Convertible automobiles have often been used by car makers as ways to inject some excitement into their lineups. There is just something about removing a vehicle's roof that can turn even the most pedestrian compact car into a fun to drive weekend toy. While the most common targets for convertible conversion are two-door, four-passenger coupes, perhaps the most tantalizing type of drop top to be found on the market is the roadster. With only two seats and a short wheelbase, roadsters harken back to the days of British sports cars, which used small platforms and high-revving engines to squeeze as much fun as possible out of the narrow roads found in England.
When Chrysler was looking for a way to attract attention to their rapidly evolving product line at the beginning of the 1990s, they turned to this particular era in history for inspiration. One of the most iconic roadsters of all time was the AC Cobra, which started off its life as a somewhat underpowered two-seater before Carroll Shelby made history by dropping in a fire-breathing V-8 and creating one of the fastest, most visceral sports cars ever built. Realizing that few vehicles in current production offered this same level of pure driving experience, Chrysler authorized the production of a prototype by their Dodge subsidiary that would attempt to capture the same spirit as the Cobra updated with the best technology that modern engineering could provide.
The result was the Dodge Viper, an extroverted, menacing roadster that sported eye-catching body work and a monstrous 8.0-liter V-10 engine made entirely out of aluminum. With a very low curb weight and an incredible for the time 400 horsepower, the Viper concept caught the attention of almost every automotive enthusiast in North America. Even more shocking was the fact that the go-ahead was given to build a production version of the Viper that was almost unchanged from the prototype which had wowed audiences the world over. In 1992, a mere three years after its initial debut, the Viper was sitting in Dodge showrooms across the country, causing horsepower hounds to salivate and greatly enhancing the automaker's reputation.
The Dodge Viper roadster has come a long way from its origins as a vinyl-topped targa with plastic hang-down windows. This article discusses the third generation Viper roadster, the SRT-10, which represents the best used convertible to wear the Dodge emblem.
2003 - 2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10
Given that the Dodge Viper already had a reputation as one of the wildest, most powerful vehicles to have ever been built, some were shocked when the re-designed roadster appeared in 2003 with an even larger and stronger engine. With displacement now punched out to 8.3-liters, the 2003 - 2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10's 10-cylinders grind out 500 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. Backed by a stout 6-speed manual transmission, these incredible figures allow the sports car to hit 60 miles per hour from a standing start in 3.9 seconds, and run the quarter mile in only 11.7 seconds with a trap speed of 121 miles per hour.
The improvements are not limited to the drivetrain. The vehicle's chassis has been tuned to provide less harshness and vibration compared to previous generations of the car, and steering has also been improved. The stiffer frame translates into even greater road-holding at the limit, limiting body roll to the absolute minimum and providing extra confidence and grip from the enormous 300-series tires. The vehicle's top is much more civilized than the one found in earlier Viper roadsters, disappearing behind the rear seat like a standard convertible instead of requiring complete removal and stowage. While the Viper could not be termed a practical car by any stretch of the imagination, the re-designed top helps make it more livable in day to day operation.
The interior of the 2003 - 2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10 is still somewhat cramped for drivers who measure over 6 feet tall, but better seats and an easier to read dash display help to make the vehicle feel a bit friendlier than it did before. Luggage space has also been improved, thanks to a slightly longer overall platform, but in all honesty few drivers are concerned with how many suitcases they can haul in their exotic sports car.
The 2003 - 2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10 is a raw, beautiful and heart-pounding performance drop top that shames most other used convertibles in terms of power, acceleration and handling.