It’s an old joke, but it endures in the regular hazing rituals of new car enthusiasts. Have you checked your blinker fluid? Well, no, because that doesn’t exist. Nor do muffler bearings, or summer air for your tires. But actually, in the case of the first-generation Dodge Viper, blinker fluid does exist. And the tale of why is quite interesting.
Chronicled by Youtuber Four Eyes in an interview with first-generation Viper chief engineer Roy Sjoberg, the Dodge Viper’s blinker fluid isn’t strictly what most of us know from the jokes. It’s actually all down to the curious little bubble level that exists in the headlights of first-generation Vipers. It all starts with BMW and General Electric.
The headlights for the Viper actually began as a design for the BMW Z1, the funky-door’d roadster that didn’t come to the U.S. According to Sjoberg, GE developed and built headlights for BMW at GE’s cost, making them practically complete and paid for. For reasons not known to Sjoberg, BMW scrapped the headlights GE created for the Z1 and went a different direction for the car, leaving the headlights in GE’s scrap bin of parts.
When Chrysler went looking for a set of headlights for its upcoming Viper, GE had the projector units ready to go. And according to Sjoberg, they were effectively free because the development had already been paid for. All Chrysler had to do was incorporate the headlight design into the fascia of the bumper, giving Viper designers some hard points to work with. At the time, it would have cost $2.5 million plus $1 million in development to make headlights for the Viper, so this was a huge saving for the project.
And within those headlights were small leveling bubbles that remained through to final production. Those bubbles are there to level the headlights at the Viper production line, but weren’t strictly necessary. Sjoberg asked if the bubbles could be removed, and the cost was $1.50 per car. In the world of mass production, that’s a huge difference.
So, because of some silly little $1.50 leveling bubbles that you would normally find on household tools, the first-generation Viper has blinker fluid. The more you know.
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