: Nine years with my beautiful Betty
02-17-08, 08:53 PM
Apologies in advance for what will likely be a long-winded post.
Tuesday marks nine years since I bought Betty, my '64 Impala Sport Sedan. For those who don't know the story, my parents bought a '64 Impala four-door sedan in December, 1966 when I was six months old. It was meadow green with a white top, 283 V-8, Powerglide, power steering and brakes and factory air.
It's what started my lifelong love affair with cars, and it's the car I learned to drive in. I tried to buy it from my Dad when he put it up for sale in April, 1984, but he didn't want to be stuck working on it, and sold it for $500. I always vowed I'd have another one, and periodically, I'd scan the classifieds, and even looked at a few. But most needed a ton of work or were priced higher than I could afford.
Fast-forward 15 years. My sister in California has been looking for a first-generation Firebird, finds this ad and calls me:
After talking to the owner over the phone a couple of times, I buy a one-way ticket from Phoenix to LAX. My sister picks me up from the shuttle bus in Santa Barbara, and that evening, she and my brother-in-law and I go look at the car.
It looks rougher than I had hoped. Lots of Bondo and surface rust. But it's complete and there are no dents. All the chrome is intact and in decent shape, the interior is in remarkably good condition for its age, with only the only tears on the the driver's seat. And the car has factory air, something that was a must living in Phoenix. It didn't have to work (and it didn't); it just had to be there.
So I start her up, and the sound is exactly as I remember. Take her for a test drive, and the experience is just as I remember. The car may look a bit rough, but it runs beautifully. I'm sold within a mile.
After doing the cashier's check at the bank and signing over the title, I ask the owner (a young guy in his 20s who's happy the car is going to someone who will respect it and not turn it into a lowrider) if the car has a name. He says her name is Betty. I like it, so I decide to keep it. Here she is the next morning:
I drive her 550 miles back to Phoenix with only my cell phone and a brand new AAA membership. The only problem I had was a weak starter solenoid. It's under the right exhaust manifold, so it's exposed to a lot of heat. If I stop the car for a short time, like getting something to eat, the solenoid would soak up all that heat, and then I couldn't get the car to start. But I had jumper cables that my brother-in-law gave me, so with a jump start, I was back on the road.
Nine years ago, she had 113,000 miles. Now she has 178,000. I have driven and enjoyed her and will continue to.
02-17-08, 09:17 PM
Usually, I like to drive Betty on her birthday (the build sheet was in the glovebox, so I know she was build November 4, 1963) and on the anniversary of buying her. Silly? Yes, but I don't care. I'm crazy enough to have had a birthday cake made when she turned 40, and my friends at work came out to the parking lot to sing Happy Birthday.
Anyway, the weather was beautiful this weekend, and Betty hadn't been out of the garage in a month, so I drove her on some errands this weekend, including two trips with Hoover to the off-leash dog park. And I'll drive her to work tomorrow. It's supposed to start raining again on Tuesday, and I'd like to keep her clean.
I've driven a number of older cars as an inspector for a buyers service, and what makes me appreciate my car all the more is what a pleasure she is to drive. A lot of old cars are beautiful to look at, but a chore to actually drive. Not Betty. She's no muscle car, but I have zero complaints about her 327 V-8. Smooth, lots of torque and a sweet burble coming out of her dual exhausts.
A four-speed automatic with overdrive would be nice for better gas mileage (a friend put one in his 64 SS, and how he gets 18 MPG on the highway), but that Powerglide is indestructible. When I rebuilt the engine in 2000, I had the transmission overhauled as well. All they had to do was clean it up a bit and change the filters and seals.
I've made some modifications to improve the handling, but nothing major. Wider tires, premium KYB shocks and most important, a rear stabilizer bar. That last modification took care of the body lean. I took her around a freeway cloverleaf onramp, as well as on my favorite roller coaster road today, and I'm amazed at how flat and neutral she corners. Nothing like a sports car, of course, but way better than you'd expect from an big, old, softly sprung car. And the ride is just as Chevrolet advertised in the early 60s, Jet Smooth.
For most older cars, the brakes are the weakest part. Betty still has drums on all four wheels with power assist, and for regular driving, they're fine. Even going down the steep part of my favorite winding road, they still slow her down, and she's done OK when I've had to make a panic stop. Maybe having aluminum drums in place of cast iron in the front keeps them from heating up so bad. Were the brakes inadequate or I drove her a lot more, I'd consider retrofitting discs up front, but right now, I don't need to.
About my only real complaint is the lousy gas mileage. I'm only getting 10-12 MPG, and at today's gas prices, filling her up is an expensive proposition. She may be running a bit rich because I've had to adjust the automatic choke so she'll start and run without stalling in the cold weather. Still, there are plenty of modern trucks and SUVs that don't do any better. And in a Motor Trend road test from 1964, they only averaged 11.7 MPG.
From a car show last fall:
My point for this long thread (yes, there really is one)? If there's a car from your past that you wish you still had or there's a classic car you've always wanted, if you can afford it, I highly recommend buying one. It's certainly not a cheap hobby, and I've spent a lot of money fixing Betty up, with more work still to do. But I don't regret it one little bit. Driving her still puts a smile on my face and having her gave me back an important part of my past. Driving her around this weekend reinforced that.
02-17-08, 10:33 PM
My love for Cadillacs pales in contrast to your love of the Impalas. It's truly something to admire Gary.
Best of luck with you and your '64. To another 178k miles!
Oh and I lol'd at the thought of all my coworkers getting together to sing my car happy birthday! Only you could pull that off!
Nice. Brings back memories. I'd love to have my '69 Road Runner back.
02-17-08, 11:50 PM
Thanks to both of you. Had that '59 Ford my Dad had when I was born not been such a lemon, I could have turned into a big Ford fan. Except for a '62 Falcon he drove in the early 80s, he's pretty much been a Chevy man for 40+ years.
Even among classic cars, Betty is not extraordinary (except to me). Chevy sold so many Impalas in the 60s that they're still reasonably plentiful 40 years later. But that does speak well of how solidly they were built. And judging from contemporary road tests, Chevrolet had the best overall full-size car on the market at the time.
02-17-08, 11:52 PM
I used to have 64 impala S.S., I wish I still had it,I'm always looking for one,but this model is in high demand, and for ones that are in decent shape are very expensive.
02-17-08, 11:57 PM
I used to have 64 impala S.S., I wish I still had it,I'm always looking for one,but this model is in high demand, and for ones that are in decent shape are very expensive.Very true. For some reason, the '64 always seems to be in greater demand than other years.
very nice story very much enjoyed.. i plan on buying my dream car a 1955 el do... one day when i get some money i will get one.
02-18-08, 12:15 AM
Where's the hydraulics??
02-18-08, 12:16 AM
Thats awesome! Good to see one still original looking and clean :)
02-18-08, 12:17 AM
And judging from contemporary road tests, Chevrolet had the best overall full-size car on the market at the time.
Yeah, when was the last time you saw a '64 Dodge in decent shape?!
02-18-08, 12:30 AM
Where's the hydraulics??My standard answer to that is they'll be installed around the 12th of never.
Betty will remain as God and General Motors intended.
02-18-08, 12:31 AM
very nice story very much enjoyed.. i plan on buying my dream car a 1955 el do... one day when i get some money i will get one.Thanks. It took 15 years of off and on looking, but when the time is right, it will happen.
ya thats the way it should be i hate when people do that silly shit with hydraulics and stuff drive it like it suppose to be. great cars shouldnt have to be changed
02-18-08, 12:35 AM
I should add to the story.
Remember, my Dad sold the '64 Impala I grew up with for $500. I bought Betty for $3,000 in 1999. On the way back to my sister's house, I called up my Dad, who knew I was going to look at this car. I told him he owed me $2,500. He thought that was pretty funny.
But you know what? A couple weeks later, he sent me a check for $500 for some of Betty's immediate needs, like new tires. He also sent his shop manual for the car, one he had kept in his closet all those years.
Some of you guys got to meet my Dad in Des Moines last spring, but he is an incredible person that I absolutely adore. I know he's happy that I have Betty, and he enjoys riding in her (or driving her) when he comes to visit.
02-18-08, 12:37 AM
It's cool he kept the shop manual through all those years.
02-18-08, 12:39 AM
It's cool he kept the shop manual through all those years.Yeah, he must have believed me when I said I'd own another '64 Impala someday.
02-18-08, 01:55 AM
Man. That puts things in perspective... I haven't been DRIVING for 9 years!
02-18-08, 07:24 AM
Nice story and nice car. I love the old Impala's. Pretty much any Impala but especially the '65-'70 models and the ragtops. The convertible versions are very expensive nowadays.
02-18-08, 01:42 PM
NARF! I was kidding about the hydraulics, Snoop...
02-18-08, 03:30 PM
Nice story and nice car. I love the old Impala's. Pretty much any Impala but especially the '65-'70 models and the ragtops. The convertible versions are very expensive nowadays.Thanks. I like to peruse eBay motors, and I'm always amazed at the prices 60s-era Impalas can command; usually higher than a similar-year Cadillac in comparable condition.
It helps that parts are readily available for my car. I can still get a lot of mechanical parts at NAPA and most of the trim pieces I've replaced or still need to replace are available from restoration parts places (I have multiple catalogs at home). Had I grown up with a Buick LeSabre or Olds 88, it would be much more difficult and expensive to restore.
Average retail price for Betty is ~ $12K; high retail is over $20K. Factory air adds 10% to her value; the 327 adds 20%. Odd, since only about 10-20% of these cars had factory air. The 327 option was much more common.
02-18-08, 03:42 PM
Great car. Great dog. You're a lucky guy, Gary. :yup:
02-18-08, 03:50 PM
That's a great story, sentimental value means so much, and even better when it's tied to something as cool as a gorgeous piece of American iron like Betty.
I suppose my "I'll own another one, someday" story is tied to a certain white /w black cloth '77 Caprice Classic Coupe that my grandmother bought new, before I was born (God that makes me sound young, lol). After she passed, my Father inherited it when I was about one. He drove it every day, and it never left him stranded once, it even started in -35 degree Michigan weather. I loved that car, it was one of the things that originally got me into older fullsize GMs. And I remember waiting for him to come home after work in it. He also showed me how to change a tire, the oil, and a few other things on that car. We had it until I was about seven, then he traded it for a '94 Cavalier (barf) to save gas. The Caprice still ran like new when he traded it. I remember crying on the way to the dealer (hey, I was seven), and I vowed that someday I'd have my own. Even through all the Cadillacs, there was something special about that old Chevrolet.
Keep up the great work, and here's to the hope that everybody finds their own, personal 'Betty' ;)