When Taylor Swift's "You Belong To Me" single topped out at number 2 on the Billboard charts a few years back, Don Vtipil and his friends probably heard that tune more than once when they were working on this 1959 Impala in his garage. The popularity of that song struck a chord with a lot of people, but it also rang true with these guys, as what they were looking for had been there virtually the whole time. Unlike some who have to conduct a national search to find a restorable 50-plus year old Chevy, Vtipil found this running project car almost next door.
"My father had owned a 1965 Impala, so we wanted to stay in that category when we started looking for a project," Vtipil said about the thought process that led to this beautiful two-tone monster. "My step-mother had owned a '59 Impala and it was her favorite car also, so when we found this one less than five miles from my house, we decided this was the one we wanted to put together.
"The owner at that time only brought the car out about once a year, but I caught a glimpse of it at a small show about five years ago," he continued. "I gave him my name and asked him to contact me if he was interested in selling it. Two years later he gave me a call and told me he was ready to let it go. I purchased the car knowing it had some work to be done on it, but it sported a very clean white paint job, was powered by a 327, and ran very well."
The '59 Impala was a significant departure from that first '58 model, which helped push Chevrolet to the top in sales ahead of Ford. Being longer, lower and wider than its immediate predecessor (or anything else from the Tri-Five era), the '59 model Impala was a head turner that brought with it a look of modern luxury. While the horizontally spread rear fins, cat's eye taillights and dual air inlets above the grille were considered to be radical styling in their day, people have warmed up to the look over time, especially when compared to the more conservatively styled 1960 model. With the top-of-the-line 348 cubic inch Super Turbo Thrust Special tri-power carb engine, the two-door Sport Coupe had options like a power seat and cruise control that fit in well with the premium interiors that came with these cars.
Of course, "good lovin' gone bad" is another theme that's heard in popular music—and that's what began to emerge when Vtipil (with friends Ed Howell and Roland Burton) got to know this Impala a little bit better. Ah, the joys of old project vehicles.
The discovery of a fist-sized hole in the trunk near the wheelwell showed there were some skeletons in the closet. The hole, which had been covered with fiberglass, bondo and duct tape, led to his discovery of new floor pans which had been welded in over the originals. That, along with the discovery of homemade quarterpanels constructed from flat sheetmetal, some hidden rear wing damage and other assorted issues, led Vtipil to realize there weren't going to be any quick fixes.
"I have to admit the car was straight as an arrow when I bought it, so they did a great job," Vtipil admitted, "but I decided the Impala would need a complete makeover. When we first started on the car I had anticipated about a year to finish it, but 30 long years later, it finally came together.
"My biggest issue during the build was finding the parts that weren't remanufactured," he continued. "I know of at least 25 different pieces that we had to dig out of junkyards and search on eBay for. The front fenders came from Seattle, and the driver's side rear wing is from an old wreck in Minnesota. The hunt for parts was almost as much fun as putting the car together."