June 20, 2012 - Vintage vehicles and tricked-out hot rods weren't the only slick-looking automobiles on the prowl in Oxford Saturday during the Lapeer Road Country Cruise.
Addison Township resident Ralph Gilles, who’s the senior vice president of design for the Chrysler Group and CEO of the SRT brand, poses with the new 2013 SRT Viper GTS, which was on display at the Oxford Marketplace during the Lapeer Road Country Cruise. The car will be manufactured in Detroit and should be released for sale just before Christmas. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Folks attending the Cars & Stars event held at the Oxford Marketplace got a sneak peek at the 2013 SRT Viper GTS soon to be mass-produced in Michigan by Chrysler.
"It won't be on sale until right before Christmas," said Ralph Gilles, CEO of the SRT brand and senior vice president of design for the Chrysler Group. "But we're building them as we speak at (the) Conner (Avenue Assembly Plant) right in Detroit. We're building prototypes right now."
Through Dodge, Chrysler began producing and selling Vipers in the early 1990s. "It was discontinued from 2010 on," Gilles said. "There was no 2011 or 2012 model year. We're reigniting it for the 2013 model year."
"It is the most technologically advanced SRT we make, period," Gilles noted. "It's the first Viper that's an SRT. We're no longer calling it Dodge; it's going to be known as an SRT Viper. It's meant to be the flagship of the SRT brand, which is our Street & Racing Technology brand."
In addition to the Viper, the SRT brand – which much like Ram is now a stand-alone marque of the Chrysler Group – includes the Challenger SRT8, Charger SRT8, Grand Cherokee SRT8 and 300 SRT8. All of these stunningly gorgeous, high-performance vehicles were also on display at the Oxford Marketplace during the cruise.
"This is the second generation of these cars and they all have the same engine, the 392 Hemi (with) 470 horsepower," Gilles said. "But they're all very different in their tuning. They're made for different people."
So, what the heck was a head honcho like Gilles doing in Oxford? Well, he's no stranger to this area. He's lived out in Addison Township for more than five years. "Oxford is the backyard of Chrysler and I consider Oxford my hometown," he said. "I love it. It's just rural enough for me, so I feel like I'm getting away when I get home."
While speaking to Gilles, it was obvious he's very excited about the new Viper, which drew quite a crowd around it. "It has 40 more horsepower, 40 more pounds of torque," he said. "It will be faster, stronger."
Lying in wait under the new Viper's hood – like a coiled cobra poised to strike – is a V10 all-aluminum engine with 640 horsepower.
"I love it," Gilles said. "It's more nimble than ever before. It's a lot more drivable. It's not so spooky to drive. We've made this car so that the power's much more accessible for the average person."
When asked what the car's top speed is, Gilles said, "We haven't tested it yet, but it should be well over 206 (miles per hour) based on our computer modeling."
One of the first things one immediately notices about the new Viper is it's wider.
"The track is wider for handling reasons, but also because the tires are bigger all the way around," Gilles said. "There are 355s in the back and 295s in the front. The way we've drawn the car, it's much, much more voluptuous than it's ever been."
Gilles indicated the feedback on the new Viper has been extremely positive once people see it in the flesh, so to speak.
"It's sexy," he said. "It's got a lot of beautiful lines and a lot of detail. We sweat the details. Every little line does something. There's a form-follows-function type of approach, so all the scoops are functional – they either cause down-force, cool something or exhaust something. They're all hyperfunctional, but at the same time, they wrap the car, almost like shrink-wrapping it, so it looks like a muscle-bound athlete."
"We really went after the gaps," Gilles noted. "Even though it's a show car, the production car will have gaps every bit as good as this. The interior, the execution, the materials we're using – we're really taking the quality of (Chrysler) cars to a whole new level, a world class level. We plan to sell this car all over the world. Even though it's built in Detroit, it will be sold in the Middle East, Japan, Australia, Europe, everywhere."
When asked how much the new Viper will sell for, Gilles replied, "We're not talking sticker (price) just yet."
"It will be reasonable," he added. "It won't be anywhere near it's competition. We respect where we came from. We know who we are and we have a huge following as is it with the current cars."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.