The Dodge Viper first debuted in 1991 as Dodge and Chrysler group’s halo performance car. It was a true widowmaker, with a pushrod V10 engine sending 400 hp to the rear wheels with zero traction or stability control. Eluding to this fact was its menacing looks, and a bold name to support both its style and its driving characteristics. Now, thanks to an interview from Motor Trend, we know where that fabulous ‘Viper’ name originated.
The magazine’s recent interview with Tom Gale and Chris Theodore showed the Viper name was created surprisingly easily. Gale, who led the design team, was in Italy meeting with Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign, who was currently styling the Eagle Premier. The yet-unnamed sports car was meant to be a tribute to the original Shelby Cobra, so the team already knew they wanted a snake inspired name for their car.
“We had dinner one night, and I said to Giorgetto, we’re looking for a name for a Cobra-like car that we’re doing and asked, ‘What’s a snake name in Italian?’ And he says, ‘Vipera.’ And I said, ‘Shit. Thanks,’ Didn’t need to say much more,” said Gale, according to Motor Trend’s article.
Gale liked the name so much he took it back to America and presented it to Chrysler president at the time Bob Lutz and former engineering president Francois Castaing. They agreed that “Vipera” was great, and after dropping the “a” off the end (likely for a sense of familiarity), the Dodge Viper was born.
The Dodge Viper has since gone through five generations spanning about 25 years, before killed off in 2017 due to federal safety regulations. The Viper wasn’t able to fit soon-to-be mandatory side curtain airbags in it’s low roofline, and Dodge didn’t have the time or sales to warrant the necessary budget to re-engineer the current model and/or spawn a new generation model.