Tom Kowaleski held high-profile jobs at General Motors, BMW and Lincoln during a long career in public relations, but one special claim to fame was being present at the creation of the Dodge Viper while at Chrysler almost a quarter of a century ago.
Kowaleski, in a recent blog post, recalled the first time he saw a Viper (See autonews.com/viper).
It sat under an old gray cover in the dilapidated styling dome at the old Chrysler's former Highland Park, Mich., headquarters.
"Someone says, 'Pull it off,'" Kowaleski recalled. "A giant red sphere assaulted our eyes and its rawness looked like a Shelby Cobra that had been stepped on and semisquashed."
The Viper was engineered in the same space in the old American Motors styling studios in which the AMC Pacer was conceived.
"Fifty-five gallon drums with hunks of wood straddled between them were the work tables. It was 1989, but the whole thing had the feeling of 1939."
Early test cars ran around with Corvette bodies on Viper frames. Several caught fire until engineers figured out how to insulate the car's side exhaust pipes properly. In fact, one fire ravaged the Armani suit of Francois Castaing, Chrysler's engineering chief.
"He gets out of the car, leans nonchalantly against the driver's door and proceeds to deliver his critique," Kowaleski wrote. "What's that smell? Smoke begins to rise. His pants had caught on fire from leaning against a side exhaust."