Our Cars--1975 Chevy Impala
Not wanting to miss out on the big car nostalgia, I'll wow you with tales of one of the greatest beasts to ever cruise the open road. I first received my 4-door 1975 Chevy Impala when I was still in high school, but it had always been in the family. The car originally was my great grandmother's, but she had wanted a smaller and newer car (a Ford Taurus was her choice), and my family needed something to replace our dying Pontiac Ventura.
When we got the car, I was not yet of driving age, but I had already begun to love cars. The first week we got it, my dad and I took it to my grandfather's automotive shop and proceeded to give it a tune-up, some top-end work (head work, rings, pistons etc.), removal of all things limiting horsepower, and then added air shocks to the rear-end. It also got new brakes and a free-flowing exhaust. It went from Granny's grocery-getter to a pretty wicked towing machine in just one short weekend. We figured that 350 V-8 put out roughly 275 horsepower when we were all done with it. Not a ton of power, but a huge upgrade over the estimated 145 horsepower it sported when stock, and enough to get the barge really moving when you wanted it to.
When we got the Impala, it didn't have a ton of miles on it, something like 45K, in spite of it being 13 years old at that point. It had always lived in a garage and had always been well-maintained. And it was an awesome color--burnt orange. You couldn't miss this thing going down the road; it was huge and orange. And it didn't have a ding, dent, or rust spot on it. By the time I got it in 1991, there were a few surface rust spots; and when we got rid of it in 1995 we were thankful the car was burnt orange so it was less obvious that the rust spots outnumbered the paint spots.
And when I say this car was huge, I'm not kidding. I used to tell my friends it was as large as a Suburban. They didn't believe me. So I parked next to one one day, and we got out and measured. My car was a mere 1/2 inch shorter. And as Rob wrote in the Mercury article, when people saw it coming, they got out of the way.
This beautiful Impala eventually became mine when my mother basically refused to continue driving it because of its size. I was driving a Volkswagen Rabbit at that point, and we swapped cars. I never looked back. I immediately became the "all time driver" with my friends, because we could take two of their cars or just mine. You could fit a lot of bodies on those two bench seats. And the trunk was cavernous--large enough for a grown man to lay in without any discomfort whatsoever, which came in handy when I started getting into car stereos.
Towards the end of the car's life, it became my stereo Frankenstein. I went so far as to cut a hole in the rear deck and installed a 12-inch sub firing off the rear window so I could share my love for music with the surrounding world. With some stiffening, deadening and sealing of the trunk, it actually sounded pretty good! I eventually had a total of seven other speakers (the odd one being a center channel) running off a couple of amps to fill in the rest of the sound.
Perhaps my favorite Impala memory was just how reliable it was. I lived in South Dakota and never kept the car in a garage. It didn't matter how cold it got--negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit and lower!--it always started, and that was before synthetic oils. It went through snow like a champ, with the only drawback being there was no way to stop it if the roads were slick; it weighed 4,200 pounds empty. You'd throw it in neutral and say a prayer, and look for something large and not alive to hit, if it came to that.
You also didn't get much feedback from the road, unless riding on pillows is feedback. Because of its size and heft, the body roll was pretty absurd--so you didn't dare do anything that involved speed and quick turns at the same time. And because of its length, parking was always interesting to say the least, and U-turns were major undertakings. But the car still rode great with the speedometer pegged at 100 mph. It did, however, get a little spooky at 125 mph, as measured by a friend's speedometer. Yes, the stupidity of youth.
This car got me through high school and into college. I drove it once straight through from Cimarron, N.M., to Sioux Falls S.D., stopping for nothing but gas in August heat. It never complained, though it blew a water pump the very next day. I put a muffler in it once by hand on a driveway in Colorado in the middle of a hail storm, because when the back side of the old muffler blew off it nearly started a fire ion my back-seat floor, which was filled with nearly everything I owned. When I eventually emptied the car, I found a bottle of Quaker State oil that had been sitting where the heat of the exhaust was coming up, and that bottle was badly mis-shapen by the heat.
I took that car through the mountains and across the plains. We towed with it, we went off-road with it, and did just about everything else imaginable to kill that car, yet it ran like a champ. The odometer passed 200K and then just died one day. We figure we put another 25K on beyond that.
We were never able to kill that car. In 1995 I replaced it with a 1988 Chevy S-10 (which is still my daily driver). The car sat for a period in front of my parents' house seeing little use through 1996, but by that point it was an eyesore. The rust was everywhere, and there wasn't a fluid that it didn't leak. But it still always started.
We sold the body to a local guy looking for a body for Enduro racing. Apparently he got three races out of that body, and considering most bodies only last one race that is saying something. The engine still lives in my dad's garage, waiting to be refreshed and dropped into a new home. I keep hoping that I'll find a '71-76 Impala garaged somewhere with a great body and a blown engine. A guy can dream, can't he?
Note from Chris Hafner: Big Chris couldn't find many photos of his own Impala, so only the fourth and last shot is of his own, beloved orange jalopy. It's surprisingly hard to find a good image of a 1975 four-door Impala. The second image is from How Stuff Works, the third from Flickr user Abdulrhman Ghassan Rammal,,and the top photo is a shattered '74 Impala on sale at Sunman Ford Supply. Act fast, or I'll beat you to it!