Building the 1955 Dodge cars in the Dodge Main plant

Early in the spring of 1954, personnel in the Plant Engineering and Master Mechanics (tool engineering) departments of the Dodge Main Plant were told that the sheet metal components would soon be arriving from body development, Highland Park Central Engineering, for hand assembly of the prototype 1955 Dodge body. Those of us who were plant engineers involved in the body assembly, paint, trim and final assembly departments at the Dodge Main Plant were especially interested in the new car design. It was our job to design and provide the facilities, which were required to convey and process the bodies and their components in those departments during assembly.

1950s offices

During that time at Dodge, I was responsible for Plant Engineering in the body Trim Department. There were two parallel floor-type assembly conveyors, which carried the bodies through the system on "trim trucks." There were also many sub-assembly areas in the trim shop, some next to the main lines and others on other floors, where sub­assemblies were made and loaded onto overhead conveyors, the parts scheduled to meet the correct body moving on the main line.

Some of these sub-assembly areas were for the assembly of door and quarter glass, instrument panels, heaters, cushions and backs, arm rests, and visors as well as package shelves, windcord and other trim items. A teletype system told the conveyor loaders which components were required for each car, i.e. body style, white or "Solex" glass, interior trim codes, options included in the instrument panel, etc.

dodge main shift change photoBecause of the extensive revisions to all of the body components, it was necessary to redesign and revise all of the overhead delivery conveyor parts carriers as well as most of the material handling equipment items such as shop trucks, storage racks and shelving. Because the operations on the body lines would now occur in a new location due to assembly sequence changes, the delivery conveyors had to be relocated to insure that the parts got to the main lines at the right time and in the new assembly operation location.

We were anxious to get a glimpse of the new car, as rumor had it the Exner-designed model was an outstanding achievement, filled with many new design concepts. We were accustomed to the 1953/54 and previous K. T. Keller-influenced “shorter on the outside, longer on the inside” design concepts. Even though these past approaches to design were truly practical for customer comfort, they did not always produce the most stylish looking automobile.

Dodge Main 1980 aerial view

Rumor had it that Chrysler styling had finally found an ideal combination of comfort producing practicality coupled with pleasing styling. Combining these new attributes along with the now-proven V8 engine and "Powerflite" automatic transmission, we knew we were going to build a real winner!

The prototype parts came in from the Highland Park Engineering fabrication facility as well as several other Chrysler and vendor stamping facilities, where they had been hand made in most cases. Production dies were still under construction and would not be available to produce production parts until later in the summer.

chrysler profits

At first glance, the new components resembled any other assortment of unpainted sheet metal car parts, but upon closer examination, some very unusual items became evident. I remember in particular wondering, “What was that unusual pair of stampings about 15 inches long by 5 or 6 inches wide with the two large holes, and several smaller holes in them?” No one could figure it out until one of the assemblers, drawing in hand, showed us that they were the rear quarter taillight housings.

Another unique set of stampings noticed were the front door opening “A” posts with the unusual configuration which would provide for a large wrap around windshield, a new concept at this time. With such an extreme size and wrap-around, we surely would have problems handling and conveying the very large and heavy windshield glass to the assembly line.

Dodge Coronet Lancer

If the windshield was this large and so configured, what would the instrument panel look like? It too was large and reflected the wrap-around design. It was obvious that our fixtures would require complete redesign, a major fixture tooling and facilities problem.

It was another surprise to learn that the clutch and brake pedals would now be mounted on the inside of the firewall behind the instrument panel rather than being mounted on the frame. Also, the master cylinder would now be installed to the firewall in the trim shop rather than be mounted on the frame in the chassis assembly area. After our observations, we were aware that this was going to be a challenging and busy summer.

There is much more to the Dodge Main story, but the changeover to the 1955 and 1956 models was to me, as a fledgling plant engineer, one of the most challenging and interesting assignments in my 31 year career at Chrysler.

Also see: Dodge cars of 1955 • Dodge Main

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