Happy Birthday to Me: 1970 Chevrolet Impala Classic Car

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The 1970 Chevrolet Impala was not planned as a classic car Happy Birthday present for me. After all, my birthday is not due for a few weeks yet and the 1970 did not originally stand out as the favorite year for either one of us. My favorite car of all time was the 1956 Chevy Bel Air while Pam’s preference wasn’t even a Chevy at all but rather a 1967 Pontiac Firebird.

However, ’56 Chevrolets have become ridiculously expensive (especially to someone who once traded a four door hardtop Bel Air in for sixty-five bucks), a Firebird was never my cup of tea, and–well, Craigslist had other ideas. After “almost” being scammed in the purchase of a Chevelle Malibu that didn’t even exist, I’d learned at least one lesson: I needed to make sure I got Pam’s input the next time. Western Montana Craigslist offerings included several cars of interest, an example being a stunning 1954 Buick, but the 1970 Chevy Impala for sale in Kalispell seemed like the clear winner. The seller didn’t want to sell it, in fact “hated” to do so, but made it clear in his ads (he’d placed one in both the Kalispell and Spokane listings) that he really didn’t have a choice. My hunch was that he’d either become terminally ill or was going through a nasty divorce…pretty close to the same thing, really, when you think about it.

After browsing all of the area listings one night and making mental notes, I showed the best half dozen offerings to my wife the following morning. The Impala was the last one shown, not so much by design as due to the simple fact that it was on the final page of listings. Pam took one look, listened to me read the text of the ad, and said, “That’s the one!”

Two heads are not always better than one; to this day I remember clearly how taking my first wife’s advice in negotiating a contract with a potential employer cost me the entire deal. But with Pam? About cars? When she grew up in a family familiar with Impalas because her stepmother, who worked for a major dealership, got a new demo Chevy Impala to drive every three years? Yeah, requesting her input on this one was both essential and advantageous.

Besides, Pam and I once owned a 1968 Impala and regret losing it to this day.

Okay, so that ’68 was a four door sedan, plain Jane, worn to the bone and traded in on a nearly new Subaru Outback that would actually run reliably in 2001, but still.

The pricing of the two vehicles proved to be interesting. We paid $2,500 for the ’68 in the year 2000, buying it off a used car lot under Rent To Own terms. The 1970 we were considering in 2017 listed at $8,500…which, if it was an honest ad (which it turned out to be) was a real steal in today’s market. Every carbureted car in the country seems to have skyrocketed in price during the last decade; pretty much any old bucket of rust is a treasure these days. Go figure.

And this beauty was no bucket of rust. Oh, it’s got rust, sure, but no more than a small-finger-sized patch at the bottom rear corner of each front fender. Other than that, the Impala’s body is remarkably straight.

The seller was truly depressed, though. It took me a series of emails back and forth just to coax his first name, address, and phone number out of him so I could even find the machine. Did I mention he seemed depressed? Frankly, and this is no exaggeration, I believe that if I’d not been able to reference “almost” getting scammed mere days before contacting him, he’d never have let me near enough to close the deal. Once I got there, he was absolutely awesome, we connected extremely well, and he’d even grown up in the town where I first went to auto mechanics college right out of high school. He’d have been a little kid when I was there, but we were definitely there at the same time.

Knowing this deal had to be cut cleanly, firmly, and swiftly or not at all, I’d taken our GMC pickup truck and a bag full of cash–which required two trips to our local bank, stripping them down to banded batches of $20 bills for the final portion of the necessary $8500. It was perhaps money we shouldn’t have spent just yet, but this car will become my daily driver and it felt like the need for speed, strike while the iron is hot, make hay while the sun shines, pedal to the metal, and all that. I pulled out of Deer Lodge at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, returning at around 11:20 p.m. with the Impala perched on a U-Haul auto transport trailer.

I use the term “perched” advisedly; look how far over the back end of the trailer that trunk extends.

The 1970 Chevy Impala, waiting to be unloaded in front of our home.

Towing the Impala home 200 miles from Kalispell, I stopped twice…and both times, guys made a point of complimenting the car. At the Courthouse in Deer Lodge, the lady who handles title transfers insisted that I bring in a photo of the car for her to see. At our local building supply store, my favorite gal-behind-the-counter made me promise to bring the actual car, fooey on the photo.

With that kind of positive reinforcement, Teal (yes, the ’70 Chevy already has a name) is growing on me fast. Which is okay, because I’ve never had a negative thought about Chevrolets in my entire life. Nor is my attitude based on a lack of experience. I started thinking about all of the vehicles I’ve either owned or driven for employers over the many years since I got my first driver’s license at age fifteen and the list was…extensive:

Chevrolet…………. 10
Cadillac………….. 1
Pontiac…………… 2
Dodge…………….. 1
Plymouth………….. 1
Ford……………… 5
Mercury…………… 1
AMC………………. 1
Honda…………….. 1
Mazda…………….. 2
Subaru……………. 2
Volkswagen………… 1

Chevrolet…………. 5
GMC………………. 4
Ford……………… 1
International……… 1

Kawasaki………….. 1
Suzuki……………. 2
Honda…………….. 1
Harley Davidson……. 2
Yamaha……………. 1

International……… 21
Peterbilt…………. 17
Freightliner………. 1
Volvo…………….. 2
Kenworth………….. 1

Okay, so there’s not enough room in the driveway for an extra eighteen wheeler, motorcycles don’t make much sense during a Montana winter, and we already have a “keeper” pickup truck, the 1996 GMC Sierra half ton with one ton springs and nearly a quarter million miles on the odometer. That means a car has to win by the simple process of elimination, right? And there has to be a reason the only brand of automobile in the above list is the Chevrolet, eh?

But I didn’t expect the treasure under the hood. Yes, it was clearly a 350 cubic inch engine as indicated by the number on the fender.

But I didn’t expect much more than that. Oh, sure, the seller did tell me it had a four barrel carburetor and dual exhaust glass pack mufflers (our favorite), but I didn’t bother to do more than glance at the engine until it was paid for, towed, and sitting in our driveway. Then came the surprise.

It’s not a stock engine. It’s an Edelbrock.

Most readers of this post don’t need to know any more than that; the Edelbrock name says it all. But for the rare neophyte, here’s the deal: Edelbrock is a high end aftermarket manufacturer of auto parts or even complete engines. There are few if any better on the planet. An Edelbrock intake manifold will help any small block Chevy engine breathe more easily and more efficiently. And this isn’t just an Edelbrock manifold. The carburetor, valve covers, and intake manifold are all stamped with the Edelbrock name.

You know the old Christmas horror story of waking up as a child to find nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking? For a vintage car enthusiast, this is like waking up on Christmas morning to find a big old lump of gold.

For my birthday. After all, once she’d seen the Impala delivered safe and sound to her front doorstep, Pam immediately said, “Happy Birthday, honey!”

Wow. Yeah. Okay. So I finally splurged on me for once. How about that?

Under the hood.


But wait, there’s more.

A full set of new coil springs and new shock absorbers sit patiently in the ginormous trunk, still in the boxes, waiting to be installed. There’s a small dent in the rear bumper, artfully disguised by the creative application of a red-white-and-blue eagle decal that keeps most observers from noticing the dent at all. The Impala even has rally wheels the previous owner got from a 1964 Super Sport.

Rally wheels from a 1964 Super Sport. The red is a reflection from the shirt I was wearing when I took the photo.

The interior is equally surprising. The front seat is original material–possibly lifted from a wrecked car considering the age of the vehicle–and doesn’t show any wear or stain whatsoever. The back seat has been redone in cloth we like far better than that original slick vinyl and has been color matched perfectly.

Front seat, original material.

Back seat, redone in cloth.

How many miles does this car have on it? The odometer doesn’t show many, but only the Shadow knows how many times that has rolled over.

The mystery mile meter.

Someone obviously changed out the steering wheel. It looks right and feels fine so far; once the Impala is up and ready to put on some serious road miles, we’ll see how it performs over distance.

Aftermarket steering wheel.

Placement of the gas tank filler cap in these Chevrolets is brilliant. You simply pull down the hinged rear license plate to expose the cap and there it is, right dead center, allowing the driver to fill up with equal ease from either side of a fuel island. Why this did not become an industry standard followed by one and all to this day, we will never know. It should have happened; how often have you had to wait in line at a gas station because the only open pump was on the wrong side of your car?

Gas cap, behind the rear license plate holder, dead center in the vehicle, allowing fueling from either side with equal ease. Brilliant!

Taillight design is cool.

Cool taillight design.

Why did the industry ever move away from having dual headlights on each side? Oh sure, economy and all that, but having four headlights up front is definitely safer than having just two when one headlight suddenly burns out in the middle of a long dark road. (Hint: The less courteous drivers today simply buy vehicles with fog lights and make sure to blind oncoming drivers with them, so yeah, they’ve still got four lights up front. And attitude.)

Dual headlights.

All in all, this 1970 Chevy Impala does look good going…

Looking good going (never mind the garage in the way).

…and coming.

Looking good coming your way. (Car wash droplets donated by Mother Nature.)

Happy Birthday to Me!

Impala logo, door interior.

Body by Fisher.