- 1994 Dodge Venom *Image Courtesy: Motor1.com & Chrysler Corporation Dodge Division

Viper's Sour Twist

3w ago

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After the bottom all but totally disintegrated out of brute American performance cars in 1973 (thank you Pontiac), Chrysler Corporation entered a dismal phase. Bland, weak automobiles clogged dealerships and aside from the truck segment they had nothing worth driving everyday.

In the 80s Carroll Shelby had fun making little Omni GLHs and even a Dakota touted as a "performance version" with a 318 ci V8. Chrysler was looked at as a gimmick performance company after unleaded fuel became the standard brew. Then came the 90s when a clean slate would fill with something of a second boom.

In 1990 Dodge became the flagship car in IROC competition, replacing Camaro which ruled for 15 years. While street Daytonas had little prowess, at least Mopar had a renewed racing image. 1989 showcased a legend in progress, the Viper, on show floors before production lit off for 1992.

Things were getting serious with track-capable engineering after the brief recession that began the decade. However, the Pentastar stable lacked a really attractive rear wheel drive coupe to be a practical alternative to the sporty Viper. About the time Green Day dropped Dookie, their album of the decade, Chrysler molded this concept: the Dodge Venom.

Take the body off and it's a loose interpretation of the Neon platform which helps in part commonality. Now the Neon is far from a performance legend like Chargers and Challengers, but it tops them both when the conversation is about efficient affordable transportation. That's just to say the team chose a more cost-effective base for the sake of making this concept.

To put some enthusiasm in the Venom, a bin-sourced 3.5 liter LH V6 was chosen perhaps as an effort to keep fuel mileage respectable. This engine produces approximately 245 horsepower: quite good believe it or not for that stage of the decade. Even better is the assuring six-speed manual for those praying a legacy be revived. The "correct" rear wheels do the pushing like any Mopar legend had before.

Of course concepts don't always have to be nearly dedicated to what the final product will be, but this body instantly looks like a rushed, bulbous thing. The bubble roof appears totally detached from the sharper lines in the door grooves and front face. There's just too much of a post-production additive in what should be a cohesive mating of flowing lines. Take the roof out of the equation and you've got something like a taller Viper missing some nose length.

Now stop looking at the body and think about the landscape Chrysler was trying to re-take. Camaro was two years into generation four and Ford's Fox Body Mustang just passed for 1994's smoother shape. Here was a hypothetical rear-drive coupe of the future for Dodge and another contender in auto racing.

On paper the LH was quite adequate next to 5.0 and LT1 plants across the street. Ford's 5.0L HO put out 240 net horsepower and Chevy's 5.7 LT1 thundered 275 horses. This looks embarrassing for Ford having been squeezed by 5 hp with a 1.4 liter advantage. The only factors that would hinder the Venom are weight and traction. We won't go into which engine is better because an LH's wheeze never fails to sway opinions. A perked up 5.9 from the Ram line could have served a more appropriate choice. Few people go out looking to wring their 3.5 on the track.

Sadly, show stalls were the limit of this pony's path. Dodge wouldn't make another potent coupe until they revived their granddaddy Challenger in 2008. Who knows what direction the company would have taken if the Venom landed a firm hook in public eyes. This may have replaced the Intrepid when Dodge made another run in Nascar's Winston Cup Series for 2001.

Or it could have succeeded the Daytona and kept Mopar in IROC's pocket until the series folded rather than Pontiac's fourth generation Firebird. Perhaps a Venom was simply intended to become a sensible consumer's Viper alternative, but there's no question the mad brains at Chrysler would have spearheaded an aggressive motorsport campaign behind this name.

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