SHIFTING GEARS; Enthusiasts give Impala final
send-off as GM revs up for truck production by Tamara Chuang (The
Dallas Morning News, 12/14/97)
The General Motors plant had a wake Friday.
In a fitting tribute to the demise of the Chevrolet Impala SS,
several diehard members of the National Association of Impala SS
Owners donned black arm bands and gathered at the plant.
Cameras clicked and crowds fawned over the dark-colored cars
lining the plant parking lot as the company and car enthusiasts
said goodbye to rear-wheel-drive sedans.
The four models, built at the East Arlington plant since 1991,
are the last such vehicles to be produced by the world's largest
While many mourned the end of an era, company officials
focused on the future.
"It's obviously a sad day because we're going to stop building
the cars," plant manager Herb Stone said. "But we're looking
forward to the future of Arlington. We'll be the only truck
builders in Texas."
Workers already have started on the 3-million-square-foot
plant's $264 million conversion to truck production. In June,
the plant will start making full-size Chevrolet C/K and GMC
Sierra pickups, and Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon sport utility
During Friday's ceremony, the focus was on the Impala SS line.
But the last Impala SS was actually finished Thursday.
The plant's final car rolled off the assembly line by noon
Friday - an arctic-white Chevrolet Caprice Classic, the
6,486,958th car to be produced at the plant since it opened in
Friday's hushed ceremony, which was not open to the public,
signified more than the end of car manufacturing in Arlington.
The change to truck production also means a loss of jobs. The
city's largest taxpaying entity employs 2,124 people, but only
1,500 people will be needed for truck assembly, GM officials have
said. The company expects to eliminate the 624 positions through
retirement, job transfers and attrition.
With his parting holiday gift bag, Kevin Beazer, a temporary
assembly line worker, walked out of the plant Friday knowing his
4-month GM stint - like those of 200 other temporary hires - was
over when the Caprice came off the line.
"I'll be looking for work, in the assembly line," he said.
"It's a possibility they'll call me when they start working on
While each state buys an average of two percent of all trucks
made, Texas tops the list, buying 18 percent of the market, a
likely reason why the Arlington plant was chosen for the new
lines, said GM spokesman Craig Eppling.
"There's a rich tradition of building cars here. It was the
only auto plant in Texas," Mr. Eppling said. "We're looking at a
good future here in Arlington. The plant will be the only plant
building the Tahoe police package."
Six Tulsa, Okla., police officers trekked down from the "OK"
state to attend the event. Officers who used the cars for their
jobs liked them so much that they bought cars for their own
personal use, said Sgt. Mark Stevens.
"I'm going through my second childhood. I used to race cars,
but I can't fit into those small cars anymore," said Mr. Stevens,
a 6-foot-8, 300-pound police officer. "This is the sports car
for the 40-year-old. It's basically a 4-door Corvette."
Mr. Stevens and his wife, Becky, belong to the 1,500-member
Impala association, and he estimated that about 75 members had
come from all over the country for the Impala's closing
At night, they planned to meet over beers, trade Impala SS
stories and watch car videos in memory of their favorite vehicle,
While Murl "Pinky" Randall and his wife, Joyce, scored free
plane tickets to attend the closing ceremonies, Mr. Randall said
the Impala SS would be his first. He originally wanted a
Caprice, which he already owns.
But as an avid car collector, the Houghton Lake, Mich.,
resident said company officials persuaded him to take the more
collectible Impala SS.
The loyal Chevy consumer heeded their advice and now owns a
1996 dark cherry metallic Impala SS.
"It's always nice for a collector to get the first one or the
last one," Mr. Randall said, adding that he had his request in
since May 1995.
"We tried to get a personalized license plate, "LAST SS," but
someone else already had it," he said.
He got his second choice: "MR CHEV."