This attractive plant was designed in an architectural style popular in the 1960s. Note the very clean and straight vertical and horizontal lines, the extensive use of concrete and the rather attractive landscaping around the building. This 392,000 square foot plant was built by Champion to manufacture spark plugs for Detroit’s auto industry in 1965. Thirty years later this modern plant was sold to Chrysler and has been used as a specialized assembly plant since then.
Chrysler has a recent history producing expensive high-power cars in small numbers. This plant has been the assembly point for most of those vehicles. In 1992, Chrysler introduced the Dodge Viper, a very high performance, two-seat roadster that sold at elevated prices and in small numbers. Originally, Vipers were assembled in one of the Mack Avenue plants, but in late 1995, production was shifted to the Conner Avenue plant that Chrysler had just purchased.
In 1997, Chrysler introduced a Plymouth Prowler. This was an unusual high power, very fast retro car that looked something like the sports cars produced in the 1920s and 1930s, including the Duisenbergs and Auburns. The Prowler was assembled here until it was discontinued in 2002. In later years, it was sold as the Chrysler Prowler after the Plymouth line was discontinued. This plant assembled 11,700 Prowlers in the five year life span of that model.
In 2003, a second generation of Dodge Vipers was introduced and built here. Chrysler and General Motors ran into great financial challenges in 2008. It is something of a surprise that Dodge Viper production continued at this plant into 2010. When it was curtailed in 2010, about 28,000 Vipers had been produced, approximately 22,000 at this Conner Avenue plant and 6,000 at the Mack Avenue Assembly plant.
Many assumed that, given the challenges Chrysler faced, the Dodge Viper was gone for good. However, Sergio Marchionne, who took over Chrysler after its bankruptcy, announced that there would be a new version of the Viper. Chrysler, perhaps, spent as much as $150 million to design in new Dodge Viper. The first third-generation Vipers were produced here on December 5, 2012. I have not yet read any authoritative reviews of this roadster.
The Viper appeals to a small number of customers. It comes with a 600 horsepower V-10 engine, also assembled at this plant. It has many features of a race car, rather than a car you would use for transportation. Indeed, some of the steering and suspension features of the Viper are not needed for normal driving. The standard 2013 mode of the Viper retails for about $99,000, while the Viper GTS lists at about $122,000. In addition, the government imposes a gas guzzler tax. Numerous extra features are available at substantial additional cost. Perhaps, the only American made rival for the Viper is the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 which retails for about the same price.
This is a small volume assembly plant. In the first three months of 2013, 186 Vipers were built here. I believe that maximum capacity is 12 units per shift. At the other end of Conner Avenue, the Jefferson North plant assembled 71,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos in the identical span.
So far as I know, this factory has been known as the Conner Avenue Assembly plant since Chrysler purchased it. However, all maps of Detroit, show the thoroughfare’s name as Conner Street. I have never heard any explanation for this apparent discrepancy.
Date of construction: 1966
Architect: Unknown to me
Use in 2013: Vehicle assembly plant
City of Detroit Registered Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Registry of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; May 18, 2013
Description prepared: May, 2013
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