Monday, February 11, 2019

Ten Years In, And Nearing The End

As some of you may have noted, when not on the water, I am kind of a gearhead. In that vein, it was ten years ago this spring that I answered a craigslist ad for a 1959 Impala, a car that had sat unloved, outside, in the Tri-cities area of Washington for 46 years.  In fact, in the intervening years, a tree had sprouted and grown up beside it, actually pushing in the chrome trim strip at the contact point.

As with all such cars, there was a story associated with the car.  It had been owned by the homeowner's son (he was the second owner), who joined the Navy in 1963.  This is not a sad story tho.  When the son was discharged in San Diego, he loved it so much that he made his home there.  And he never got around to moving the car south. 

After 46 years outside, behind the house

I paid more for the car than it sold for when new... but one must also consider inflation.  In 1959, gasoline sold for $0.29/gallon - now it is ten times that much.  In fact, by many other measures, the dollar has declined to 1/10 of its value in 1959.  So, I guess you could say that I got the car for about 1/10 of its price when new.

That tree was not there when the car  was parked...
This "barn find" (no actual barn...) was a true project:
  • All four tires were flat... and nearly 50 years old.  But the tow truck operator was able to get them to hold air long enough to get the car onto a trailer.
  • Despite the fact that it only rains a few days a year in the Tri-cities, the interior was heavily water-damaged.  But since I planned to change the color of the car to Roman Red/Snowcrest White (these were original factory colors available in 1959), this meant that the entire interior had to go anyway.  
  • The engine was seized.
  • It had the original cast iron Powerglide transmission.  For those of you not in the know, this beast is much heavier than the engine, and is only a two speed automatic.  I replaced it with a TH-350 (the only non-stock change I made to the car).
  • The gas tank was rusted thru... on the top!  The fuel level sender was nothing but rust, and in addition the gas gauge on the dash was inoperative.
  • The radiator was full of dirt.  And it leaked.
  • The wiring in the car had been hacked up pretty badly
  • The speedometer needed to be rebuilt.
  • Somebody had backed the car into a post, denting the rear bumper and the nearby body.
  • Part of the power steering gear had been 'salvaged' during those 46 years - notably the pump and the hoses.  This car is old enough that the power steering pump mounts to the back of the generator (not alternator...) instead of being belt-driven - finding another one of these was not easy.
  • The paint was shot - but not a problem since I intended to change the color of the car anyway.
  • I mentioned above that rain storms in the Tri-cities are rare, but...  But dust storms are common.  Every single cavity in the body and interior that could hold even a teaspoon of dust was packed full.  Close a door, and dust would fall out of the body onto the ground...  And after towing to the rainy side of the state, an entire garden of plants sprouted and grew up out of the grill in front of the windshield after the first rain!  Just cleaning out the dust was a major ordeal.
There's more.  I could give you a detailed, blow-by-blow of the problems that needed to be solved, items that needed to be trouble-shot, and things that needed to be rebuilt, but I won't.  There were three major things that sold me on the car:
  • Everything was there (well except for the power steering pump).  I would not be going on repeated eBay hunts for expensive little pieces of chrome, etc.
  • All four doors worked well with no slop - they closed like the car was new.
  • There was essentially no body rust

Engine compartment, before and after
Tho the car had only 77,000 original miles on it, the 50 years of neglect had taken its toll.  The engine was seized because coolant had slowly leaked into the #7 cylinder, and eventually filled up the space with corrosion products - it was packed solid.  I pulled the engine and tranny as a unit (not gonna keep that Powerglide...) and tore it down.  It took most of an afternoon to beat the piston out of the #7 cylinder bore...

#7 Piston.  Yeah, I did knock the top out of it beating it out...
Oooo... shiny...

My machine shop was able to salvage the block by installing a sleeve in the #7 bore.  The engine purrs like a kitten now.

Painting the car was also quite the ordeal.  Because I was changing the color, 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 even more masking.  I actually lost track of the number of times I masked - somewhere well beyond 16.

Dash, before and after

Interior, before

Interior, after
Here I must make a shout-out to Ciadella Interiors - they created, from scratch, the entire interior package (carpet, headliner, visors, door panels, seat foam, upholstery, kick panels, etc.) and it was superbly done.  Thank you Gina and company!

I should also add that I blanked off the original radio antenna location on the right front fender, and installed the slanted rear antennas mounted on the rear fenders.  See, this old codger we met at a car show years ago in Oregon while admiring another red/white 1959 Impala whispered to us that, "you have to have the rear antennas to get the chicks..."



Kevin McNeill said...

Either you love doing this or you're a masochist, I'm not sure which.

Did the antennas work??

Robert Salnick said...

Yup Kevin, the antennas work!

Rick said...

Spectacular restoration. What a beauty she is now. What a beast she was before!

Robert Salnick said...

Thanks Rick!

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