In the 1980s, I found an old childhood friend, down on his luck and ready for the end. I took it upon myself to help him get back on the road to a productive life. This friend, who I call "Old Faithful," is my 1967 four-door Chevrolet Impala hardtop ("Sport Sedan"). By sheer serendipity, this car happens to be a Supernatural Impala, which I did not know about back then, but which has com into play in its third restoration.
Old Faithful was originally Ermine White a black vinyl roof and all-black interior. My parents ordered it with a 283 engine, Powerglide, air conditioning, manual steering and brakes, and radio delete. This peculiar combination of standard and optional equipment must have raised some eyebrows at the factory!
I was two and a half years old the first time I was ever in Old Faithful. As a child, whenever I saw another '67 Impala, I would shout: "There's another car like daddy's!" As you can guess, this happened quite often in the late 1960s. During the 1970s, my usual travelling position was sitting on the transmission hump behind the front seat. This was comfortable and allowed me to hear my parents in front. Through the years, I would use the ends of matchsticks to apply touch up paint over scratches on Old Faithful's finish. And I learned how to drive in the car when I was sixteen.
Here's a good example of how intertwined Pala and I have always been: When I was five or so, the Impala's left rear tire went flat while the car was at home. My mother called my dad at the service station he was operating at the time, and he dispatched his part-time assistant, one Roy, to change the tire. Roy must not have known how to change a flat or read the instructions on the trunk lid. Rather than attaching the jack to the rear bumper, he placed it under the left rear passenger door. Lifting the car like this produced a large dent in the bottom of the door. Roy changed the tire and left, but I witnessed the incident. A few days later, while I was at the station, my father asked Roy if he knew how the door got dented. Roy replied that our neighbor must have backed his car into the Impala. But I came forward and explained what Roy had done. My father immediately fired Roy, despite his apologies and offers to fix the damage. While my dad may have forgiven Roy for the dent, he would not employ a man who had deliberately lied to him. By the way, I fixed that dent myself about twenty years later!
As a mechanic, my dad kept the car going through the years. But by late 1982, the Impala was in such sad shape that my parents decided to sell it. East Coast weather and road salt had done a number on the body and the engine was burning oil big time. Although I had wanted the car for myself, I was too busy as a college freshman to own a car needing so much work.
The last night my family had Old Faithful, I secretly took the owner's manual from the glove compartment. I knew the buyers would never look at it and at least I was able to keep a memento of the car. (I still have it.) I then left my Impala, expecting never to see it again.
Eventually, the family joke was that the Impala had probably been crushed into a two-foot by two-foot square. But in mid-1986, I was driving along, minding my own b.i. business, when I noticed a white 1967 Impala parked in a seedy used car lot. It was Old Faithful! The body was covered with dents and rust, moldings were missing, and the vinyl top was barely there. It looked tired, forlorn, and just plain beat.
I had recently finished college and, as a newly-commissioned Army Second Lieutenant, was soon to attend training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Besides this, the car was a wreck. "Should I actually buy and restore our old Impala?" I asked myself. "You bet" was the reply. And you can bet that the used car guy was glad to get rid of the heap. We arranged a price of $175.00, including towing to my dad's repair shop. I hadn't thought about the reception I would receive when my parents saw me with our old family car. They weren't happy, but that wasn't important. I had found my long lost Impala, and it was legally mine!
I started the restoration in 1990. It was a like fighting a war: two steps back for every step forward. For example, I had temporarily placed the engine in the backyard of my dad's garage. It was carted away for scrap metal, without my consent. Since the engine was in poor condition, this was not a terrible loss, but I would have liked the car to have had its original engine. So my father and I rebuilt the 283 engine from a parts car I bought. We also rebuilt the car’s original Powerglide.
Then I had the bright idea that sandblasting the car was the best way to remove the factory paint. I removed all moldings, windshield, rear window, taillights, and the entire interior. Then I learned why you should never sandblast a car. The sandblasting warped the metal, especially the hood, which I had to replace from the parts car. Plus, though I had rolled down the door windows, they got etched through the molding holes and had to be replaced! And there was blasted sand everywhere!
At least this brought to light the car's rusty areas--which were everywhere, including the bottom of each door. I fixed the rust and dents with patch panels and body filler (gallons). The car was painted and a vinyl top installed in 1996. Beside many moldings and emblems, the grill, air cleaner, master cylinder, steering wheel, glove box, window glass, and taillights were replaced. (The list actually goes on and on.) I added power steering, which made the car easier to drive. Along the way, there were countless big and small problems. But I persevered and fought the good fight.
Old Faithful was finally ready for the road in late 1994. It had been twelve years since I had driven it and eight years since it had been on the road at all. I began driving the Impala to work in town a few days a week. The car wound up being featured in Impala News, the magazine of the National Impala Association, in the late 1990s.
Yet though I won the war, the battle raged on, as I contended with six or seven flat tires, a broken windshield, a conked-out fuel pump, and two minor accidents in one week! And the rust, like the cancer it is, came back.
Then, in 2006, the car caught fire. The movable space heater thingie I installed as a rear window defroster cause an interior fire due my mistaken wiring. Everything made of plastic was destroyed as the carpet burned, and all metal pieces were etched and damaged due to the chemicals in the burning parts. This depressing episode caused me to restore the car again, as the doors and other parts had started to rust out again. In fact, I replaced all four doors, and the roof (which had rust holes under the vinyl). I had these parts shipped to me from Arizona, which itself cost a fortune.
That was the time that Supernatural craze began, as the show came on the air in 2005. I briefly toyed with the idea of painting the car black back then, but I thought that that would be selling out; I’d feel like a heel changing the exterior color from white to black and getting rid of the vinyl roof, which has something I had always liked about Old Faithful.
By 2014, the rust had returned yet again, so I decided to re-re-restore the car--but this time as a Supernatural Impala. The show, and the craze, had won me over. Plus, making a replicar seemed to vindicate my desire and efforts to keep this car going. I was ever-conscious that the car and I shared some sort of weird kismet ever since the 1960s. For this restoration, I had the get all four doors (again), as well as a new hood and trunk lid, again from Arizona. In addition, I have installed the correct Supernatural wheels and tires, and things like bumper guards and corner lights.
This Supernatural restoration is still underway, with the fuel tank’s replacement being the latest big project. But Old Faithful is drivable and is looking good and going strong. With now over 200,000 miles, the car is truly an enjoyable car to drive on the mean streets of Philadelphia.
Uh oh, is that some new rust starting to appear?