One era is ending, another will begin at Lordstown
There was the air of a torch-passing Saturday at the General Motors Lordstown Complex. Thousands of people gathered for a party at which the guests of honor were the new Chevrolet Cobalt that will be produced at the plant beginning this fall and three generations of J-cars that were produced at the plant since 198X.
The plant began producing cars on the General Motors subcompact platform designated J in 1982. Over the years it produced small cars for every domestic GM nameplate except Saturn. The Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire were the only survivors at the end of the J-car run, but there had been the Oldsmobile Fierenz, Buick SkyHawk, Cadillac Cimarron and Pontiac Sunbirds and J2000s.
Saturday's event attracted Gov. Bob Taft and U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, both Republicans, as well as U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan , Ted Strickland and Sherrod Brown, all Democrats. There were There were General Motors and United Auto Workers officials from the area and Detroit, And there were GM employees, their friends and families and hundreds of automobile collectors and enthusiasts. There was even a marching band from Austintown Fitch High School, appropriately dressed in red, white and blue.
Past, present, future
And there were three car shows. A traditional one, featured everything from a 1930s LaSalle to a 2004 Corvette (with a rare 1987 Cadillac Cimarron convertible thrown in for good measure) was set up in the west end side of the parking lot. On the east side, an annual gathering known as the J-Bash attracted enthusiastic collectors and modifiers of the various models produced at the Lordstown plant. The vast majority of the J-Bashers own third generation Cavaliers or Sunfires, built since 1995. Some are modified almost beyond recognition. Others are souped up for street or drag strip. A few have paint jobs that cost more than the price of a new basic Cavalier.
And between the classic car show and the J-Bash sat a small display that represents the Lordstown GM plant's future. There were three Cobalt sedans --one red, one white and one blue and aimed at the heart of middle America. And there was a bright yellow supercharged coupe that should appeal to even the most speed-addicted of the J-Bash crowd.
The last Pontiac Sunfire has already come off the Lordstown line -- it was raffled off among Lordstown employees, with proceeds going to charity. The last Cavalier and first production-run Cobalt will roll off the assembly line in October.
The cars the Lordstown plant has been producing for more than two decades will be missed. But an indication of how quickly the public can adapt can be seen in the reaction of the J-Bash. As much as they love their Cavaliers and Sunfires, they've already announced that next year's gathering will have a new name and it will be expanded to include owners of all small GM cars . The J cars will be joined by the new Cobalt, the Saturn Ion, the Pontiac Vibe and Chevrolet Aveo.
Time marches on.