Today the original Dodge Viper R/T 10 is a vehicle of great nostalgia, but what was it like when it was new? Well, I happen to have a contemporary report on it debuting in Detroit 1989 in the Japanese periodical Car Styling. What did they think? Well, there’s something about it that Americans missed.
Welcome back to Auto Archives, the show in which we dive into my personal collection of Car Styling magazine back issues. These issues are packed with never-uploaded-online pictures, sketches, and interviews. I wish I had time to go through every page.
In Issue 69 of Car Styling, we get a nice and complete breakdown of the then-new Mitsubishi Minica that was “packed with consideration for the lady driver,” the Opel Vectra that was “a likely winner,” and a technical review of the Jaguar XJ220 when it still had a V12. There is also a review of the Nissan Pao and S-Cargo, but of particular interest to me is that Car Styling covered all the big debuts at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show. What I really do love is the discussion of the Dodge Viper, which is brimming with character.
“Typically American styling leads you to expect exhilarating performance with gutsy torque. Giving a glimpse of the exhaust pipe in the side air duct is a delectably wicked touch,” the magazine notes. “Powered by a modified 6.5l V10 truck engine.”
There is also a lot of discussion of how the car returns to the ethos of the Shelby Cobra, as we’ve all heard over the years. Here, though, Car Styling gets a quote from Shelby himself denying the whole affair:
One rumor has it that Chrysler is currently studying plans to put a roadster like the Viper into production. If this be true, then what the Cobra’s real creator, Carol [sic] Shelby, is up to just now should be of interest. His company, Shelby Automobiles, is currently producing high-performance versions of Chrysler models and selling them under its own brand. One would naturally expect him to take part in the development of a new cobra, but he denies the possibility of its resurrection. “Another Cobra? No way. It was great for its day. Today the need is for quick, nimble, fuel-efficient cars.”
That’s fantastic to see such a denial, but it’s not what roped me in about this piece on the Viper. It’s that Car Styling points out that the Viper’s retro look is nothing new, at least as far as Japan was concerned:
To those who have become accustomed to the Nissan Be-1, however, the way the Viper blends together the nostalgic and the modern will offer little in the way of freshness.
The Nissan Be-1 (we drove one!) kicked off the retro craze all the way back in 1985, with sales starting in 1987 at such a rush that every other carmaker in Japan rushed to make its own retro vehicle.
Dubbed “the Be-1 phenomenon” by the press, the little retro hatchback was big news in Japan, but it was never sold in America. I can forgive my childhood self for never thinking of the Viper as just another part of a retro wave stemming from a little Nissan, but now I am happy to see a thread being drawn between America’s burliest retro icon and Japan’s teensiest.