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The Chrysler Corporation lineup, the 1995 Dodge and Plymouth Neon were completely new — the first completely new Chrysler car since the 1981 Reliant and Aries. Cliff Davis, the executive engineer for body-in-white and chassis engineering, wrote: “There is nothing borrowed on this car.”
The car’s total budget was just $1.3 billion, far less than they used even to derive the Dodge Shadow from the Spirit and Daytona. 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 around 25 features that owners said they cared about in their cars. Above all, people wanted a car that was fun to drive, with a competitive ride and room.
Interior space was designed so a driver 6 feet, 6 inches tall could sit comfortably. It also had a low co-efficient of drag (.0328 cD), aided by frameless door window glass. Davis wrote, “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, but the windows of many first-year cars were released to customers without perfect adjustment; and they went out of adjustment far too easily, with many dealers apparently unable to get it right. They could also suddenly let winds through in high cross-winds.
With over twenty cars in the low-priced field, Chrysler knew the Neon would have to stand out. It did set a trend, with oval head lamps, and a subtle “smiley” face.
Placing Neon’s wheels at the far corners aided handling, and having a smaller engine bay increased interior room and visibility; larger doors provided easier entry and exit. The cabin was airy, with thin “greenhouse” pillars. The roofline gave the Neon a coupe-like appearance to the five-passenger sedan. The low cowl, while providing for excellent visibility, gives Neon a friendly, playful stance.
Inside, the driver’s seat was placed higher up for better visibility. The wraparound cockpit had integrated arm rests in each door; the center console had dual cupholders.
All instrumentation was clearly visible. Perhaps most impressive, the rear seat had the
most legroom of any small car.
The torsional rigidity of the Neon’s body (with a unibody design) was near the top of its class, with strong torsional and bending stiffness: a measured rate of 6000 lb-ft/degree exceeded the target value by over 9%, and beat the competitive benchmark by over 12%. The stiffness helped ride and handling, vibration, and the general feel.
Body bending stiffness (a first mode dynamic bending natural frequency of 25 Hz) beat benchmark cars, helping ride quality, because the body did not resonate with lower frequency inputs. High bending stiffness reduced the vibration of components such as the instrument panel and steering column as well.
Using lower gauge steel and more high-strength steel cut weight; high strength steel included the front longitudinal rails and most of the engine compartment, more than in any previous Chrysler car. Weld flange width was minimized to save weight.
John Fernandez, an engineering executive, wrote, “In the past, BSR [buzz-squeak-rattle] 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 them repeatedly at different angles, while temperatures in the test chamber fluctuated from minus 20-degrees to 120-degrees Fahrenheit. Then a car would be put back on the road for 5,000 miles 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 the Neon was produced, took part in a 90-day, one-million mile ride-and-drive verification program that began in September 1993, with 100 workers rotating through 50 cars every day, in two eight-hour shifts. 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 had lightweight single pivot hinges at the rear, using a prop rod rather than hydraulics or springs to stay open.
The trunk opening had a raised flange to prevent water from running in; coil spring mechanisms on each hinge held the lid open.
The door, trunk lid, and hood panels were hemmed — the outer panel folded over — for a cleaner appearances; they were adhesive bonded to eliminate the need for spot welds on the hem. This may have prevented rust as well.
Using single-piece body-side aperture construction increased dimensional integrity for the door openings; they were joined to the roof at a recess that provided a path for water running off of the roof. The joint was covered by a black PVC plastic strip, bonded to the body. A partly closed cowl plenum aided torsional stiffness, and provided a mount for the windshield wiper system. A structural shelf panel behind the rear seat also helped torsional stiffness. Cars shipped overseas had front and rear towing hooks that were also shipping tie-downs.
A single grille bar “floated” between the leading edge of the hood and the top of the fascia. It was painted dark quartz on the Base cars, and body color on the Highline and Sport.
The Base and Highline had molded-in-color front fascias, with some Highline fascias in white, blue, and gray will be added. Neon was the first US car to have fascias molded in complementary colors (prior ones were black or gray). Fascias in the other Highline series body colors are painted; the Sport fascias had a smooth, two-tone painted finish in body color with a quartz-colored nerf strip (as shown on the 1995 model below).
The Neon had a “5 mph bumper,” using molded high-density polypropylene bead foam to cushion impacts and maintain its shape. The fascias extended beyond the sheet metal a bit, because the combination of foam energy absorbing material and rigid beams is more efficient than stroking energy absorbers.
Fascias were molded from TPO (thermoplastic olefin), a mixture of polypropylene and rubber. No supporting structure was required inboard of the fascias; they were supported at the wheel openings by slides that allowed longitudinal movement during an impact.
Neon ornamentation varied by price class, and could include:
The base of the windshield was at least five inches further forward than that of any competitive car. It was tilted at 60.5°, similar to the LH cars. The windshield and rear window were flush with the body, trimmed with simple push-on PVC moldings. The rear window was tinted, with a black band across the top; tinted glass elsewhere in the car was standard on all but Base models without air conditioning.
All exterior body panels other than the roof were galvanized on both sides; the body assembly was cleaned by immersion and then immersed in manganese modified zinc-phosphate crystals to improve primer adherence.
The primer itself was applied using an electro-coat process — the body was electrically charged during immersion in primer, so the primer would spread. If the paint and primer were chipped, the primer was engineered to resist the spread of corrosion under the paint.
For protection against stone damage, an anti-chip coating was applied to the leading edges of the hood and front fenders and to the lower body sides. The new water-borne color enamel was available in ten colors. The clear-coat was the same finish used previously on the Imperial.
* Depending on source.
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