Budd Co. files for bankruptcy protection to modify retiree benefits

The facade of Budd's former Detroit plant -- a replica of Philadelphia's Independence Hall. The steeple can be seen in the distance.

Photo credit: JOHN SOBCZAK
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Editor's note: A photo caption that accompanied an earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the age of Budd Co.'s former Detroit plant modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

WILMINGTON, Del. -- Budd Co., a former maker of auto parts and stainless steel passenger rail cars, filed for bankruptcy protection to modify benefits that it can't fully pay.

The company listed assets of as much as $500 million and debt of more than $1 billion in Chapter 11 documents filed late Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago, where it is based.

Budd is no longer engaged in manufacturing and has no employees, it said in court papers.

It said it can't pay the benefits in full and is seeking to change them to provide "fair and equitable treatment to its retirees and other creditors."

As of the petition date, it has about $384 million in cash and estimates its liability for retiree benefits is more than $800 million, the company said.

Budd asked that a committee of retired employees be formed to represent about 5,900 ex-workers and dependents receiving company-paid benefits including health care.

Company founder Edward Gowen Budd started out as a machinist apprentice and helped build the Pennsylvania Railroad's first steel passenger car, according to the PBS Web site.

He started Budd Co. in 1912. The company eventually became a major supplier of metal, plastic and composite components, such as frames, exterior panels, chassis components and castings, for the auto industry.

In the mid-1950s, the company's 2-million-square-foot Detroit plant employed 8,000 people and produced bodies for the 1955-1960 Ford Thunderbird.

The landmark Detroit plant was noteworthy for its facade -- a replica of Philadelphia's Independence Hall. It was acquired by Budd in 1925 from Liberty Motor Co., which built cars and later engines for World War I U.S. biplanes.

Budd Co. was later sold to Germany's ThyssenKrupp and became ThyssenKrupp Budd Co.

In August 2006, the company unveiled plans to sell its last line of business -- a group of plants that produced body and chassis operations components for the auto industry.

The factories supplied shock absorbers, coil springs, axles and control arms to the auto industry.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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