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New Dodge Viper to debut in N.Y.

Chrysler Group LLC

2010 Dodge Viper SRT10 ACR-X.

By Dan Carney, msnbc.com contributor

Just think of the storied Chrysler names in the annals of high performance vehicles: Hemi, Mopar, Challenger, Viper, Charger, Daytona, Road Runner and SRT. Wait, SRT? What’s that?

Only an entire brand division within Chrysler now, headed by President and CEO Ralph Gilles, who is also Chrysler’s senior vice president of design. The letters stand for “Street and Racing Technology.”

The brand also has the Viper. It used to be called the Dodge Viper, but now it’s called the Viper SRT. The original V10-powered muscle sports car went out of production in 2010 because of the confluence of Chrysler’s bankruptcy and government safety regulations that meant Dodge needed to update the Viper to be able to keep selling it.

During its 18-year run the vehicle’s design was largely unchanged. Now that the cash is flowing again at Chrysler, a revamped Viper will arrive at the New York auto show in April, and Gilles’ only remaining challenge is figuring out how to allocate the few thousand cars the company will be able to build this year.

Ordering the new Viper will be open, but preference will be given to loyal members of the Viper owner’s club. Can’t afford a Viper? Well, SRT sells hot-rod versions of the Chrysler 300, the Dodge Challenger, the Dodge Charger and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images

Upscale sedans, electric vehicles and old-school muscle cars make their debuts at the 2012 North American International Auto show.

Maybe you like these products, but reality means you are in a minivan for the foreseeable future. Well, you can still fantasize while snapping up trinkets and souvenirs from the gift shop.

You might not expect there to be a lot of demand for jackets, hats, key rings, wristwatches and the like adorned with the magical letters “SRT.” You would be wrong. Gilles ordered up a run of such goodies and promptly sold out of hoodie sweat shirts, tee shirts and the like.

“We had a huge request for merchandise and immediately sold out of stock,” he said.

To cultivate this fandom, SRT is setting up a website and a phone line to take orders for SRT-branded goods. These items are a validation of enthusiasts’ support for SRT’s products, Gilles explained. Owners and club members want acknowledgement more than anything, he said. Answering technical questions, sending clubs a banner, and even personally responding to e-mails, are ways Gilles ensures that SRT customers understand that the company appreciates their patronage and support.

“You get creative,” he said.

Giving customers access to SRT’s engineers who can answer their technical questions, is one example, he said.

“It doesn’t necessarily need to be big, expensive events.”

Just remember to wear your “SRT” trucker cap.

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