The “Doozy” nickname came into pop culture for good reason: Duesenberg’s superior engineering inspired the term of praise and admiration, and, over 80 years after the company went defunct, the monker still has merit. Chip Foose never had the honor of transforming a Duesenberg into a “Foosenberg,” so, in this latest video, he puts himself in the place of a proper coachbuilder of the prewar era. This is not a restomod by any stretch of the imagination.

Since he hasn’t decided which Duesenberg model will undergird his coachbuilt body, Chip starts by sketching several versions using Duesenberg’s three off-the-shelf chassis, plus their fenders and signature grille. Then Chip takes the Foosenberg to places that most coachbuilders of the 1920s era dared not tread. His four sketches riff on a sleek, slightly rounded coupe body style, both with and without roofs.

After this brainstorming sketch session, Chip settles on a two-door convertible with a softened running board design, fender-mount spare wheels, character lines that slope downward to meet the rear wheel, and a steeply raked rear deck. After applying a full gray-scale rendering, the Foosenberg comes to life as a proper coachbuilt Duesenberg sporting a softer, more elegant body.

While Chip would like to make a few more changes, including a taller ride height, we think the Foosenberg does justice both to the Duesenberg brand and the era in which the cars were crafted. What do you think of the Foosenberg? Sound off in the comments below!

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share

Chip Foose has a magic recipe for making the ultimate Chevrolet Chevelle: four headlights and four taillights out back. The 1970 Chevelle’s unique front fascia is one of the most popular years for the second generation Chevelle, but the signature quad headlight treatment could benefit from a matching quad rear taillight design from the 1971-72 Chevelle.

Chip starts the integration by drawing the Chevelle in side profile, rendering it in a sleek yellow with a low stance and large wheels tucked inside the body. Above this rendering we see Chip drawing a 1970 front and 1971-72 rear view, but goes further by re-using the rear’s bumper circle for custom driving lights under the grille of the 1970 front end. It’s very straightforward, as Chip states he’s using factory parts and reimagining them without the mandatory budgetary constraints of General Motors, which in turn makes his ideal Chevelle.

Chip adds that the 1970’s iconic front end is the cleanest of the Chevelle lineup. This stems from an uninterrupted curve from the fender top down to the top of the bumper, as there’s no signal light in the way like the 1971 front end. This look is only improved with a 1971-72 rear bumper that replicates the face of a 1970 Chevelle. So what do you think about adding the four taillight rear design of the later Chevelles onto the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle?

You may also like

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share
Often ridiculed following its debut in the turbulent 1970s, the AMC Pacer’s radical interpretation of a compact car has since accomplished an impressive feat—it’s become a legitimate cult classic. One part of its shocking design included a large amount of glass to make the car both look and feel bigger, which is something Chip Foose reimagines as a custom delivery van.

Chip begins with a rear three quarter view of the Pacer, which aids in highlighting the changes he’ll make to the body. He adds a full-width taillight and 1967-68 Camaro bumpers to streamline the back end, erases the massive quarter window, and adds streetwise dual exhaust cutouts tucked into the roll pan. His second overlay cleans up the design, adds the Pacer’s signature door contouring, and includes a tubbed rear end for the right stance.

The final render is finished in a 1970s-era orange. Chip adds  a lower valence to the front bumper and ditches the blocky square door handle for an elegant chrome handle. A pop culture icon thanks to the Wayne’s World movie, the AMC Pacer gets a whole new look by taking on the modern day panel delivery van.

Such van conversions are still common in Europe; examples like the Ford Fiesta Van combine the sporty style of a compact “supermini” with the practicality of a delivery van. So, did Chip Foose reinvent this genre by adding serious street rod presence with his reimagined AMC Pacer?

You may also like

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share

Enzo Ferrari called the Series I Jaguar E-type “the most beautiful car ever made,” but the E-type coupe doesn’t get nearly the attention of its convertible counterpart.  Chip Foose has plans to change that. Before our eyes, he’ll transform the E-type coupe into a streetwise sports car with even sleeker design elements.

Chip starts by putting the E-type’s side profile on paper, then gives it a lower greenhouse, more substantial rocker panels and a lowered stance. Of course, he keeps the Jaguar’s signature cab-backward body, thin chrome bumpers, and fastback roofline, but Chip also envisions a faster A-pillar with a less extreme wrap to the windscreen.  Larger wire spoke wheels, cooling vents behind the front wheels, the deletion of vertical bumperettes, and relocated taillights complete the concept. Now that’s how you make an already clean design even cleaner.

Without a doubt, Foose took a nearly six-decade-old design and brought it up to today’s standards. Did he do this classic design justice? Tell us in the comments below; we’d love to hear your thoughts.

You may also like

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share

Released as Ford’s answer to Jeep’s CJ-5 and the International Harvester Scout, the first-generation Ford Bronco was a light truck in the purest form: a practical, functional, simple vehicle intended for on- and off-road duty. The clean body lines, minimalist interior, removable doors/roof, and fold-down windscreen made no pretensions to style or luxury; at its core it was a functional design.

Chip Foose understands the first-gen Bronco’s purity of design and appreciates why this off-roader is a highly prized collectible vehicle. But Foose re-imagines the Bronco as a street-savvy cruiser with a high-performance chassis swap, raked hot-rod stance, and a sleeker windshield.  After laying down the basic proportions on paper, Chip begins to tweak the Bronco’s design into a street-worthy custom creation.

As Foose fills out his design, you’ll note the unique windshield and more sporty A-pillar, a slammed-to-the-ground chassis, larger wheels, a hot-rod style billet aluminum grille, 1969 Mustang hood scoop, racing stripes, and a modest spoiler at the rear.  Chip’s design is rendered in classic Shelby Mustang white with blue stripes, which lets the Bronco’s minimalist body speak for itself.

While purists will have their own thoughts about this concept, Foose took everything below the windshield (i.e. the most timeless part of the Bronco) and ushered in a new era of performance and style with time-tested upgrades and a far sleeker windshield for a thoroughly modern interpretation of the Ford Bronco.  That isn’t too far off from the Ford’s vision for the upcoming Bronco, is it?  Sound off in the comments below; we’d love to hear your thoughts.

You may also like

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share

Tom Wilmer was relaxing in his Phoenix-area home one evening a few years ago when he had what has become one of the most dangerous thoughts of the 21st century:  “I wonder what’s on Craigslist today…”

Paging through the local search results, Wilmer came upon a 1958 Willys Jeep wagon for sale. The truck was a basket case but Wilmer, who grew up bouncing around the backcountry in a series of old Jeeps, knew potential when he saw it. The rig for sale on Craigslist that evening instantly conjured memories of quail hunts in the Arizona highlands, fishing in the local streams, and riding along as his grandfather trailered the small family boat down to Mexico on family vacations in the early 1970s.

Wilmer did not have to ponder the listing for long. He made the call. Soon, he owned his latest stablemate in a corral of old Jeeps.

Formed in 1908 when John Willys took over Overland Automotive, Willys-Overland was, for a brief period in the early 20th century, the second-largest producer of automobiles in the United States. (It trailed only Ford.) In those early decades, Willys-Overland made all manner of passenger cars, but it was during World War II that Willys began production on the vehicles that would become synonymous with the brand’s name: the Jeep (a name the company patented in 1950).

1958 Willys Jeep wagon
1958 Willys Jeep wagon

1958 Willys Jeep wagon
1958 Willys Jeep wagon

In the years immediately following World War II, Willys-Overland adapted its military Jeep designs—namely the CJ-2A—for the civilian world, marketing the capable little vehicles to ranchers, farmers, and hunters. In 1946, Willys-Overland unveiled a station wagon model, designed by the legendary industrial designer Brooks Stevens and featuring the same engine and transmission as the CJ-2A. Two years later, the company gave the wagon a four-wheel-drive system, making it the granddaddy of all sport utility vehicles.

In 1953, Kaiser Motors merged with Willys-Overland but production of the Willys Jeep continued unabated. Known for their ruggedness and mountain-goat-like ability to go anywhere, Willys Jeeps also gained fame for their utter lack of creature comforts. In their original form, these Jeeps are slow, raw, and utterly indestructible.

As a young boy, Wilmer was steeped in the mystique of these workhorse Willys Jeeps. His grandfather owned three of them over the years, including a green and white 1964 model that featured a 327 Chevrolet V-8 engine swap and overdrive. This overdrive unit, when combined with the four-wheel-drive system and gearshift, necessitated a total of four stick shifts, a feature that fascinated a young Tom Wilmer.

“I just thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” recalls Wilmer.

1958 Willys Jeep wagon
1958 Willys Jeep wagon

1958 Willys Jeep wagon

A self-taught mechanic, Wilmer got his start with wrenches in a time-honored fashion—by taking his own bicycle apart hoping he could improve its performance. Before long, he was wrenching on car engines, learning to weld, and building his own cars and sand rails. If you stop by Wilmer’s house these days, chances are you’ll find him out in the shop, tinkering with one of his many projects.

Among those works in progress are now three Willys Jeep wagons. This 1958 model, however, featured in this episode of Why I Drive, stands out for its blend of old-school ruggedness and modern upgrades. Given its rough condition when he bought it (old Jeeps are infamous as much for the questionable “upgrades” they’ve accumulated through the years as for the abuse they’ve endured over the same span), Wilmer had no compunction about tailoring the truck to his own needs and lifestyle. He’s made a point to retain the Jeep’s old-school charm while taking advantage of more modern technologies.

Earlier in 2019, Wilmer pulled the 350 Chevrolet engine that had powered the Jeep for years, replacing it with a 383 Chevrolet engine. A 350 block mated to a 400 crankshaft, the 383 provides a welcome increase in torque for off-roading. The truck also features front and rear differential lockers (sending equal power each wheel, regardless of traction) which, in tandem with some meaty tires and good suspension, make this truck capable of going just about anywhere Wilmer points it. At some juncture, in a nod to safety, Wilmer also installed a roll cage. Fuel injection and air-conditioning even make this Jeep efficient and comfortable on those highway stretches between rocks and dirt.

1958 Willys Jeep wagon

Far from being a suburban bro-dozer, however, Wilmer’s Jeep is a frequent site in Arizona’s rugged outback, where Wilmer spends considerable time scouting for and participating in off-road rallies like the Copperstate Overland.

Asked about the most rewarding part of owning a vintage 4×4 like this, Wilmer smiles and says, simply, “Because it’s just cool.”

Such a pure adventurer deserves that kind of pure affection.

Next episodes

You may also like

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share

Like many car-crazed kids in the 1960s American Midwest, Gary Riley spent the summer nights of his youth at the local drag strip. Some 50 years later, he can still see and hear and smell the Cobra Jet Mustangs, Charger R/Ts, and Chevelle Super Sports as they rumbled up to the starting line at Cordova Dragway just outside of Rapids City, Illinois, awaiting their turn at quarter-mile glory. It was an experience that stuck with him and ultimately shaped his life.

Those hot August nights are a distant memory now, but when Riley climbs into his dark turquoise metallic 1966 Dodge Coronet 500 for his daily drive to his shop, LevelOne Restoration, in Arvada, Colorado, he is instantly driving through the late-1960s all over again.

As Riley says in the latest episode of Why I Drive, on his way to the office he frequently stops to pick up his stepdaughter, Megan Caceras, who now manages the shop office (“and answers the phone with a friendly voice because I’m grumpy half the time,” Riley says with a laugh) while Riley spends his days fussing over the details on Hemi Chargers, COPO Camaros, and Yenko Chevelles. For Riley, these morning commutes are more than a chance to catch up on work-related matters, but they’re also a chance for him to share these vintage cars with the next generation.

1966 Dodge Coronet 500
1966 Dodge Coronet 500

1966 Dodge Coronet 500
1966 Dodge Coronet 500

“It’s really fun not only to drive these cars, but to share the experience with another person, especially a young person who wasn’t even born at a time when these cars were made,” Riley says. “Megan was born in the late 1980s, and it’s fun to see someone of that age be able to drive something from that golden era of high performance.”

Even amidst a field of standout performers that defined that golden era, the Dodge Coronet 500 is special. Before delving into the specs on this specific car, however, a word is in order regarding the Coronet model line as a whole, as the naming conventions can be a bit confusing.

The Coronet came in several trim levels. The Coronet 440, for example, was available with either a 225-cubic-inch slant-six or a 318-cubic-inch V-8 engine. A more expensive trim option, the Coronet 500, also came with a variety of engines. Riley’s Coronet 500 has the 426-cubic-inch Hemi engine. Overwhelmed by all those numbers? Well, here’s all that matters: this 426 Hemi engine is one of Chrysler’s most legendary powerplants. Nicknamed “elephant” due to its size and power, the 7.0-liter engine was winning NASCAR and NHRA races from the day it left the factory. Indeed, that’s all it was doing when Chrysler first introduced it in 1964, as it was initially not even available to the general public. As a result, NASCAR boss Bill France outlawed the engine for the 1965 season due to its unavailability in street cars (and because other manufacturers were grousing about its power). By 1966, however, the engine had found its way into street cars like Riley’s own Coronet 500. Suffice it to say, the engine’s racing pedigree shined through, even in production models.

1966 Dodge Coronet 500
1966 Dodge Coronet 500

1966 Dodge Coronet 500

“These cars were factory rated at 425 horsepower,” Riley says, “but that’s pretty well understood to have been understated.”

As evidence, Riley points to a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T that he restored recently. That car’s 426 Hemi engine, with no special tuning, strolled right up to 500 horsepower. These are, quite simply, a lot of car.

“I’m used to driving [these cars],” Riley says, “but I wouldn’t want to put an inexperienced driver in there unsupervised with those brakes, that suspension, and that much horsepower. That could be scary.”

Which brings us back to Riley’s stepdaughter, Megan. A relative newcomer to the classic car world, she nonetheless knew that her own grandfather once raced a Dodge Coronet with considerable success back in the 1960s at places like Cordova and Indianapolis. Unfortunately, Granddad passed away in 2014, before Caceras knew enough about these cars to sit down and pick his brain. Working alongside Riley every day—and getting the opportunity to drive this Coronet for herself—has been the next best way of connecting with her grandfather’s legacy and experiencing the cars that fueled his passion in the ’60s.

1966 Dodge Coronet 500
1966 Dodge Coronet 500

1966 Dodge Coronet 500

“Being around a car like this just makes me appreciate that my grandfather was a young man once upon a time,” Caceras says.

Asked if Riley gets a little nervous when Caceras decides to channel her grandfather and test the power of the Coronet’s Hemi engine, Caceras smiles. “I don’t think he gets upset when I get on it. If anything, I think it brings him a little joy.”

As Riley and Caceras know, it’s never too late to make memories of their own.

1966 Dodge Coronet 500

Next episodes

You may also like

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share

Even as a ranch kid growing up on the Great Plains in eastern Colorado, Victor Holtorf had an engineer’s mind. Insatiably curious about how the world worked and how it was designed, he looked for any excuse to take apart any object if it would allow him to better understand how it functioned. Fortunately for young Victor, life on a ranch gave him ample opportunity to do just that, as there was always something—carburetors, pickups, machinery—in need of repairs. Once he reached driving age, Holtorf’s incurable urge to tinker and tune spread to his cars.

By the time Holtorf finished engineering school and showed up in California’s Silicon Valley in the early 1990s, he was an accomplished automotive mechanic, although his skills and tastes leaned more toward the muscle cars that had filled his youth in Colorado, especially his beloved Buicks. Soon, however, he found himself buying vintage foreign cars—first Lotuses and then Lamborghinis. As he did so, an entirely new world opened itself, one in which the coequal concerns of engineering and design informed every aspect of the car.

“The Italians have a long history of art and beauty that the American manufacturers just didn’t pursue to the same extent,” Holtorf says. “You pop the hood on a Chevelle, there’s a motor. It’s cool, but the valve cover doesn’t intrigue you, whereas these Italian cars are so highly engineered. They’re high tech for their day, and they’re also beautifully built.”

Lamborghini Countach
Lamborghini Countach

Lamborghini Countach

Holtorf found solace in these exotic machines. While his co-workers might head out to the clubs of San Francisco after a hard-charging day at the office, he is more inclined to head down to the warehouse he had rented in an industrial suburb and work on his cars. The hours disappeared as he tore down Italian V-12 engines, marveled at the intricacy of their design, and reassembled them in pursuit of improved performance. These nights in the shop became his refuge from the intensity of dot-com-boom-era Silicon Valley.

“It was almost therapeutic to take [an engine] apart, figure out how they made it, and be fascinated with the engineering that went into even something like a little faster,” Holtorf says.

Holtorf had always wanted a Lamborghini Countach. Like so many kids of his era, he had that legendary Alpine Stereo poster of the Countach on his wall. You know, the one with the big wing and fender flares—the poster that made that Countach the Countach for every kid born after 1975.

Holtorf’s car dreams were also shaped in great measure by the opening scene of Brock Yates’  Cannonball Run.

“I wasn’t sure if I loved the car or the girls more. It was all just amazing to me,” Holtorf says with a laugh. “The girls were great. The car was great. As a young kid, that whole scene was everything.”

And when he could afford a Countach, that’s the car Holtorf wanted. The wing, the flares, the garish 1980s fighter jet styling… all of it. His friends, however, steered him toward the earlier, and more rare, LP400 model.

Lamborghini Countach

“Many older collectors told me you want the first one,” Holtorf says.  “It’ll be the most valuable. It’s the lightest weight. It’s the purest. It’s the rarest, and you’ll love it. And then you can always buy your flared childhood dream one later.”

He got the LP400 in 1992 (and still has it), and he did indeed love it immediately, but he never gave up his dream of that later Countach. It took Holtorf another decade, but he finally found the perfect bookend to his LP400.

In total, Lamborghini made nine different variants of the Countach. The first one was that LP400, which debuted in 1974. The car featured in this episode of Hagerty’s Why I Drive, a 1988 model, is one of two final variations. Lamborghini produced a fuel-injected model for the U.S., but Holtorf’s car is a carbureted European car, which features six downdraft Webers and four valves per cylinder—all of which yielded the highest-horsepower Countach ever produced and made it, at the time, the fastest production car available.

“I love carburetors,” Holtorf says. “I know fuel injection is better for a lot of reasons, but with a carburetor you have instant throttle response. There’s not even a fraction of a second delay when you push the throttle and something happens. Plus, you can hear [the carburetors], and sometimes you smell the gasoline when you really get on the gas hard and all the pumps are shooting the gas in. It’s a sensory feast.”

Lamborghini Countach

Granted, driving this car—as Holtorf frequently does on the Rocky Mountain roads that loom just outside his back door—is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, but that’s exactly the way he likes it.

“If you look at the engineer’s plans when they were designing these cars, nowhere does it say ‘Mission Statement: Point A to Point B,’” Holtorf says. “Doesn’t say that. It’s about fun. It’s about passion. It’s about sport, about exhilaration. It’s about sensory inputs. It’s about the thrill.”

And yet, as much as he enjoys driving these cars, Holtorf, ever the engineer, continues to return to the joy of working on them. On any given day, he can be found in his shop in Fort Collins, leaning over the engine bay of a Diablo or Countach or Esprit, engrossed in the intricacies of these machines.

In these moments, the world of ranch life and Buicks seems far away, but the same curiosity that kickstarted Holtorf’s automotive adventures continues to fuel him to this day.

Lamborghini Countach

Next episodes

You may also like

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share

Whenever McKeel Hagerty drives his 1967 Porsche 911S, an overwhelming sense of joy is accompanied by a flood of memories and emotions. The Porsche was his first car. He restored it with his father. It provided his first taste of freedom and adventure, and it now serves as a getaway car from the pressures of everyday life. Nearly four decades after Hagerty’s CEO bought the dilapidated 911S as a project car, he still drives it on the same northern Michigan roads that he did as a teenager. He says he’d never sell it.

“The most rewarding part is that I still have it,” McKeel says in an outtake from our latest Why I Drive video. “I spent a lot of years away from the car when I went away to college and then on to grad school, and the fact that I didn’t experience a moment of panic or feel the need to sell it is really a gift. Not many people can say they still own their first car, let alone say their first car was a 911S that they paid $500 for. I know how fortunate I am, and believe me, I do not take that for granted.”

As McKeel explains, he bought the car when he was 13. “My dad prompted us—me and my older sisters—to pick out a car and restore it with him in the garage,” he says. Although McKeel was a fan of the early James Bond movies and naturally dreamed of owning an Aston Martin DB5 like 007, finding one in northern Michigan (and in his limited price range) wasn’t realistic. He did locate a decent alternative, however.

McKeel Hagerty's Porsche 911
McKeel Hagerty's Porsche 911

McKeel Hagerty's Porsche 911

“There was this older gentleman who ran a body shop in town, who had worked on some of our family cars and who had two Porsches [the 1967 911S and a 1966 912] sitting in an unbuilt garage foundation,” McKeel says. “Starting when I was about 11 years old, we started paying visits to this guy, [trying] to convince him to sell. Right around Christmas when I was 12, he called and said, ‘Get ready, you’ve got to come and get the car.’ But it was the middle of winter. We had this big challenge, in early January, of figuring out how to extract the car from under this cover of snow.”

To keep the Porsches relatively safe and secure, the owner had bricked the doorway of the foundation, “so the only way we were going to get them out was to rent a crane and lift them out,” McKeel says. “There was a lot of snow. It was like a blizzard out, and it was super cold. Unfortunately, the engine from my car was sitting in the corner in a long line of engines. The old man kind of walked over and said, ‘Hey, under this pile of snow is the engine to this car.’ I’ve often wondered what other engines were sitting there [since] he was supposedly a bit of a racer.”

McKeel says the deal was done for only $500, equal to about $1650 today, and over the next several years he spent another $1800 for parts—just the basics, mind you, nothing extravagant or performance enhancing. Of course, the experience itself was priceless.

“My dad was constantly working on all sorts of projects. If you wanted to spend time with Dad, you were in the garage and you were fixing cars,” McKeel says. “There are pictures of me [at] two years old holding a handful of nuts and bolts for him to put something back together. So from my earliest memory, spending time with Dad was spending time in the garage.

McKeel Hagerty's Porsche 911

“This car really became [the basis for] some of our closest bonding moments. It took years for us to put it back together… I will never forget the day when we first got it running,” McKeel says, pausing a moment to fight back tears. “We hugged each other. It was a really cool thing. You’ll never stand as tall as when an engine runs for the first time. It was just a special moment for us. We both cried. He was a softy… and I guess I am too.”

After spending nearly 40 years behind the wheel of his 911S, McKeel says the experience never gets old. It has, however, changed over the years.

“From the earliest part of my life, driving has always meant something close to freedom,” he says. “I really connected with this idea that I could operate this machine, and I could make it go where I wanted it to go, when I wanted it to go. And that was just a super powerful feeling that just became really wired into me.

“I think I’ve gone through phases of what driving means. Later in life… alone time in a car—especially this car—is a time for me to completely unplug.”

McKeel, 51, had the Porsche restored a second time several years ago, and among the changes was returning it to its original red after he and his father painted it black the first time around. McKeel describes the car as “slightly breathed on. When I had it professionally restored, I put bigger pistons in it, so it’s almost running at 2.8 [liters]. It’s so cool. Of all the cars I’ve driven, it feels like an extension of my body when I drive it. The responsiveness of the throttle in this car is absolutely remarkable. It’s just instant, instant response.”

McKeel Hagerty's Porsche 911

Although McKeel now has an extensive car collection, the Porsche is the only car he could never part with. It holds a special place in his heart—and in his automotive rituals.

“This is the first car that I take out in the spring—the first fun car I take out in the spring. And it gets the last drive in the fall,” he says. “I grew up in northern Michigan and still live here, and the roads I’ve been driving on are really special to me. [There are memories] around every corner. When I take this car out in the spring or I take my last drives in it in the fall, it’s these roads that I go to, because they just feel like home.

“It feels like the car is just settled in its place. And I’m certainly settled in my place when the two of us are out there.”

Next episodes

You may also like

Season 2 Archives | Hagerty Media

Share

As a kid growing up on the west side of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the 1980s and ’90s, Juan Ramirez could have easily gone down a destructive path. The gangs were dangerous, crime was rampant, and poverty held sway. Ramirez, however, lucked out in two important ways: He grew up in a two-parent household, and he developed a passion for cars at an early age. This automotive obsession may have frustrated Ramirez’s father in those days, but it likely saved the young man from the darker temptations of his surroundings.

“My dad hated our cars when we were growing up,” recalls Ramirez, who still calls Albuquerque home. “He was like, ‘All you do is spend money on cars.’ What he didn’t realize was that spending all our time and money on cars kept us out of the gangs, away from the drugs. It kept us at home or with other guys who were only into working on their cars.”

If it hadn’t been for the cars, Ramirez knows, he would have had a very different life.

Among the cars that captured the young Ramirez’s imagination was a neighbor’s black 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible. He loved the long, low lines of that car, its sleek silhouette—the sheer presence of the machine. Appearances, however, can be deceiving, and his neighbor’s car had a tendency to break down at the nearby stoplight every time he drove past Ramirez’s house. Ramirez soon came to look forward to running out and helping the young driver get his car running again. Anything for a moment with that car. The seed had taken root.

By 2001, Ramirez was in the Air Force and stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, still with 1963 Impalas on his mind. A late-night internet session led to a listing for one such car, offered for sale by a retired Air Force Master Sergeant in Florida. In pictures and via subsequent inquiries, the car seemed to check all the boxes. Ramirez wired the money and the car was waiting for him to return to the United States.

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible
1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

What Ramirez found when he returned will sound familiar to anyone who has ever bought a car sight-unseen online. The seller’s claims of it being “rust free” were, shall we say, exaggerated. Fake Super Sport badging adorned the body. The interior was an assortment of authentic parts, pieces from various salvage yard GMs, and whatever homemade pieces someone had seen fit to make over the years. When Ramirez pulled up the carpet, he found an entire stop sign welded into the floor of the Impala.

“After we took all the rust out that we could, I had half a car,” Ramirez says. “Talk about an overwhelming feeling. I just thought, ‘Holy smokes, what did I get into?’ It was pretty bad at the time.”

This is all hard to believe when looking at Ramirez’s Impala today. The car is immaculate, a testament to countless hours of work, Ramirez’s creativity in finding parts, and a family that strengthened its bond as they built the car together.

As he forged ahead with the car’s restoration, Ramirez elected to eschew the flashy design choices that often characterize the lowrider community. The car had a 307-cubic-inch engine when Ramirez bought it, and while he has swapped that out in favor of a 327, he nevertheless opted to keep the engine bay as original in appearance as possible. His goal: a clean, period-correct look distinguished by subtle touches that few other Impalas of the era feature, such as air conditioning and cruise control that both function as intended.

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

The car’s interior is similarly subdued, as is the exterior paint and body. Ramirez wanted a color that set the car apart from other Impalas of the day while still appearing as though it could have been a stock color of the time. He had spent more than a year searching, in vain, for such a color until one day while driving through Albuquerque he spotted a woman driving a brown sedan. He caught up with her at a stoplight.

“She thought I was out to get her,” Ramirez recalls with a laugh, “but all I wanted to know was what year her car was.”

As it turned out, the car was a 2015 Volkswagen Jetta and the color is Toffee Brown Metallic.

And then there’s the car’s stance. This is a lowrider, after all. Ramirez installed airbags and two compressors with a 2.5-gallon tank.

“It’s nothing special, nothing that I’m going to be able to hop,” Ramirez says, “but it’s just enough to lay and play.”

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible
1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible
1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

Perhaps the car’s most important feature, however, is the “Ramirez” plaque that sits above the rear seat and which is most visible when Ramirez cruises through Albuquerque on a warm spring evening with the convertible top down. The plaque speaks to the sense of tradition of the entire lowrider community but which is especially strong in this particular Impala. It is a testament to the time invested in the car by Ramirez, his brother, his wife, and his kids.

Indeed, when Ramirez is asked about the most rewarding aspect of building and owning this car, he points not to the awards it has won, the thumbs-up he gets from bystanders as he cruises past, nor the magazines in which it has appeared. Those are all fun, he concedes, but they pale in comparison to what really matters.

“My little boy is into this car,” Ramirez says. “He understands what it’s about.”

1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible

Next episodes

You may also like