This 1959 Chevrolet Impala transformed from worn to wonderful

Courtesy Bob Salnick

In 2009, I answered a Craigslist ad for a 1959 Impala, a car that had sat unloved, outside, for 46 years in the Tri-Cities area of eastern Washington. The car had been owned by the seller’s son, who joined the Navy in 1963. Upon discharge, he settled in San Diego and never got around to moving the car south.

1959 Chevrolet Impala unrestored
Courtesy Bob Salnick

Just looking at it, I knew it would be a major project, but three things sold me on this Impala: Everything was there, which meant no endless eBay hunts for expensive little bits; all four doors opened and closed as if the car were new; and there was essentially no rust. Rain is rare in that part of the state, but windblown dust is not, so every nook and cranny was full of it. In fact, after towing the car to the wet side of the state, an entire garden sprouted out of the grille in front of the windshield after the first rain.

The car had only 77,000 original miles on it, but those decades of neglect had taken a toll, including in the engine, where the #7 cylinder was corroded. It took most of an afternoon to beat the piston out of the cylinder bore. After my machine shop inserted a sleeve and we rebuilt the old V-8, it now purrs.

The biggest challenge was painting the car. Because I was changing the color (to factory Roman Red over Snowcrest White), everything had to be painted: the dash, the edges of the doors, the edges of the door openings on the body, the edges of the fenders at the hood, etc. And, of course, with a two-tone paint job covered with a clear-coat, there was so much masking. I actually lost track of the number of times I masked—somewhere well beyond 16. To match the paint, Ciadella Interiors of Arizona created the entire interior—seats, headliner, carpets, door panels, etc.—from scratch. It is impeccable.

In fact, the entire car is amazing. There’s nothing like it on the road—certainly not on my island, anyway.

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