The dream that came back to haunt me
FOR SALE: 1958 Chevrolet Impala Convertible. 348-cu. in., 3-2 barrel carbs, custom interior, floor shift, lowered body, racing rear-end, 20 coats hand-polished paint, de-chromed and customized exterior.
There was a time when the above want ad described my ultimate dream. Too bad that my dream came true.
For a few years, shortly after receiving my driver’s license, automobiles dominated my life. I ate, slept and dreamed cars.
I found nothing cold and impersonal about a car. Everything from the mass of wiring used to send signals, lights and music around it body to the tires on which it rode meant something special to me.
It’s hard to imagine how attached a teenager can become to an automobile. They say a dog is man’s best friend, but to a teenager it has to be his or her wheels.
I’ll never forget buying the car of my dreams from Bob Ryan’s used car lot in Madrid. I had already owned a few cars but none of them really counted after I found this one.
It was something else. I wouldn’t need to put fender skirts, dual exhausts and paint the rims red to make it stand out from the crowd.
The car was everything a guy my age could ever want: long graceful lines, a lot of chrome, a stately stance, fancy cross-flags (designating the fact this was an Impala) and a big V under the front and back Chevy emblems stating that under the hood beat the pulse of a mighty V8.
The interior was nothing to sneer at either. Multicolored stripes inserted in the vinyl leather-looking seats and black pile-length rugs covering the floor.
The transmission was an automatic teamed up with a wedge-fire 348-cubic inch V8 fed by a huge 4-barrel carburetor giving it plenty of zip.
I can never forget looking out the window of our home and not quite believing it belonged to me.
Things would soon change.
A few days later I decided it stood a little too high in the front and lowering it might improve the appearance even more.
I had a round of spring cut out of the front coil suspension. I could hardly tell the difference. I brought it back and had another round cut out. Did that make a difference! It looked like a cat ready to spring!
To better improve the performance I decided to install a different engine (completely balanced, and containing such goodies as domed pistons, racing cam and three carbs). I attached a stick (standard transmission) and put the shifter on the floor.
By this time it was like eating peanuts – once I started, I couldn’t quit.
I had the car painted black instead of white (to look the way I desired 20 coats were needed). I removed all the chrome and had electric door openers installed. I completely reupholstered the interior with red and white pleated and rolled leather.
The finished produce was something spectacular. People would stare at the car as if it was a spaceship. For several months I was a proud young man. Then things started to change.
All the engine modifications meant it constantly needed a tuneup. The lifters needed adjusting and it would carbon-up after one cruise down Ames’ main drag.
It didn’t take long for me to tire from having my head under the hood half the time. I also became frustrated with bouncing around instead of gliding down the road.
A short time later is when I ran the ad at the top of this column.