How The Dodge Viper Is Being Hand-Built In Detroit
Since 1995, the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan, has been responsible for the creation of one of America’s most iconic sports cars – the Dodge Viper. But in 2010, the 50-year-old plant was put on hiatus, and the fate of the snake was thrown into doubt. Two years later, however, the plant reopened, and the fifth-gen Viper was unleashed upon the world. Now, the Conner Ave facility has been upgraded and improved, sporting modern equipment and techniques, all the while retaining its coachbuilder philosophy.
“The motto of the Conner Avenue plant is ‘dedicated people building dreams’,” said Doug Gouin, Conner Avenue Assembly Plant Manager, FCA US LLC. “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."
Of the approximate 30,000 Vipers built since 1992, 24,000 came from Conner Ave. The plant now boasts being “hospital-clean, bright and more organized to increase the efficiency of each operation.” The 400,000-square-foot facility houses some 64 autoworkers, each contributing to the “handcrafted build process” of producing the new Viper.
“There is a sense of pride about being part of the Viper team,” said Greg Rinehart, a Team Leader who has been with Viper since 1994. “Every vehicle that leaves this plant is like one of our children. Each owner becomes part of our family. We were grateful when they decided to bring Viper back and gave us the opportunity to be part of the future.”
Read on to get an in-depth look at the build process.
Continue reading for the full story.
Why it matters
While some assembly lines deliver a new car every 60 seconds, the Conner Ave plant produces a new Viper roughly every 146 minutes, with each individual vehicle requiring 10 days of construction time. Operators are tasked with completing 150 “tasks” per cycle, with the build falling into three main areas – the chassis line, the engine line, and the final line.
Conner Ave installed its first robots in the 2012 re-launch, and these automatons are the first to work their magic by punching holes in the frame and creating the features necessary to hang body panels, the hood, deck lid, doors and fenders.
Shipped in from Kentucky, a new Viper begins life as most cars do – as a bare chassis. Conner Ave installed its first robots in the 2012 re-launch, and these automatons are the first to work their magic by punching holes in the frame and creating the features necessary to hang body panels, the hood, deck lid, doors and fenders. The robots then measure 65 “vision points” for accuracy of future component installation. Appropriately, a set of “drag strip lights” is used to indicate what stage the frame is in. The instrument panel, built onsite, is then added.
Next comes all the stuff that makes the car go, turn and stop, including the front and rear suspension, brakes, exhaust, fuel tank, and of course, that mammoth V-10 engine.
For strict levels of quality control, each V-10 is constructed by hand in six phases onsite at Conner Ave., with dyno testing performed prior to installation.
The car is then given over to the aligner for proper camber settings, followed by mounting of the wheels and tires. This allows for the rolling test, where each car is tested up to speeds of 90 mph. The “rolls pit” was repurposed from the days of Prowler, with a length increase of nine feet and a width increase of five feet required to accommodate cars with cladding.
The headlights are then aligned and emissions are tested, after which each vehicle undergoes a five-minute “water test” whereby the car is bombarded by 720 gallons of recycled H2O to check for leaks. Then comes the “shaker,” which simulates road bumps to find any rattles. There’s also a real-world road test.
A “Vision Cell” is used to measure 120 points along the body for exacting fit and finish, followed by an electrical check and a final buff and polish before the car is loaded up and delivered.
Recent updates include the use of WiFi for RF reporting tools that eliminate wires and the implementation of the World Class Manufacturing (WCM) methodology for reduced waste and increased productivity.
Conner Ave also integrates a variety of racing themes throughout the facility. Each aisle is named after a famous race track, such as Sebring or Nurburgring, while walkways have checkered flag decals denoting pedestrian zones.
Known for its over-the-top aggressive styling and giant, torque-monster engine, the Dodge Viper has been a mainstay of the American sportscar lineup for nearly a quarter century. Originally sold as a drop-top roadster, the Viper gained a roofed version in 1996 when Dodge unveiled the second generation. The third gen was released for the 2003 model year, with the V-10 under its lengthy and shapely hood gaining a bit of displacement for 8.3-liters total. Output too has grown over the years, up to 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque for the current fifth generation. Widely acknowledged for its cutthroat cornering and gargantuan acceleration, the Viper continues to impress in both pro and amateur GT racing to this day.
Read our full review here.