General Motors on Friday marked the end of the line for a class of V-8 engine that's been in production for 51 years.
The auto maker's western New York plant stopped production of the latest variation of the "big block" V-8 engines. Plant manager Steve Finch called it "the end of a remarkable era."
The big engine was developed in 1958 to keep up with the growing size and weight of American automobiles. Over the years it's been redesigned, with the latest version, the L18, going into production in 1999. Made only in Tonawanda, it powers full-size trucks like the Chevrolet Avalanche and some boats.
Its end puts about 150 employees on indefinite layoff.
"Although it bears older technology by today's standards, the reliability, ease of maintenance and the overall quality of this engine have made it a steady performer for many years," Finch said before the last engine rolled off the line at GM's suburban Buffalo complex.
It was the second time in a year the western New York plant has stopped work on an engine. Over the summer it wrapped up production of a "high value" V-6 engine, which accounted for about 43 percent of the site's total production volume last year. The company will continue manufacturing smaller-displacement "small block" V-8s at other plants.
The large V-8 was the plant's longest-running engine line, but has accounted for only about 3 percent of total volume lately as emphasis has shifted to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The phaseout of both engines was announced in June as part of the auto maker's bankruptcy restructuring, which spared the plant from closing but not from the loss of 25 to 30 percent of its work force.
The Tonawanda engine plant — which 20 years ago employed 4,350 people — currently has about 663 hourly and 140 salaried workers, spokeswoman Nina Price said.
The facility's main engine line now is the L850, a four-cylinder, 2.2-liter engine found in the Chevrolet Cobalt and Malibu. The plant also produces a slant 5-cylinder engine.
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