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You Won’t Believe What’s Under the Hood of This 1959 Chevy Impala

Worth the Wait: This 15-Year Build Is Packed Full of Rare Parts and High End Details

Tommy Lee Byrd Dec 28, 2015
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Time—it’s the thing that we’re constantly battling against. You should consider yourself lucky if you have time to sit down and read this article, but this 1959 Chevy Impala is the type of car that makes time stand still. So, take a moment and soak it in. This car is the product of 15 years of evenings, weekends and spare time for Geary Trussell of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The amount of hours invested into this build is astronomical (just ask Geary’s wife, Suzanne), but the finished product is well beyond Geary’s original plan of simply repainting a nice, original Impala.

It started with a 78,000-mile survivor that Geary bought from a local car lot in 1996. He is the second owner of the car, and confirmed that the car’s drive train was all original equipment, including a 348ci W-engine. Geary didn’t start the restoration process until 2000, but he had a clear direction as soon as he started learning of the rare options available in the 1959 Impala product line. Items such as “Level Air”, an original air suspension system, as well as factory fuel injection (only available on the 283ci small-block) started making the gears in his head turn.

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It’s a shame that the highly detailed chassis isn’t easily visible, as it’s a work of art in itself. And, while he wanted to retain some of the car’s originality, he didn’t have any hesitation with modifying the chassis and suspension. It was time for an update and Geary said it best when he told us, “These big cars need to sit low, but not too low.” For a practical suspension setup, he installed a RideTech air suspension system. He used RideTech Shockwaves up front, and accompanied them with RideTech tubular control arms. Standard air bags with Monroe shocks ride out back, while a Global West third control arm keeps the rear end housing stable. Hotchkis sway bars are in place on both ends of this heavy Chevy.

Braking consists of Wilwood discs, with 13-inch rotors, and polished Wilwood Dynalite four-piston calipers. The Impala rolls on a set of Coys gunmetal five-spoke wheels, measuring 18x8-inches and 20x10 inches. Yokohama rubber meets the road, with 255/45R18 sizing up front and 275/40R20 out back.

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Under the hood is a beautiful W-engine that has been treated to a rebuild by Geary’s son, Bryan. While Bryan gave the 348 new life with modern internals, his father tirelessly polished the outside of the block and cylinder heads until all of the casting marks and imperfections were gone. In addition to the new internal bits, which include a set of .030-inch oversized Ross pistons and a Comp Cams hydraulic camshaft and valve train, the classic Chevy engine features a beautifully crafted Ramjet style fuel injection manifold. Geary designed the system to replicate the original Rochester style fuel injection used in 1959, and he even utilized an original air cleaner from a 1959 fuelie. Terry Reavis handled the fabrication of the one-off Ramjet manifold. Holley EFI controls the Rock Valley in-tank fuel pump, while spark comes from a modified MSD distributor.

Aesthetically, the engine has a lot to offer. Up front is a Billet Specialties Tru Trac belt system, which operates the engine accessories, including a polished compressor that powers the Vintage Air system. The W-engine is cooled by an Auto Rad aluminum radiator, which is outfitted with a shrouded electric fan and aluminum plumbing. For Geary, the icing on the cake is the extremely rare Mercruiser cast aluminum valve covers. He searched for 10 years to find a usable pair of these valve covers, and then modified them to fit the smooth, clean styling of the car.

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The early big block breathes through a set of Sanderson headers, which lead to a custom 2-1/2-inch exhaust, complete with Stainless Specialties mufflers. Behind the 348 is a T-10 four-speed manual transmission, and if you keep moving rearward, you’ll find the original rear end housing with stock internals and 3.36:1 gears.

By now, you’re probably wondering what Geary may have done to the body, since he spent so much time perfecting the chassis, suspension, engine and drive train. The truth of the matter is that the body is mostly stock, aside from a third brake light, built from the original piece of decorative trim that rides just above the back glass. Paul Herman at The Body and Soul Shop in Gallatin, Tennessee straightened the original body panels and prepped them for paint. Paul used Axalta materials, and Geary chose a 2009 Jaguar Platinum hue for his curvy Impala. Paul lost count of how many hours it took to sand, buff and polish the fresh finish on this full size car, but his efforts are plain to see in the perfect reflections and laser straight panels. Then, it was time for details, as Geary obsessed over finding original “Fuel Injection” and “Level Air” emblems. All of the car’s chrome plating was handled by Advanced Plating in Nashville, while stainless steel trim was restored by Jeff Smith Metal Polishing in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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Inside, you’ll find more of the same great detail, but a quick glance may lead you to believe that the interior is simply restored to its stock configuration. The Ciadella original seat covers are in place, but the vinyl portions of the upholstery have been replaced with high-grade leather. The dash features matching leather, all stitched by Bennett’s Upholstery in Hendersonville, Tennessee. The original air conditioning vents have been adapted to work with the Vintage Air system, while the original ashtray offers a nice hiding place for the Ridetech air suspension controls. The dash also houses Classic Instruments gauges and Retro Sound radio.

As you can tell, Geary’s car may look simple at first, but the ongoing details and originality of the car provide a long list of rare options and high-end touches. The restoration process was longer than intended, but the finished product is nothing short of stunning, thanks to the workmanship of several local shops and businesses, as well as help from Bryan Trussell, Wilson Loftis and Jason Loftis on various stages of the build. It was an exhausting build, in terms of time, money and work, but it was worth the 15-year wait to get this 1959 Impala back on the road.

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