After the second-generation SRII Viper RT/10 launched in 1995 with a removable hardtop and rear exhausts designed for both comfort and reduced back pressure, Dodge followed up in late 1996 with its most powerful Viper to date, the 450-horsepower GTS coupe. Under its double-bubble roof, 1996’s Indy 500 Pace Car featured plenty of upgrades, including air-conditioning, power windows and locks, an adjustable pedal box, a driver airbag, and even onboard diagnostics.
Bob Lutz didn’t need to guess that the only car in Jay Leno’s garage featuring onboard diagnostics software was his 1994 McLaren F1 (chassis #15). Chrysler’s chief executive simply felt the need to give him a call, only to explain how the 1996 Viper GTS is a completely different car compared to Leno’s 1993 RT/10, featuring “50 more horsepower and bla-bla-bla.” The comedian was easy to convince about a new American sports car in Daytona Coupe colors, and even went to Chrysler’s Conner Avenue Assembly to see his GTS getting built and signed by the team.
In the 25 years since, Jay Leno put 10,700 miles into his Viper coupé, which turned out to be a practical, perfectly reliable two-door offering 450 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque deadstock, sent through an honest six-speed BorgWarner T56 manual. Strong yet silent air-conditioning, nice seats, locking doors, a practical hatch, and ample storage space for two. It’s no surprise that Leno is a huge fan of first-generation original designs, and the 1996 Viper GTS is certainly not far from the 1989 concept in terms of size and design, even if it’s miles ahead in daily usability and reliability.
With no new Viper in sight and certainly no hope for a new V10, a clean 1996 Viper GTS will only get more desirable.