After 20 Years, Dodge Viper Still Built in Detroit
After 20 Years, Dodge Viper Still Built in Detroit
Posted on March 22, 2016
To the uninitiated, the Dodge Viper could be just another ridiculously powerful supercar. But to those in the know, the Viper is one of the most special and evocative automobiles ever to roll off an American production line. Although even Dodge itself turns out some incredibly powerful cars that can rival the Viper for performance, there's far more to this iconic car than just the numbers that go with it.
The first, and probably most important thing that makes the Viper so special, is the fact that every single one is completely hand-built by the very finest craftsmen in the industry. Today, the Viper is built at the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, which has been hand building the exclusive Dodge performance flagship since as long ago as 1995. The very first Viper models were actually built at the New Mack Assembly Plant, where around 30,000 Vipers have been built since its introduction to the market in 1992.
As recently as 2010, the Connor facility's future was in severe doubt when the Chrysler Group took the decision to idle the plant. After a two year hiatus, the plant was given an entirely new lease of life and was reopened in 2012 to start production of the fifth-generation of the Viper. The facility wasn't just brought out of mothballs though, as every facet was refurbished and improved. From the lobby that houses a historical hanging Viper timeline, to the shop floor and restrooms; everything got a new lease of life. The shop-floor now boasts hospital-levels of cleanliness, making it brighter and more organized than ever before to increase the efficiency of each and every operation performed there.
The car has now been produced at the plant 23 years, and although it's now a state-of-the-art production facility, it still bows to its original coach builder philosophy with the handcrafted build processes that added to the mystique of the original Viper. Every operator is a vital part of the meticulous production process, with each member of the 64 man team having been specially selected to assure ongoing quality and endless attention to detail. For every member of the team responsible for building the Viper, it's much more than just a way of earning a living, it's in fact a real labor of love.
Doug Gouin, who is the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant's Manager, explains, "The motto of the Conner Avenue plant is 'dedicated people building dreams'. The plant is filled with some of the most amazing car builders in the auto industry, building a vehicle that most people can only aspire to. The workers here are craftspeople, committed to delivering the best quality vehicle possible to our customers. Some of them are Viper owners themselves, so the job becomes very personal. They know they are keepers of the Viper legacy."
The whole approach to the build process is almost the complete opposite of what you would expect to see in such a modern facility. In a regular assembly plant, a vehicle will roll off the line about every minute. However, at Conner, a Viper will complete a cycle after a far more sedate 146 minutes. That's because as well as being built by hand, every operator completes 150 elements or tasks on each car in a single cycle. In a normal plant like Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant, where the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango are built, that's the equivalent of what around 100 people would do. From beginning to end, it takes 10 days for each Viper to be completed.
There are three main build areas inside the facility; the chassis line, the engine line and the final line. There is a nod to modern production techniques though, in the form of the plant's first five robots. These machines make up the Net Form & Pierce cell, which moves the frame in and out five times during one cycle, punching holes and creating 50 features in the vehicle's frame to enable the hanging of panels, such as the hood, deck lids, doors and fenders. Some 65 vision points are then measured to ensure the accuracy of the installation points for other components. Once the cycle is concluded, the frame leaves the cell to have the instrument panel installed, which is also built onsite at the plant.
The steel frame then moves along the production line where the Viper starts to take on a more recognizable form with components like the front and rear suspension, rear brakes, exhaust, fuel tank and the V-10 engine are installed. The last stop on the chassis line sees the engine undergo its roll test, where every vehicle is tested to 90 mph.
It's then on to the final line where the Viper really takes shape with the addition of the body panels, seats, window glass, and other interior and exterior components and features.
It will undoubtedly be a comfort to buyers of a new Viper that the finished cars go through the same kind of state-of-the-art testing that all modern cars are subjected to. These include: a headlight aim; emissions testing; a five-minute water test; a shaker test that simulates the bumps and rough surfaces found on public roads, and an additional quality audit of one car per day. If that isn't enough, each car also has to go through a new Vision Cell to measure 120 points along the body to verify the precision of the fit and finish before a final electrical test is carried out on the car.
Finally, every car gets buffed and polished under special lights to ensure the kind of finish expected of a hand-built icon like the Dodge Viper.