In 1989, when the Dodge Viper was introduced, Bob Lutz was 57 years old. He’d already worked for GM, BMW and Ford, and had his share of successes at each one. Now he was at Chrysler, trying to steer the company through its second crisis in a decade. He was driving his Mark IV continuation Cobra feeling somewhat guilty of the “Powered by Ford” badges on the side and he realized that Chrysler had what it needed to build a modern day take on the Cobra. Chrysler had recently developed a new 5 speed transmission for the midsize Dakota pickup that was capable of handling gobs of torque. To generate that torque, Lutz decided to use Chrysler’s new V10 truck engine, going two cylinders further than Shelby’s Cobra. Chrysler’s advanced design studio had already been working on a long hood short deck two seater in 1987. In early 1988, Lutz pitched the idea of a Cobra-like car to Tom Gale, head of Chrysler styling. The earlier design was adapted to accommodate the longer V10 and a clay model was ready in months. The concept was first shown to the public at the 1989 NAIAS in Detroit.
According to the staff at the Walter P. Chrysler museum, this particular car, until recently on display at the museum is that same concept car. From the wear on the interior, it looks like it was also used as a development car. It’s a little bit lower and a little bit sleeker than the production Viper that resulted, with exposed headers in the fender vent in addition to the exposed side pipes but it still evokes the same visceral response in car guys 23 years later. The Viper concept was just on display at the Concours of America to honor retired Chrysler styling chief Tom Gale who was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame at a ceremony held in conjunction with the Concours. Since Chrysler, not the museum, owns the car, if you want to see it check with the museum staff before visiting to make sure that it’s back on display.