I’d like to start out by saying that I’ve never been to an automotive production facility before. Sure, I’ve seen the How It’s Made on automobiles, but never in person. When the opportunity to have a guided tour through Dodge’s Conner Avenue Assembly Plant came up, I just had to go.
As with any factory setting, we were given a safety speech and shown an introductory video. This introduced me to one of my favorite new rules – No walking while using your phone. In a world where people sit 3 feet from each other and stare at their phones, this is a genius idea. The second safety rule that impressed me was that cars always have the right of way. No matter if it is a half finished Viper, or a forklift resupplying the line, you must yield to them. Each of us was given a pair of safety glasses, belt protector, watch protector and ring protector. Dodge is very concerned about scratches.
We left the conference room and entered a place where Horsepower lives. Immediately we were introduced to the engine assembly area. A line of 645hp 8.4L V-10 engines was just waiting to be mated to the 6-speed manual transmission… the only transmission option for the Viper. The tour then led to the first of only two automated steps in assembly (everything else is done by hand), a machine that cut a few more holes not already stamped into the Viper’s frame. Next, the dash was attached to the frame, followed by suspension and brakes. Once the engine and tires were attached, they basically had “the world’s fastest go kart,” as they called it. This go kart was tested on a chassis dyno, which determined if there were any issues before the body went on. The final step on this dyno was to break in the brakes.
From there, the panels and interior were attached, each piece placed by hand. As it goes down the line, each Viper averages two hours per station, an eternity in the manufacturing world. If a worker finds an issue, the car won’t proceed down the line, which makes quality control everyone’s job. Once the car is complete, it goes onto the second automated step – laser scanning body gaps. Never actually touching the car, arms with cameras scan each gap for consistency and tolerance. That’s it for automation, a few holes cut and some laser scanning.
After the body is determined to fit well, it moves to a human inspection of paint quality. If any of the paint is determined to be less than perfect, their supplier is on hand to correct the blemish. After that, they run it through a rain simulator, dumping about 700 gallons of water to check for leaks. The car then goes into another room to wait for delivery. Of course, you can always pick up your fresh-off-the-line Viper in person if you prefer. Because of the 1 of 1 program, we weren’t allowed to photograph the completed cars before the owners took delivery.
As a whole, the experience was fantastic. The Conner Avenue Assembly Plant is truly a place where Handmade Horsepower is born.