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Topless Viper may come by 2015

11:43 PM, Feb 18, 2013   |    comments
The redesigned 2013 SRT Viper GTS from Chrysler's high-performance brand will compete at Le Mans in June.(Photo: Richard Prince, Chrysler)
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(USA TODAY) -- Look for an SRT Viper roadster in 2015 -- if not sooner.

Chrysler broke with past practice when it introduced the latest snake with a hardtop. Past generations started with the convertible, followed by a coupe.

The fifth-generation Viper was developed for both body styles, but because the car will compete in the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in France in June, the automaker had to get the coupe on the road first.

As for timing of the convertible, the company's revised five-year product plan showed the ultra-performance car being refreshed in 2015.

It's not a refresh, said Ralph Gilles, head of the SRT brand. "It's a model addition."

Gilles smiled when asked to confirm that the model is the convertible -- executives are not allowed to talk about future product. He then hedged by calling it a "placeholder for an additional version of the car" and a "potentially interesting derivative."

The all-new 2013 Viper, with a 640-horsepower 8.4-liter V10, is an image car that also serves as a symbol of Chrysler's recovery.

The first allocation of 800 Vipers is spoken for, and Chrysler will ship those soon. Chrysler will take orders for another 500 to 700 in a few months. Workers at the Conner Avenue plant are building 12 vehicles a day. Chrysler hopes they can keep up if demand grows.

The SRT team is excited about returning to Le Mans. "It puts us on a world stage," Gilles said. "Everyone inside the SRT brand and the marketing team is very humbled and honored and excited."

Chrysler has not competed in the endurance event for the last 14 years. "The brand is kind of in a rebirth so it's perfect timing," Gilles said. "We picked the right place to come back and the right time."

The Viper "is really a race car in disguise," he said. Successful winter testing and the comfort level of the six drivers, all with different styles, provides confidence the car will fare well at the endurance race against such competitors as Porsche and Aston Martin.

As for the future of the performance brand -- which also makes high-performance version of products from other Chrysler brands -- another SRT model will be added in 2016, according to the five-year plan.

Gilles declined to talk about what it would be or respond to speculation that the compact Dodge Dart will get an SRT makeover. Past compact cars -- the Dodge Neon and Caliber -- had SRT versions.

There are already SRT versions of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chrysler 300. Last week, Chrysler showed SRT derivatives of its 300, Dodge Charger and Challenger at the Chicago Auto Show.

More Details on the 2013 SRT Viper

• Fifth-generation Viper returns after the car had been discontinued in 2010.

• Introduced as a coupe with the roadster still to come.

• Powertrain: 8.4-liter V10 generates 640 horsepower

• Milestone: Returns to Le Mans in June after 14 years

• Detroit made: Assembled at Conner Avenue plant

• Current production: 12 vehicles a day

By Alisa Priddle

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