO Ralph Gilles, to special events.

Before the ’13 model went on sale, Trostle says some enthusiasts tested it at the Viper Owners Invitational in Charlotte, NC. “We let them drive the car. We’re listening very closely to what they are saying – and they love the car.”

The Viper is one of two ’13-model Chrysler vehicles to integrate mobile Wi-Fi hotspot technology, meaning the driver can connect wirelessly to the Internet from the car.

The base model, with an 8.4L, V-10 powerplant, stickers at $99,130, and the GTS version starts at $122,390.

Previously a Dodge-branded vehicle, the Viper currently is the only model under the SRT banner. Asked if a potential SRT-tuned Dodge Dart or Ram 1500 is in the works, Trostle says, “You never know. We are always looking for the right products for the right brand.”

afoley@wardsauto.com