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The Viper was conceived as a historical take on the classic American sports car. The iconic AC Cobra was a source of inspiration, and the final version of the Viper bears this out with its powerful engine, minimalist straightforward design, muscular and aggressive styling, and high performances. Some saw claims to kinship with the Cobra as a marketing exercise, ignoring that Carroll Shelby was heavily involved in the initial design of the Viper, and subsequent design of the Viper GTS coupe. Notably, the later (1996 through 2002) Viper GTS coupe took a few design cues from the Pete Brock designed Shelby Cobra Daytona. Though the proportions seem similar at first glance, the designs are quite unique. Carroll Shelby was key in the development of the RT/10 as well as having a hand in the development of the GTS model.
The Viper was initially conceived in late 1988 at Chrysler's Advanced Design Studios. The following February, Chrysler president Bob Lutz suggested to Tom Gale at Chrysler Design that the company should consider producing a modern Cobra, and a clay model was presented to Lutz a few months later. Produced in sheet metal by Metalcrafters, the car appeared as a concept at the North American International Auto Show in 1989. Public reaction was so enthusiastic, that chief engineer Roy Sjoberg was directed to develop it as a standard production vehicle.
Sjoberg selected 85 engineers to be "Team Viper," with development beginning in March 1989. The team asked the then-Chrysler subsidiary Lamborghini to cast some prototype aluminum blocks based on Dodge's V10 truck engine for sports car use in May. The production body was completed in the fall, with a chassis prototype running in December. Though a V8 was first used in the test mule, the V10, which the production car was meant to use, was ready in February 19 90.
Official approval from Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca came in May 1990. One year later, Carroll Shelby piloted a pre-production car as the pace vehicle in the Indianapolis 500 race. In November 1991, the car was released to reviewers with first retail shipments beginning in January 1992.
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