NEW YORK – Chrysler unveils its resurrected super-sports car, now called the SRT Viper, at the auto show here, but a video broadcast of the debut goes out to workers at a small factory in Detroit.

“They are watching this with interest,” Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Chrysler’s SRT Brand and Motorsports, says of employees at the Conner Ave. Assembly Plant where the new-generation Viper will be built.

The factory made what was then called the Dodge Viper from 1995 until 2010, when Chrysler ended production and idled the facility as the troubled auto maker went through a near-death financial experience.

The return of the Viper reflects the U.S.car company’s striking recovery under the leadership of Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. Gilles credits him with avidly backing the revival under Chrysler’s SRT (street and racing technology) brand.

The Conner Ave. plant will begin producing the new Viper in late 2012, but employee training and orientation began last fall.

Fiat also owns Ferrari, but the ’13 Viper is all-American, Gilles emphasizes. “Let’s get this over with right away: This car was designed (at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI) by Americans and will be built by Americans.”

However, he acknowledges, “We did consult with some Ferrari interior designers” because the interior of the previous 2-seater was lacking in some areas, considering the vehicle’s high status.

Chrysler at one point considered using an Italian vehicle platform but ultimately decided against that. “It wasn’t what we were looking for,” says Gilles, who calls the Viper “an icon” with a fan base that includes enthusiastic owners’ clubs.  

“After a gut-wrenching period of uncertainty, the SRT team is extremely proud that our flagship super-car is back and ready to take on the performance-car world,” Gilles says. “Beyond being the flagship for the new SRT brand, the launch of the ’13 Viper proves that we simply would not let the performance icon of the Chrysler Group die.”

Vipers that had rolled off the Detroit line were hand-built in a low-volume modular process. Over the course of 15 years, Conner Ave. plant workers built about 12 vehicles a day, for a total of 22,070 Vipers.

Production of the new model will remain low. “We know the car will only make a little money, but it shows that this company has a soul,” Gilles says. “Sergio couldn’t wait to show the Viper to the dealer body.”

Attending the Viper unveiling is Louis Giordano, a multibrand Chrysler dealer and chairman of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn., the trade group that puts on the city’s auto show.

“We’ll sell a few of them, a limited number,” he says of the Viper. “But it sure is a special car.”
An all-aluminum 8.4L V-10 engine delivers about 640 hp and 600 lb.-ft. (813 Nm) of torque. Gilles calls that the most torque of any naturally aspirated sports-car engine in the world.

All-new carbon-fiber and aluminum skin is sculpted for high-speed stability and a low 0.364 drag coefficient. “The design inspiration comes from a snake and a human body,” Gilles says.

Major updates include the addition of an aluminum X-brace under the hood that ties the suspension pickup points to the magnesium-cowl super casting and contributes to a 50% improvement in torsional rigidity and stiffness.

Many reworked areas of the chassis take advantage of new materials, reduce thickness in some areas and reshape components for more structural rigidity in others. The result is an overall weight savings of about 100 lbs. (45 kg).

sfinlay@wardsauto.com