PHOENIX -- Viper is the pride of ChrysLer Corp.'s Dodge Div. It may also be the darling of the supplier community.
The Viper engineering crew is small in comparison with other platform teams. That leaves several key projects delegated to suppliers willing to invest a lot of time and energy on a project that offers little profit but much prestige and public relations potential.
When it came time to put a roof on one of the hottest production sports cars ever built and refine the beast a bit, Team Viper looked to suppliers to lend a hand.
Pat Palajac, the team's senior engineer, says that three elements of the 1996 Viper GTS Coupe best illustrate supplier involvement: Viper's adjustable pedal system, bonded backlight and electric door opening system.
Pro-Active Pedal Systems Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of long-timesupplier Active Tool and Mfg. Inc., provides the coupe's adjustable pedals, which can be moved up to 4 ins. (10 cm) closer to the driver by twisting a knob under the steering wheel.
"It will certainly be the first adjustable pedal in a production car," boasts Ray Peters, general manager of Pro-Active Pedal Systems. "The real beauty of it is you can customize the car to you."
For Team Viper, maintaining the car's basic muscle-car character meant manually adjusted pedals, even if it cost more and took more time, says Mr. Palajac.
"We were further along with an electric system, but the request was for a manual system for the Viper," recalls Mr. Peters, who says the manual system took three months longer and cost 20% to 25% more to develop.
While the Viper GTS Coupe is the first adjustable-pedal application in production, it probably won't be the last. Adjustable pedals likely will appear on the new Viper Roadster, and with concerns about air bag safety, they could help keep drivers a safe distance from the steering wheel in any vehicle. Mr. Peters says Pro-Active is talking to other manufacturers about adding adjustable pedals to their vehicles and that the next application likely will be in a luxury vehicle.
"We're certain that the product will grow in the industry, and we'll get a long-term return on our investment," he says.
Donnelly Corp. helped Team Viper solve an interesting problem. Mark Drumheller, vice president of Donnelly'sbusiness unit, explains that the backlights in the coupe's all-glass rear hatch shattered during air bag deployment testing. Chrysler engineers determined that the backlight's mounting holes could not stand up to the pressure inside the vehicle when the air bag deployed.
They asked Donnelly to use the proprietary adhesive bonding process used on the body-side rear quarter glass assembly of the '96 Chrysler minivans.
In less than a year Donnelly worked with glass supplier Guardian Industries to bond the backlight plus a hinge plate, strut mounting plates and a striker plate to the back glass hatch, all usually accomplished with mechanical fastening through holes. Donnelly also had to develop an appropriate binder and then test, optimize and fully validate the design in that short time frame.
"Participating in a program like Viper makes you quick on your feet and gets you involved in their focused-team approach," says Mr. Drumheller, explaining the intangible benefits of working on the project.
Corp.'s Interior and Lighting Systems supplies the Viper GTS Coupe's E-Loc electric door opening system. Unlike the adjustable pedal system, a keyless lock-unlock could not be done mechanically. But, Mr. Palajac says, the team wanted it to "feel" like it was mechanical, again to maintain the vehicle's character.
Return springs were installed behind the exterior buttons and the interior handles that activate the electric door-opening mechanism to give it a mechanical feel.
Dan Cafferty,'s E-Loc engineering project leader, says the real story of Delphi's Viper Coupe involvement is the integration of E-Loc, keyless entry and the security system.
So on Memorial Day weekend when Chrysler executives and employees boast about the Viper GTS Coupe leading the field around the Brickyard for the start of the Indianapolis 500, suppliers also can take a bow.