LORDSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Fifty years ago Thursday, the first car rolled off the assembly line at the General Motors Lordstown plant. It was a white Chevy Impala sports sedan.
GM executives Robert Gathman and Pete Estes shook hands on their accomplishments and then turned the car over to Stanley Hart, editor of the Warren Tribune Chronicle, which bought the car off of Warren’s Martin Chevrolet.
Helen Hart Hurlbert owned the Tribune and was the true owner of the car.
Mackey Rogers, who once worked in maintenance at the Tribune, let Hurlbert’s advertising executive and right-hand man drive it as his company car.
Mike Del Duca lives in Colorado but as a young boy growing up in Warren, he was part of a Chevy family and remembers seeing pictures of the first car at the old Martin Chevrolet.
Del Duca would ride by Helen Hurlburt’s house and wonder if the first Lordstown car was parked inside. He was so fascinated, he built a replica of it complete with the signage on each side.
“Around the year 2000, we started trying to figure out where this car went,” he said. “We ran the VIN number through DMV in Warren. We came up short on that. They didn’t have those records anymore, or they said they didn’t.”
Del Duca started hearing that the car had been crushed, which took him to some of the area’s scrap yards.
“They pretty much confirmed that the car was junked or scrapped or crushed at a wrecking yard that wasn’t really all that far from the plant,” he said. “We have no documentation that tells us that. It’s all kind of hearsay or maybe an urban legend.”
In a Tribune Chronicle article from June 12th, 2000, Larry Ringler, the business editor at the time, wrote about the car.
In a story about a car show at the Lordstown plant, he wrote, “The Tribune Chronicle bought the first Chevrolet Impala made by the new plant, but that car long ago was crushed.”
“Just from stories I heard, people talking who were around then, the car eventually rusted out or was eventually scrapped,” Ringler said.
The Department of Motor Vehicles said there is no way to find the car’s title.
Jim Graham, former President of United Auto Workers Local 1112, said the union formed a committee to find it in 2006, the 40th anniversary of the first car. They were told it had been scrapped.
Graham did not remember who told them that or who was on the committee.
After tracking the vehicle identification number, searching for the title and talking to about 30 people, some of whom said the car was scrapped, it seems that no one has proof of what happened to the first Lordstown car.
On May 19 at 7:30 p.m., WKBN 27 First News will air a half-hour special called “Farms to Fastlane: 50 years of GM Lordstown” that will look at the history of the plant and what the future could bring.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that the owner of the Tribune Chronicle drove the car. We regret the error.