Article and photos by Carl Jones, Carl Jones Photography
There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks about the fate of one of Detroit’s automotive all-stars. The Dodge Viper, a car that ceased production in 2010, but was resurrected in 2013 under the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, could once again see an end to its production in 2017.
Just as Detroit will always be a fixture in America’s automotive and manufacturing history, the Dodge Viper, regardless of its fate, will be a part of that history as well.
Sitting inconspicuously on Detroit’s upper eastside is Fiat Chrysler’s Conner Avenue Assembly Plant (CAAP), home of the handcrafted Dodge Viper. I recently had the opportunity to tour the facility that has produced the Viper since Oct. 1995.
Upon my arrival at CAAP, I checked in with security and was given my parking instructions. Since I drive a Chrysler vehicle anyways, I didn’t have to park at the very back of the lot. Once inside, I met the team that would be escorting and briefing us. The morning started with a brief video overview of the Viper and the people that build it. After getting a safety briefing and pair of glasses, it was time to start the tour.
Upon walking into the plant area we spent some time looking at the various display cars. Some of these were early generation Vipers, as well as IMSA race winners with road grime and scuff marks still in place. A few steps away were various engine displays, from the earlier model V10 engine, to the current handcrafted, all-aluminum 8.4-liter V10 OHV engine.
It was interesting to see a little engine building taking place right behind the display area. It was explained that a very specialized team builds the engine in six stations, with each individual responsible for a certain set of tasks for each engine build. Once the engine is completed it gets sent off for dyno testing, and then is returned to CAAP days later to fall back into the production process.
Having gone to college for Supply Chain Management, I’ve taken many tours of automotive manufacturing facilities, so I was very interested in the supply chain process at CAPP. Walking onto the floor of CAAP was a much different feeling than I’m used to; this was not your average auto plant. Cars were being built, no doubt, but there was a calmness going on inside, a very stark contrast to a mass-market plant. Although, when one of the rolling chassis had to be driven onto the final assembly line, the plant came alive as the roar of the Viper exhaust resonated across the floor.
The rolling chassis is a completely operational vehicle, minus the body panels, glass and other interior components. Once these chassis reach their staging area, it pings the supplier base to sequence the additional parts needed to complete the vehicle. You’ll notice that the CAAP does not have an in house paint shop; rather, they use a supplier who handles the painting duties.
Prefix Coatings in Auburn Hills, Michigan handles all painting duties for the Viper. Having a dedicated paint supplier allows for the resources and manpower to hand paint each set of Viper body components. And, yes, Prefix Coatings can give you just about any color you can dream up through the Viper 1 of 1 customization program.
Our tour ended at the end of the final assembly line, where I happened to catch a silver Viper on its way out the door. Across the way was the paint/vehicle inspection area, where cars sit under a bank of fluorescent lights while CAAP inspectors go over every inch for imperfections. There happened to be quite a few ACRs sitting around waiting for inspection. Though we did not get a chance to see the remaining processes, like the water test and the shake test, I still had an awesome time!
A lot can change in a year’s time, but regardless of FCA’s decision, the Dodge Viper will forever carry the words “Detroit. Handcrafted. Horsepower.”