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General Dynamics Liquidates Convair Division

November 17, 1995

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ General Dynamics, once the city’s biggest employer, is now holding one of its largest liquidation auctions.

The company’s moribund Convair division, where 40,000 people once built jet planes, bombers and cruise missiles to fight World War II and the Cold War, is now selling everything from lathes to drill presses to routers.

The auction, which started Tuesday and continues through Saturday, has attracted more than a thousand buyers from around the globe. About 12,000 lots of machinery are up for bid at the 2.5 million-square-foot plant on San Diego’s harbor front.

``We have a lot of aerospace manufacturers, but there’s the whole gamut,″ said Robert Levy, president of auctioneer Norman Levy Associates. ``There’s every type of manufacturer you can imagine because the equipment is general purpose equipment.″

So far, prices have run from $10 for inspection equipment to $250,000 for a giant grinder.

Levy’s firm, which is based in Southfield, Mich., has handled auctions for McDonnell-Douglas, Lockheed and Eastern Airlines resulting from the collapse of the aerospace and defense industries.

The 44-year-old business, which recently opened an office in Northern California, has witnessed economic cycles among various regions of the United States.

In the 1980s, most buyers from the East and West coasts traveled to buy up manufacturing equipment from the Rust Belt. Today, many buyers travel from the Midwest to buy machines from failed West Coast industries, Levy said.

``People need this equipment because the economy is strong,″ said Levy shortly after he auctioned off some inspection gauges. ``They come here today and buy this equipment today and put it in their shop tomorrow.″

Although the demise of large plants like Convair spelled unemployment for thousands of workers, expanding businesses and dealers show up at the auction to find bargains.

``Southern California has been hit really hard with aerospace,″ said Steve Hernandez, a partner with Reliable Tool, a West Covina company that resells machinery to other businesses. ``It’s been good for me because many of my customers ... have long term contracts with me.″

Convair will shut down in January, when its last airplane fuselage is completed. Its buildings will be destroyed, and the land will be returned to the Port of San Diego.

``This is it for Convair,″ said Roy Gilmour, a Convair manager overseeing the auction. ``Convair is officially gone when we’re done demolishing the place.″

Convair’s predecessor moved from Buffalo to San Diego in 1935 to manufacturer water planes. During World War II, it produced B-24 Liberators, which were flown in Europe and the South Pacific.

The Cold War also brought prosperity with contracts for fighters and cruise missiles. Convair started manufacturing fuselages for McDonnell-Douglas _ it’s final contract.

``Ten years ago, I would have never guessed this outcome, but the world is changing,″ said Gilmour, who will retire after 36 years when Convair closes for good.

``I don’t know if I can say things went wrong. It’s just things are changing.″

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