New Viper ACR: street legal, race ready
By Joe Rusz
Four years ago, the folks at Chrysler came up with a neat idea. Take a stock, base model Dodge or Plymouth Neon, delete such civilized touches as air conditioning and radio/cassette player, add 4-wheel disc brakes and a close-ratio gearbox and what do you get? A street-legal road car that becomes a weekend warrior at the drop of a green flag. Chrysler dubbed its special the ACR (for American Club Racing) because that's where the 5900-plus ACRs purchased so far spend their Sundays. Competing in and winning SCCA national championships in Showroom Stock B and C and in Solo II.
Encouraged by the success of the Neon and spurred on by the demands of its customers, Chrysler has taken this concept one giant step further. Come early 1999, you'll be able to step into your Dodge showroom and order a Viper ACR, a car the company calls "a grassroots translation of the successful Viper GTS-R World Champion FIA GT2 race car." Designed for SCCA club racing (in the SCCA's Touring 1 category where it will compete with cars such as the Corvette C5, Acura NSX-T, Ferrari F355 and Porsche 911, among others), the 60-lb.-lighter ACR does not have air conditioning, radio or driving lights (an optional package uses the light holes to feed cooling air through flexible ducts to the front brakes). But it is fitted with Koni adjustable shocks, Meritor heavy-duty springs, smooth air-intake hoses and a less-restrictive K&N filter (the latter two boosting horsepower from 450 to 460). Further differentiating this Viper are 18-in. BBS wheels, a 5-point safety harness, special ACR badges and a dash plaque that tell the world this is one special Viper.
Of course, some ACRs will never turn a wheel in anger (choosing off a Corvette on the local Interstate doesn't count), so for most folks the standard Viper - available in six designer colors - will do just fine. But for racing in T1, serious competitors such as SCCA national champ Jeff Altenburg (who already has one) will want to add a host of Club-approved options, including the aforementioned brake duct kit, differential cooler, high-g oilpan, viscous limited-slip differential, racing brake pads, racing exhaust system and, perhaps, a lower (numerically higher) final-drive gear (3.55, 3.73 or 4.11:1). All these MoPar parts are available at your Dodge dealer for a slight extra charge (but if you have to ask, you can't afford them). And, while you're at it, don't forget the rollcage and requisite fire-extinguishing system.
Thanks to Chrysler, I was able to sample the ACR - at Laguna Seca where it undoubtedly will compete once somebody ponies up the $90,000-plus it'll take to own one. With the new suspension and tire packages, the Viper has become a much more balanced car, with excellent turn-in and outstanding grip. The shifter has a more positive feel (the stamped-steel shift fork inside the transmission has been replaced by a cast unit) and the free-breathing intake system really makes the engine come alive (as if it ever felt dead). In fact, the latest Viper is a vast improvement over the first of its kind and proves that racing does indeed improve the breed. Now then, where'd I put that helmet and driving suit?