The most American car in the history of American cars – is not actually American. In fact, the most impolite, violent, offensive, glorious piece of Bald Eagle majesty and balls-out imprudence, well, it’s Canadian.
The 2016 Dodge Challenger and 2016 Dodge Charger Hellcat twins are 707 hp (soon to be 750 hp – because awesome) weapons of mass indulgence. Its retro looks, massive exterior, tiny interior and frankly stupid power levels are all wrapped up in a sub-$70K bundle for our mass consumption and enjoyment.
And it is built by a bunch of maple-syrup-drinking, plaid-shirt-wearing, sorry-saying snow warriors from the Great White North.
One of them, by the way, is my father-in-law.
The unassuming plant the Hellcat (and all the other Challengers and Chargers plus some Chrysler 300c but who cares about them anyway – they are not Hellcats) is built in is nestled north of Toronto in the suburb of Brampton. It sits over 269 acres and employs around 3,500 people working two shifts a day for six days a week churning out a car so American a Bald Eagle is born every time one fires up for the first time.
We went on a guided tour of the Brampton plant – a factory that, following the Chrysler group merger with Fiat, has become one of FCA’s best regarded – to see the birth of a baby Hellcat with our own eyes.
When a rock and some other rocks really love each other, and they contain certain elements we mash them up really good and roll them into sheets of metal. Metal that is then used to build car parts.
Those rolls of metal get fed through massive die machines like this one and come out the other side as doors, bonnets, hood lids and the like.
Self-driving robots pootle around the factory floor ferrying parts to and fro, they’re all stored on electrically controlled automated racks before heading over for use. There are 2,944 bays and over 43 different types of racks storing around two days’ worth of parts for use elsewhere in the plant.
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Robots with Fricking LASERS!
The cars begin to take shape when automated welding robots take the chassis panels (stamped elsewhere and shipped into Brampton) and place them with the help of LASER and mechanical guidance, then fasten them with adhesives and welding. There are 581 robots in the plant.
Doors are put on for painting, and then removed again as the car makes its way back down the line. There are 20 colour options, 9 interior options and 10 striping options all available out of this plant.
The Engine Room
No, literally. The entire drivetrain is bolted together on a separate line to the bodies. The engine builders lovingly caress the driveshafts into position and bolt them in with F1-pit-stop speed and precision. One of the guys was wearing a Superman shirt, which was appropriate. Another one had a Hellcat shirt with a smokey burnout on it. Which was even more appropriate.
Notice the red calipers and the big aluminum supercharger cover on top? This one is a Hellcat drivetrain. MMMM… naked Hellcat.
These guys float about in ergonomic chairs that allow them to move inside the developing Hellcat, pinning and pressing all the fiddly bits you don’t see into place.
There are more interior and exterior trim options, driveline options and the like than you can possibly imagine here. If your special order car is making its way down the line with an unusual or rare combination, alarms ring out to let the line know.
“Hey! Be careful with this one – it’s a half-sweet, light whip, two-shot hazelnut macchiato with a French braid and a medium-temperature cow lick!”
Match Made in Brampton
The painted chassis and its drivetrain are married together in mechanical matrimony about two-thirds of the way down the line. The drivetrain is thrust up into the chassis where 24 fasteners consummate the marriage in all of 24 seconds.
Bill the Door Man
This is Bill. Bill builds the door interiors for the Dodge Challenger and Dodge Chargers. Bill is also my father-in-law. Say hello, Bill!
“I’m busy, Jacob.”
When Bill and his team have finished the doors they get shuttled off to rejoin their car in the final phases of the production line.
“What does my daughter see in him anyway?”
A Hellcat is Born
Every 45–50 seconds a Chrysler 300C, Dodge Charger or a Dodge Challenger rolls off the production line.
A handful of them are this: a Hellcat. With 707 horsepower and clad in protective shipping plastic the Hellcat looks almost peaceful. Then it starts wailing.
The whole factory resonates with the noise of the 6.2L supercharged engine while the QA guys fight over who drives it across to the inspection bays and then, out into the world.