Although they were the least expensive passenger cars in the Chrysler Corporation lineup, the 1995 Dodge and Plymouth Neon were an all-new small car right down to the tires. “There is nothing borrowed on this car,” said Cliff Davis, executive engineer for body-in-white and chassis engineering. "In no way is the Neon a down-sized version of one of our other platforms."
With an investment of just $1.3 billion, far less than prior new models, team members had to manage their money wisely to create Neon's ultimate unique fun-to-drive personality in the most cost-driven segment of the market. Davis said, "We asked ourselves up front what were the important things we had to give the customer. We knew we couldn't give them everything because, if we did, we'd wind up with a car no one could afford." Instead, platform team members focused on the 25 or so features that extensive market research told them owners cared about in their cars. Above all, people wanted a car that was fun to drive, with a competitive ride and room.
Interior space, particularly in the front seats, is great enough that a driver 6 feet, 6 inches tall can sit comfortably without the head touching the roof. Neon had the only hardtop-style glass door construction in its class, a feature that added even more to its sleek cab-forward design and also contributes to its low co-efficient of drag (.0328 CD - better than most others in its class).
Davis added, "The real challenge was to develop door glass that stayed sealed at speeds of more than 100 miles an hour. If you look at it closely, the glass seals right against the aperture. When you open the door, there's no frame over the upper portions of the glass. It improves high-speed wind noise, and creates a better appearance because it is flush." When properly adjusted, this was indeed true.
The fuel system, cooling, exhaust and windshield wiper systems, as well as air conditioning system, were designed especially for Neon.
Capitalizing on Chrysler Corporation's award-winning Neon concept car of 1991, and unlike any design in the 1994-95 small car market, Neon's winning personality was more than just skin deep.
"When we looked at the twenty-plus competitors in the small car market several years ago, we realized that in order to stand out from the crowd, Neon would have to be dramatically different in design, performance, safety and value," said Chrysler President Robert A. Lutz."Our award-winning Neon concept car gave us the trend-setting design direction, including
the new oval head lamps, and a new and emerging market of buyers provided our course for fun-to-drive and safety. With Neon, we think we've created a small car people will want to buy for reasons other than low price. In fact, we think Neon will be one of the first small cars people will want to buy instead of have to buy."
Placing Neon's wheels at the far corners and pushing the windshield forward, provide a dramatic, fresh appearance and increased interior room and visibility. Neon's larger doors provided easier entry and exit. The cabin was airy, with lots of glass, accentuated by thin "greenhouse" pillars. The rounded roofline forms a graceful arch beginning at the base of the front windshield, continuing over the cabin until softly "landing" on the rear quarter panels. The roofline gives the Neon a coupe-like appearance, which belies the fact that the car is a five-passenger sedan. The low cowl, while providing for excellent visibility, gives Neon a friendly, playful stance.
Inside, Neon provides the driver with a commanding view of the road, with superior outward peripheral vision. The ergonomic, wraparound cockpit has integrated arm rests in each door, with an available center padded armrest. The floor-mounted center console incorporates dual cupholders.
All instrumentation is clearly visible, featuring large white-on-black dials. Primary and secondary controls are all within easy reach. The rear seat had the
most legroom of any small car.
The torsional rigidity of Neon's body ranked right at the top of vehicles in its segment. Neon's Unibody structure possesses outstanding torsional and bending stiffness with light weight. A measured rate of 6000 lb-ft/degree exceeded the target value by over 9% and the competitive benchmark by over 12%. The increased stiffness contributed to handling precision, ride quality, low noise and low vibration and overall solid feel.
Body bending stiffness (a first mode dynamic bending natural frequency of 25 Hz) exceeded benchmark vehicles. It contributed to ride quality, because the body will not resonate with lower frequency inputs coming through the suspension system. High bending stiffness also reduced the vibration of secondary components such as the instrument panel and steering column, because it does not transmit these frequencies.
Weight was minimized through the use of lower gauge steel and more high-strength steel, including the front longitudinal rails and most of the engine compartment, than in any previous Chrysler car. Weld flange width, which usually provides no structural benefit, was minimized to save weight.
A new and more disciplined testing procedure was implemented to uncover irritating buzz, squeaks and rattles (BSR) at the earliest possible juncture. Engineering exec John Fernandez said, "In the past, BSR testing was done at our Chrysler Proving Grounds (in Chelsea, Michigan), basically as an on-road exercise. For this program, we decided to hit two different areas where we thought we didn't have good coverage in the past. One was consistency and the other was temperature variations."
Prototype cars were placed in a huge, motorized frame that would shake the vehicles repeatedly at different angles, while temperatures in the test chamber periodically fluctuated from minus 20-degrees to 120-degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the shaker/temperature test cycle was completed, a car then would be put back on the road for 5,000 miles of durability running before being returned to the chamber for a repeat of the earlier testing. “This process ... uncovered many things we wouldn't have found with the old development method.”
Employees from Chrysler's Belvidere, Illinois, Assembly Plant, where Neon is produced, took part in a 90-day, one-million mile ride-and-drive verification program that began in September 1993. It involved a volunteer force of 100 assembly workers rotating through 50 cars every day - in two eight-hour shifts - over a variety of road conditions. The goal was to put at least 12,000 miles on most of the cars, up to 36,000 miles on as many as possible and 100,000 miles on at least two of them.
The hood has lightweight single pivot hinges at the rear. It is held open for service by a prop rod that is clipped to the radiator closure panel when not in use.
The trunk lid swings forward when open for easy loading on tubular gooseneck hinges. The trunk opening has a raised flange to prevent water runoff from entering. A coil spring counter balance mechanism on each hinge helps raise the lid and hold it open. The coil springs create minimum cargo volume and pass-through restriction.
Neon's door, trunk lid and hood inner and outer panels are hemmed the outer panel is folded smoothly over the inner for a clean appearance. Appearance is further enhanced by bonding the panels with an adhesive that eliminates the need for spot welds on the hem.
One-piece body-side aperture construction provides dimensional integrity for the door openings. It is joined to the roof at a longitudinal recess inboard of the door openings that provides a path for water running off of the roof inboard of the door openings. The joint is covered by an extruded black PVC plastic strip that is bonded to the body. A partially closed cowl plenum contributes to body torsional stiffness, provides an intake point for ventilating air and provides a place to mount the windshield wiper system. A black plastic screen covers the plenum area. A structural shelf panel behind the rear seat also contributes to torsional stiffness. Cars shipped overseas have front and rear towing hooks that are also used as shipping tie-downs.
A single grille bar ''floats'' between the leading edge of the hood and the top of the fascia. It is painted dark quartz on the Base series and body color on Highline and Sport series.
Base and Highline series have molded-in-color fascias with a grained finish. The base series fascia color is dark quartz. At introduction, Highline series molded-in-color fascias will be available in white. Later, blue and gray will be added. These colors complement rather than exactly match the body color. Neon is the first US car to have fascias molded in complementary colors. Previous molded-incolor fascias have been black or gray only. Fascias in the other Highline series body colors are painted. The Sport series has uniquely styled fascias with a smooth, two-tone painted finish in body color with quartz-colored nerf strip.
The bumper and fascia system provides impact protection for any part of the body not directly in the load path and for safety-related components in frontal and corner impacts up to 5 mph (8 km/hr). This system exceeds bumper performance requirements in all markets. Molded high-density polypropylene bead foam energy-absorbing material cushions the impacts and helps maintain original fascia shape. Box-section bumper beams of ultra-high strength steel bolt directly to the body structure. The fascias extend beyond the adjacent sheet metal a minimal amount because the combination of foam energy absorbing material and rigid beams is more efficient than the commonly used stroking energy absorbers.
The fascias are molded from TPO (thermoplastic olefin), a mixture of polypropylene and rubber. They define the lower body configuration fore and aft of the wheel openings. For light weight and simplicity, no supporting structure is required inboard of the fascias. The fascias are supported at the wheel openings by slides that allow them to move longitudinally during impact.
Neon exterior ornamentation varies with model and price class. Available items include the following
With cab forward design, the base of the windshield is at least 5 in. (125 mm) forward of that on any competitive car and reclined 60.5¡, placing it in essentially the same position as the LH cars - the original cab forward design. The windshield and rear window are mounted flush with the body openings and trimmed with simple push-on moldings of extruded black PVC plastic. The rear window is tinted and includes a black band across the top with a series of decreasing-width stripes that blend into the clear area. Tinted glass in the door windows and windshield is standard on Highline and Sport series and included with air conditioning on the Base series.
Except for the roof, all exterior body panels are galvanized with zinc on both sides for life-of-the-car corrosion protection. The body assembly is thoroughly cleaned by immersion and then coated with manganese modified zinc-phosphate crystals, also through immersion, to improve primer adherence. Primer is applied using an electro-coat process in which the body is electrically charged during immersion in primer solution to assure complete primer coverage. Besides providing a base for the finish coat, the primer is chemically formulated to resist corrosion. If the paint and primer are chipped, the primer resists the spread of corrosion under the paint. For protection against stone damage, an anti-chip coating is applied to the leading edges of the hood and front fenders. Because of Neon's low hood line, this is especially helpful. The lower body sides also receive anti-chip coating. New water-borne base (color) coat enamel is available in 10 colors. A two-component clear coat gives Neon an exceptionally shiny, high-durability finish. The clear-coat material is specially formulated to resist potentially damaging atmospheric conditions. This is the same finish used previously on the Imperial.
* Depending on source.
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