1966 Chevrolet Impala
Chances are good if you're reading this, that you may share some of the same ideas I have when it comes to the automobile. That in many cases, they all have a face - that they all have their own personality/idiosyncracies - and in all cases, their own story. Likewise, if you're anything at all like me, a time often comes when you find "the one" - and you fret and worry that it will somehow slip through your hands into the lap of another if you don't act immediately to your impulse. Such is the case with that tuxedo black on black basketcase in the photo above.
If you've read any of my other drivel on this mess of a website, you have correctly guessed that I love cars - especially ones that nobody really wants any longer. There is just something about a personal connection made with a car that you're able to bring back to life all on your own and largely based on poor purchasing decisions. I'm a sledge hammer mechanic; that is, I sort of run things by the seat of my impatient pants. It is often that I have to ask really dumb questions on forums where dudes chase expert status - measuring their effectiveness by the number count of how many times they've posted. It's a crap shoot - you may either get a helpful hand, or someone who gets their jollies off of snarky one liners to let idiots like me know what I already know - that I asked a stupid question. Anyhow -
My infatuation with the 66 Impala was immediate. I found it by complete fluke when messing around with Facebook Marketplace, which by the way, is infinitely better than ebay and craigslist. Backstory - and to be brief - I'm a bonafide Impala man. My love for the automobile started with my fondness of a 66 Impala when I was literally four years old, when my parents were looking at a dealership for a new car in 1972. In the back row, backed into the treeline was one; and for a fairly new car at the time, it's appearance was battered and left for dead as someone's trade in. It was red, devoid of hubcaps - and to me, beautiful; for years my family would snicker at my love for the "red chev" as I named it. I could not understand why no one liked it - it seemed to me, as a small child, that it looked sad nobody wanted it, much like my favorite bedtime story book and record, The Speedy Little Taxi. From that day on, my love for the battered and neglected automobile was apparently born - and while I have owned and still own several Impala's, my pursuit for the perfectly neglected 66 Impala began. There have been many many times that I was on the brink of 66 ownership, but - I never felt that feeling one gets when they find that special one; this was all about to change.
When I found this black one, I was stunned - and my 'lets make a bad purchasing decision" meter was fully engaged. It looked terrible, even by my low standards. Neglected. Abandoned. It was sitting atop a flat bed trailer, it's bondoed rear quarters hanging on by a fiberglass thread, with a crazy price tag on it of $2400 - reduced from $2730. Dang it! I immediately emailed the seller if he would consider a trade for my 58 Plymouth Belvedere 4 door - in much better shape than the Impala, to which he expressed interest. It was clear the seller - who was a really great guy btw, had likely obtained the Impala for cheap, but after determining it was in a condition he didn't want to bother with, was looking to score a little extra cash from an immediate sale. I made arrangements to check it out, which was 320 miles away down on the Jersey Shore. The purpose of my wanting to see it was made under the guise of my need to check it's frame and other maladies that the car may have; however, none of that mattered to me. The real reason I wanted to see it, was because I just wanted to see it. It could have been held together by elmers glue and paper mache - and if the car was only good to sit in and pretend drive, I still wanted it.
When I found the home - the Impala was still aboard the flatbed it had been on the day the seller had obtained it, and looked amazing. The seller was a good guy and pretty much outlined what I had already assumed - that he didn't care at all about the car - that is....where it came from or where it would be going, which are all the things I find infinitely intriguing. He explained he had several calls about it, but in all cases, the callers only wanted the 327 and 3 speed out of it. He told me he would tell them that was fine if you just want the engine and transmission, just come with $2400 and take it along with the car.
But then - he said something very nonchalantly when I pressed him for more about the car's story, containing my enthusiasm and expressing my question in a way that wouldn't reveal my inner psycho. He told me he had gotten it from the original owner. WHAT?! He told me his brother had bought a Pontiac Grand Am off a guy named Larry in North Arlington, NJ near Queen of Peace Church, which is the area they had grown up. He said when they went to get the Pontiac, they saw the Impala in the driveway in back of the house, hidden from street view (and had only been moved out of the garage recently). Inquiries were made, and Larry decided with his age (75) that he would sell the car - in hopes it would have a good home. So - that is how he got the car. To me, there exists an intrinsic value to a one owner vintage car. Monetarily in many respects - which I don't care about AT ALL, but really on a more personal level. The fact this car was a true one owner, with the opportunity existing to learn of it's REAL history, rather than the elevated and exaggerated ones a buyer usually gets, meant everything to me. This Impala was the one. Absolutely no doubt. After 44 years of my endless peeking in yards and forests, the universe hath delivered.
About a week later, I borrowed a friends truck, rented a UHaul trailer, and with a little help from my cousin, winched via come-along the Plymouth onto the trailer. By 7:00 am the next brisk morning, I was on the road to trade the Plymouth straight up for the Impala.
After 6 hours of travel, I arrived and we played musical cars and trailers. After loading the car onto my U-Haul, I departed the Jersey Shore with my new 1966 Chevy Impala. A real King of the Road, albeit on a trailer. I cannot express in words the pride and giddiness I had. The seller provided me with an old New Jersey Title, signed by Larry, with the "new" owner left blank. Ordinarily, I would have pressed him to fill his name in, and then do a reassignment to me, but - having his name left off, means he is no longer the seller, but rather, the middle man, which means......I'm the second owner. So - yeah.
On the way home, I was anxious to stop at the nearest rest area to really look at the car, without the unsettling annoyance of a seller thinking I'm all weird. Now, just prior to my leaving, the seller (excuse me.....MIDDLE MAN) had called and left a message with the original owner, stating that I had obtained the car, was very elated about it, and that I would be calling him at some point. After leaving him the message, he told me that Larry had been calling him for updates on the Impala, and described him as being very concerned about the Impala's fate. He also told me he would be pleased to know that a nutcase like me loved the car so much. So somewhere along the Garden State Parkway, I pulled over into one of those median rest areas and called and spoke with Larry. I was actually leaving him a message of who I was, when all of a sudden he picked up and said Hello. I stopped talking and said hello back, to which he replied "Keep talking." So I continued - and when I was done blathering on, we spoke at great length about the Impala. We made arrangements to meet in the very near future, where we could meet face to face and learn more about one another. He expressed great joy that his old car would be going to a good home and would live on. At the same time, he also expressed some confusion - and explained that he thought the man I got the car from, was going to fix it up. Things started to make more sense to me then, but I didn't want to get in the middle of that, because it seemed to me that both parties in this situation were good dudes. I just basically told Larry that it was my assumption that upon further inspection of the Impala, the guy I got it from decided it wasn't worth messing with - and left it at that.
Fast forward a bit - after some cancellations on my part due to weather, we did eventually meet at the Arlington Diner in North Arlington, NJ on Christmas Eve. I didn't tell him, but being the perpetual early bird that I am, with time to kill, I decided to cruise the area and did some recon on his home to see where my Impala once lived and plied. In his backyard is a very large cemetery. Using google maps, I was able to determine where his home was relative to the cemetery, and found the garage my Impala sat in for 25 years, untouched. Creepy right? No, not the cemetery.....me.....stalking.
Afterwards, I cruised in to the next town, Belleville, where I had earlier learned from Larry when on the phone, was the town where he ordered and accepted delivery of the car - although he couldn't remember the name of the dealership other than the fact it closed right after he bought the car. With the help of the Belleville Historical Society, I learned it was Leonard Chevrolet, and it had closed after the owners nephew shot and killed his owner/Uncle over what - I do not know. I was told it was on Washington Avenue, and was long gone, having been replaced by a Taco Bell most recently. Hey, what can I say, I like to know my car's history. Here's the spot - where the Impala was really born, on paper, the day Larry waltzed in with a pen and $3000 to order the Impala. And after screaming it's way out of it's mother, the car factory, it was nestled in here until Daddy Larry took it home:
Speaking of auto plants, one of the interesting things I also learned about the Impala - after decoding the cowl tag, was that it was made in the first week of December, 1965, at Tarrytown Assembly Plant. Tarrytown was shut down in the 80's, and was a large participant in polluting the Hudson River since the place opened. All the buildings have since been destroyed - but the jutting land mass can still be clearly seen from the New York side of the Tappan Zee Bridge. So, basically, the car was only made about 30 miles away from the dealership and Larry's home. As the crow flies - the Impala's home was about 5 miles from midtown Manhattan. A direct line from the home to this beautiful 9/11 memorial - is a great view of Manhattan.
Anyone still reading this? Actually, did anyone even start reading this? Anyhow - I finally met up with Larry. Here he is - the man responsible for ordering this beautiful 66 Impala - and keeping it around all these years. It was apropos that I have him pose next to my newer Impala.
A terrific guy - and an old hod rodder himself. He told me everything he could remember about his time with the car. He said he never did give it a name, and never thought of it as a he or a she, and called it "The Chevy" - but suggested that I call it whatever I like. The only long trip he ever took in the car was a camping trip in the 60's at Angle Pond in New Hampshire and some places in Massachusetts. He told me ordered the car exactly how he wanted it. Black on black. 327/4bbl. He was going to order the 4 speed, but decided on a 3 speed at the suggestion of his then fiance. Factory air conditioning too. The car has a Hurst floor shifter, and he explained that it originally came with a three on the tree shifter on the column, but that during really cold weather, he couldn't get it out of gear, so he put the floor shifter in. He said the trailer hitch on it was to pull a 52 Ford drag car he had to a local race track. He even showed me his first house at 74 Hendel Street in North Arlington where he first took the car home and where he would park it. He gave me loads of parts and wrote down things of interest that I may like to know, which was immensely appreciated. He told me the car never let him down, and that it would always warn him first of any impending issues, except with his wife - and that the car would routinely let her down. When I asked him how she felt about selling the car, he told me he didn't ask her, but that as the car initially went down the street on the trailer, her only comment was "That car always hated me" - then turned, and went back in the house. He told me he never wanted to sell the car, but surmised that with age - 75, comes a time to let go of things, and knowing that he would never get around to getting it back on the road, that it was more important to him to have it go to a good home. Plus, he didn't want his wife, Christine, to have to worry about it if that great big Tarrytown in the sky called. He told me he couldn't sleep for a few days after the car went down the road, but was thrilled I had such an interest in it. I assured him I had an open garage door policy for him - anytime he wanted to see it, touch it, drive it (when it gets to that point) - to feel free.
The car has been parked since 1993 (Inspection sticker still on the windshield). He said it ran fine when he parked it, but it was just at a point where the car was just older and wasn't used much. So, that was it. In the garage it went. At the time, it was just an old rusty car - no different than if someone today was to park a 1993 Chevy Caprice off to the side.
The following are some more pics of the car on our way home. When I got it home, the angle in my driveway is such that to just free roll a 4,000 pound car off all by myself was risky. I wanted it in the garage - so a good friend of mine, Mike Kollman at Hillside Auto - who is used to my shenanigans with cars, hauled it from his garage to mine for free. Mike and his wife have always treated me so well when it comes to this stuff. I asked Mike if he liked the car; his response: Nope.
So that's the story of The Chevy. Many more chapters to be written for this old 66 Impala. I've got a lot of work to do on "The Chevy." It's in rough shape - so rough, that nearly every part would need to be replaced if you wanted it to look mint. I'm not interested in mint. I'm interested in passing inspection.
And as if to reflect a little - think about this. If I had not pressed more about the car's history, or, if someone else had bought it for the engine and sold the rest as a roller, or just someone wanted it like me but had no inkling or care about history - this entire story would never have been known. Those story pages that existed, would have been forever erased. There would be no Larry. There would be no knowledge to others that one time when drag racing a Corvette that he popped a motor mount in it. Or that trip to New Hampshire to go camping. Or how much fun it was to pick it up their very first day with it. It's very important to know as much as you can about a car, beyond "paperwork" and "numbers matching."
And as crazy/dumb/pointless as this website may be to the few who stumble in here - I hope that some of my adventures in seeking out these cars may inspire others to do the same. It's not easy, and it's not hard. In the words of a dearly departed friend, Lynn Holland-Kelley - "Don't blow off doing something today that you will regret you never did tomorrow."
Thanks for reading!
This section of the site is not specific to my taxi travels. They are not really rants either. It is more of a space for me to simply raise awareness to topics that either inspire or frustrate me as an individual.