Impala rides into sunset; GM bids cherished line a fond farewell by Jeanne Graham (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 12/14/97)

   ARLINGTON - A long line of glossy Impala SS cars rested in

formation along the east fence of the General Motors assembly

plant in Arlington yesterday.

   The sleek automobiles, about 50 of them, built between 1994

and 1996, sported license plates from Alaska, Pennsylvania,

California, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

   Some of the hoods were open so their owners could show off

customized features, such as the million-mile air filter that

gives 10 percent more horsepower.

   In a way, it was a salute - a tribute to the last Impala SS.

   The Arlington plant, one of the city's largest employers since

1954, will shut down Monday while construction crews begin work

in earnest on a $260 million factory conversion.  Instead of

building large, rear-wheel-drive vehicles, the plant will produce

full-sized pickups and sport utility vehicles.  Plant employees

will be laid off for the week, then will take two weeks of

holiday time.  Some will begin returning for training as early as

Jan. 7.

   A special ceremony was held at the plant yesterday for

M.G."Pinky" Randall, a Chevrolet collector from Houghton Lake,

Mich., who bought the last Impala SS.

   When Randall drove the car with the dark cherry-metallic paint

off the line, he was accompanied by County Judge Tom Vandergriff

in the front passenger seat.  In the back seat were Mayor Richard

Greene, plant manager Herb Stone and Lonnie Morgan, president of

United Auto Workers Local 276, which represents about 1,900 of

the plant's 2,100 employees.

   "I didn't think this last car would get publicity like this,"

said Randall, 69.  The Impala becomes the 46th vehicle in

Randall's Chevrolet collection.

   The Impala SS, a popular car in the 1960s, was reintroduced

for the model years 1994-1996 and was built exclusively at the

Arlington plant.

   "I understand the attachment to the vehicle because it's part

of our culture," Greene said after the ceremony.

   But he added that GM's decision to cease making the Impala was

in part "an adjustment to market conditions."

   The large sedans built in Arlington - Buick Roadmaster,

Chevrolet Caprice, Impala SS and Cadillac Fleetwood - have been

discontinued because of sagging sales.

   Almost five years ago, in February 1992, Arlington workers

learned that the plant would remain open and build the large cars

while a GM plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., was closed.  The car

contracts extended the plant's life long enough for it to compete

for the right to retool for its new product line of trucks and

sport utility vehicles.

   By the time truck production begins, GM managers want to

decrease the plant's total work force to about 1,500 by

eliminating about 500 or 600 union jobs.  The attrition will

occur through early retirements and transfers, officials said.

   Plant officials are also still negotiating a contract between

GM and Local 276.  Officials said talks will continue through the

holidays.  Stone and Morgan declined to discuss details of the

negotiations, which include such issues as outsourcing - awarding

tasks to nonunion workers - job safety and size of the work


   But the Impala SS fans who had gathered yesterday were only

concerned about the death of the Impala line.

   "It's the most awesome car," said Kelly Young, a detective

with the Tulsa Police Department.  "We had to be here to see

this; it's a once-in-a-lifetime event."

   Young organized and led a group of about eight law enforcement

officials from Tulsa in the drive south Thursday night.

   "We were blowing Hondas and Ford Mustangs away," Young said.

   The calvacade of eight Impalas was stopped by state troopers

near Kiowa, Okla., for driving 90 in a 70 mph zone.  After

explaining to a trooper that the group was on a special mission

to reach Arlington for the last day of Super-Sport production,

Young said, "They let us off with a warning to slow down."

   While the Oklahomans teased Young about being pulled over,

Jimmy Briggs, an 18-year plant employee, was taking a quiet lunch

break in his 1996 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.  Briggs, a

trim-department employee, said he will be laid off until Feb. 10,

when he will return for three weeks of training.  Meanwhile,

Briggs said, he will relax and buy Christmas presents because he

knows he will be returning to a job on the truck line.

   "I've looked forward to this changeover," said Briggs, 45, a

second-generation GM worker.

   One of the Impala owners who showed up for the ceremony was

Greg Quinn of Irving, who bought a 1964 model built at the

Arlington plant.

   "It's an emotional time for me because it's the end of the

line," said Quinn, who said he toured the factory while in

elementary school.

   Quinn's Impala has more than 283,000 miles on its original

engine, he said.

   "And that's a testimony to how durable they are," he said. 

"I'm going to keep this car forever."