DETROIT — In the Motor City, some of the most popular models at the North American International Auto Show will be, in fact, motors.
These models have been stripped down, enhanced and made-up before hitting the show circuit where thousands ogle their anatomy.
At an auto show, the hoods of the vehicles are closed so people don't steal parts as souvenirs. The displays are the only way to see what an engine looks like, and the models are interactive and moving to show how they work.
“You never get a view of an engine like this, even in your own car,” said Bo Puffer, Chrysler's shows and events manager.
Chrysler has set itself apart with sophisticated engine and transmission displays that are fully painted, chromed and lit, with moving parts to show how they work.
There are 11 engine displays throughout the Chrysler stand in Detroit, including the EcoDiesel V-6, 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6 and the nine-speed transmission in the Jeep Cherokee.
“People in Detroit look at engines far more than any other city,” Puffer said. “They are gearheads.”
When Chrysler introduces a new engine or transmission, Steve Gorgas, Chrysler's chief engineer with the Pentastar engine program, calls the plant that makes it and requests that one be pulled off the assembly line.
Mark Mancini, Chrysler marketing vehicle fleet manager, works with the engineering and development team to ascertain which features should be highlighted and how best to display them.
It is no small effort. About six suppliers are involved in getting an engine show-ready, and the work can take up to eight weeks.
Step One: Figure out the best places to cut into the engine or transmission to show off the internal workings.
Suppliers, including George P. Johnson of Auburn Hills, Mich., usually have at least a dozen painstaking cuts to make with assorted tools and grinding wheels.
GPJ has about 150 people in the front office and another 150 to 200 in assembly who work on displays of all kinds for shows, said Rich Cordova, vice president of client services.
Cordova said many automakers have static powertrain displays, but the animated engines require true craftsmanship.
Once the cutting is done, the whole engine is taken apart — as many as 300 pieces. Workers look for pieces that aren't needed or visible and can be removed to reduce weight, create hiding spots for lights and motors, and snake in the necessary wiring for lighting and animation, Mancini said.
The parts to be used are sent out to be sanded, painted with fine brush strokes or chromed.
Chrysler paints parts for the intake system blue to show the air passageway. The cooling system is painted green. Exhaust is red. Other parts are polished and chromed. The engine is then reassembled with lights and motors to make parts glow and spin.
“It is quite the artwork when it is done,” said Gorgas. “We try to satisfy the curiosity of what is in them and highlight the characteristics in a way that appeals to the senses.”
The finished product is run for a few days nonstop to test it before it is sent to another vendor to make the display stand with switches to turn it on — and meters that track hours of operation to schedule regular maintenance. The oldest engine in Chrysler's display fleet is a Hemi V-8 created five years ago.
Mancini said Chrysler has about 20 engines and transmissions that travel to about 71 annual shows and events in the U.S.
“Anywhere there's a gearhead, you want to help show them off,” Puffer said.