By PETER H. MILLIKEN
The past, present and future of the auto industry in the Mahoning Valley were celebrated in Saturday observances in the city that played a pivotal role in the formative years of that industry.
And a key component to the future was the unveiling of the new Chevrolet Cruze, built at General Motors’ Lordstown Complex.
Warren-based First Place Bank sponsored the giveaway of a high-end Chevy Cruze LTZ, which will retail for about $22,600, and $8,750 in cash prizes during the evening concert.
The winner of the car, drawn in a reverse raffle from a list of eight qualifying Northeast Ohio residents, was Eileen McClure of Cortland.
“We recognize that we are only as strong as the communities we serve,” said Steve Lewis, the bank’s chief executive officer. “As a community bank, I feel it’s our responsibility to lead the charge to rekindle our community spirit,” Lewis said.
“To us, it’s more than a car giveaway; it’s signifying that times are changing for the better. I’m convinced it’s up to each one of us as business leaders, small-business owners and community members to think of the greater good of our community. If we do that, in the end, we’ll all walk away winners,” Lewis added.
The bank will give away two other Cruzes, one Aug. 6 in Cleveland, and the other on Aug. 21 in Birmingham, Mich.
Participants observed the local importance of the industry beginning with the morning dedication of an expansion of the National Packard Museum and ending with the evening unveiling of a Cruze at the Warren Community Amphitheater in Perkins Park.
With Mayor Michael O’Brien, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and other dignitaries in attendance, the museum dedicated its federally funded $1 million expansion during the 21st annual National Packard Museum Car Show, whose theme is “The Glory Days.”
Warren Packard, of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., grandson of W.D. Packard, co-founder of the Packard Motor Car Co., also was in attendance.
The one-story, 9,600-square-foot addition on the northwest end of the museum at 1899 Mahoning Ave. NW, more than doubles the museum’s size and vehicle display capacity.
The 80-by-120-foot addition features a new entrance at the museum’s north end, nearer to visitor parking, a climate-controlled archiving vault and a new museum shop.
The nonprofit museum opened at its current location on July 4, 1999, in conjunction with the centennial of the first Packard car. Its mission is to preserve the history of the Packard family and of the Packard Motor Car Co., which made its last car in 1958, and Packard Electric (now Delphi Packard Electric Systems).
The museum’s mission is “preserving the legacy of our community and our automotive heritage,” said Mary Ann Porinchak, museum director. “We’re preserving the past. We’re preserving our future with the Cruze unveiling,” she added.
The four-day Packard car show ends today with an all-makes classic car cruise-in from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the museum and a free grand finale performance by the W.D. Packard Concert Band at 7 p.m. on the south lawn of Packard Music Hall.
The car show brought at least 47 participating Packard cars to Warren, ranging from the 1924 to 1957 model years, some coming from as far away as Maine, Texas and California.
The dedication of the museum expansion was followed by the Pepsi General Motors Then and Now Car Cruze In, a collaboration of the museum, United Auto Workers Local 1112, and the River Rock at the Amp concert series.
People with Lordstown-built cars met at the Lordstown plant and formed a procession that escorted the veiled 2011 Cruze LTZ to Warren, where an auto show featuring 2011 and older GM models was at Courthouse Square.
“For a long time, we’ve been known as the steel valley. It still is the steel valley, but the auto industry has also played a very significant part in the context and texture of our valley,” said Tom Mock, communications manager for the GM Lordstown complex.
“We’re trying to highlight our car [the Cruze]. There’s a lot of excitement about our car, and we’re also trying to highlight downtown Warren. It’s one of the nicest communities in the state of Ohio,” said Jim Graham, Local 1112 president.
With a brief rain delay intervening, Revolution and Phil Dirt and the Dozers played Beatles and Beach Boys music, respectively, before a capacity crowd at the downtown amphitheater Saturday evening.
It was the music that brought Gary Wakeford of Canfield to the amphitheatre. “I’m a huge Beatles fan, and a chance to see a good Beatles tribute band is what brought me here,” Wakeford said.
“This is a great venue. I’ve never been to this area here before. It’s a nice place to hear a band,” he said of the terraced amphitheater along the Mahoning River.
About 5,100 hourly workers began producing the Cruze on July 12, as the Lordstown plant’s 1,200 new workers joined the assembly line with the resumption of the third shift.
The cars being built this summer are “validation cars,” saleable models being shipped to Detroit for extensive tests. The plant is scheduled to begin full-scale production at the rate of about 1,500 cars a day after Labor Day, and the cars are to appear in dealer showrooms by mid-September.
The Cruze, whose retail price will start at $16,995, replaces the Chevrolet Cobalt, whose six-year production run at the Lordstown plant ended June 25.