1966 Chevy Impala Convertible Beautifully Restored

VERN PARKER
Motor Matters

Elsa Johnson had an endearing habit of buying a new car, driving it a few years, and then selling it to one of her children in a sweetheart deal.

When she was about ready to sell her car, she notified her son Paul that he was next in line. She told him that he should order a car for her that would suit him a few and years down the road.

“Get what you want, within limits,” were her instructions. That meant no air conditioning, no big engine, and no power windows. Being a good son, he went downtown to the local Chevrolet dealer in Madison, Wis., and ordered a red 1966 Chevrolet Impala convertible equipped with the basic 283-cubic-inch V-8 engine set up to deliver 195 horsepower.

The Impala came with a bench front seat, a two-speed Powerglide transmission, and power brakes, power steering, and an AM radio. The base price for this splendid automobile was $3,097 before the accessories were added to the total.

The 3,625-pound convertible was delivered in May 1966. Sadly, within a year, Elsa became a widow with no need for two cars — hers and her late husband’s — therefore, sooner than expected, her son bought the car on May 23, 1967 for $2,110.

“It was used primarily as a second vehicle driven by my wife,” Johnson explains. “When GM announced that it was discontinuing production of convertibles, my son thought the car was too valuable to sell,” Johnson says. So his son volunteered to drive the car to the university he was attending for the next several years. “Maintenance was neglected and the car was a pretty sad case,” Johnson says. It was banged up on both ends.

With 87,000 hard miles on the odometer, Johnson spent $281.15 to get the V-8 engine overhauled. Then, at 114,000 miles, he spent another $1,574 for new ball joints, shock absorbers, brake linings, and front coil springs. Five months later, an upholsterer recovered the front seat and provided a new white top, carpeting, and pads for $480. A body shop charged $1,241 to replace bumpers and all the moldings and emblems; patch-weld fenders, quarter panels, and doors; remove dents; and paint it red. The rear coil springs were replaced for $101.43.

“Along the way, there were visits to the junk yard for various pieces such as a grille and a red dash pad,” Johnson says. The faux wire wheel hubcaps are from a 1963 Chevrolet. “The only upgrade,” Johnson says, “is that the radio has been replaced by a stereo cassette player.” By the time the five-year restoration was complete, he recalls, “I had bought the car a second time.” The restored Chevrolet runs better than new.

“It’ll go 80 mph real well,” Johnson reports. “I haven’t tried to pin the 120-mph speedometer.” He can’t say whether any of his children ever attempted such folly. Handling was immensely improved when he replaced the worn out bias ply tires with radials on the 119-inch wheelbase.

He stores the Impala from November to April. “I disconnect the battery, add stabilizer to the full gasoline tank, and scatter mothballs around,” Johnson explains regarding his storage routine. He says that it’s rewarding knowing that when the project began, the car was in sad shape. Today it remains like new, Johnson says, “and the paint job still looks pretty good.”

His mother would be proud.

This 1966 Chevrolet Impala came with a bench front seat, a two-speed Powerglide transmission, and power brakes, power steering, and an AM radio. The base price for this automobile was $3,097 before the accessories were added to the total.