By on September 25, 2014

 

Courtesy of Bill Grow

Courtesy of Bill Grow

This could be the 2nd coolest Chevrolet Impala ever featured on TTAC. We all know Murlee Martin’s Impala from Hell is the first. There just one problem with that; this car is not really a Chevrolet Impala. What you are looking at is a 1967 GMC (General Motors Continental) Impala. In fact, prior to March of this year, this particular Impala had never once turned a wheel on US soil.

This Impala was born in Canada as a complete knockdown vehicle, also known as a CKD. From our friends in the frozen north, it was transported in pieces to the GM plant in Antwerp, Belgium where it was assembled in December of 1967.

Courtesy of Bill Grow

Courtesy of Bill Grow

 

GMs history with Europe dates back to 1923 when the first assembly factory was established in Copenhagen. Their second plant was in Antwerp, initially in an Abby then moving to a cycle stadium to meet demand. After WWII, this plant would assemble just over 78,000 “Chevrolets.” In 1967, they assembled just under 1,500 Impalas, Novas and even Camaros. These were sold in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.

Courtesy of Bill Grow

Courtesy of Bill Grow

This particular Impala started life Lemon Yellow and after its birth, its exact course through time is unknown. In 1995 Gabor Varga, a Hungarian Pilot purchased it. Gabor did all of his own work on the Impala and kept it all original, aside from a new paintjob. As the current owner points out “The continent she was on changed more than she did over the last 50 years.”

 

Courtesy of Bill Grow

Courtesy of Bill Grow

The current owner, Bill Grow purchased the car from Gabor in 2013. A military contractor, he was living in Hungary at the time;

 “I was driving a 1987 Lada 2103 in Hungary and for the first time in our lives, we were making enough money that my wife and I were “living the good life” which means my automotive ADD was in full swing. 
 In town, at a local car dealership was a black Mazda RX-8.  I hounded my wife for weeks on end until she finally gave in.  She was going to visit her grandmother in Buffalo, New York for her 80th birthday (her grandmother’s birthday, not my wife’s) and her exact quote was “Bill, if you’re going to go spend our money on a stupid boy car, you’d better do it now BEFORE we start having kids” (she was not yet pregnant with our first, but he wasn’t far off).
 The RX-8 ended up selling exactly 30-minutes before I could get to the dealership.  Having nothing else on the lot, or in town, of any interest I started searching the Hungarian Auto Trader (hasznaltauto.hu) and just kind of went down the list:
– Porsche
– Jaguar
– RX-7
– BMW
– …
– …
– Chevrolet
 
Chevrolet?  Well heck, I never thought about that!  Man, I used to cut out the featured vehicles out of my Super Chevy magazines when I was a kid, glue them to cardboard, and hang them on my wall like posters.  How cool would it be to buy on here?”

 

A search for the previously mentioned Camaros and Novas turned up nothing. There was a single Chevelle with body damage, then a single listing for an Impala. He made contact with Gabor, despite speaking very little Hungarian and Gabor speaking no English, they managed to communicate just fine. As Bill said “You learn quickly that when it comes to cars you really don’t need to say anything.  We did the usual pointing and grunting, tire kicking, toe digging and test-driving that usually goes on when buying a new car.”

Bill continues “So I loved the car right away.  Forget the fact that it took up a Hungarian lane and a half, forget the fact that you couldn’t park it ANYWHERE, forget the fact that gas was $8 a gallon out there ($2 a liter), and forget the fact that I had no idea how I was going to get a car seat (for all our future children) into a car with no seatbelts, I was absolutely smitten with this old Impala!”

Paying in cash required several trips to the ATM and a phone call to the bank to up the daily limit. Then came the operations and ownership briefing. For this Bill had a translator;

 He was going over the fine points of Impala ownership with me. Things like:
– No power steering
– Don’t downshift up hills; it has a powerful engine (a 250 inline six is HUGE in Hungary where the average “large” displacement engine is 2-liters)
– etc etc etc.
He began telling me things I already knew, but I let him talk anyways.  He figured since I was “young” I wouldn’t know things like
– Pump the gas before you turn the key
– Expect a small hesitation with large throttle inputs
It was mid-sentence:  “When the vehicle has sat for a long period of time…’”he started “… Uh, how often do you plan on driving it?’
“Every day.” I replied.
He jumped out of the drivers seat (with me still in the door way) and I swear it was all he could do to keep from hugging me.  He passed the keys to my right hand by means of the heartiest handshake I’ve ever been handed.  I swear he was jumping up and down as he did it.  The guy was just so happy, and I was too.  I know what it’s like letting go of your “baby” and I was now reasonably sure he was happy with his choice of buyers.

Then, the Impala’s new adventures began. There was a trip to Italy with Grandparents, mother and mother in-law; 6 people side by side with their entire luggage. They were cheered by motorcyclists and swarmed by friendly but curious police. The first trip onto the Air Base resulted in a delay for an “inspection.” This apparently required the attention of every guard on base, in addition to officers and any passerby who happened to come through;

 “How big of an engine?”
“Its a 4-point-two liter” (“roar” of surprise)
“How fast does it go?”
“I don’t know, it’s hard to get it up to speed on these roads” (roar of approval)
 
DSC_0111_zpse0e1c0b3

So why is this Impala so cool? Well in addition to an old school bar speedometer that read in KPH, I’ll let Bill explain;

 Because she survived.  There are so many so called “better” vehicles that have been wrecked, rusted out, raced out, abused, molested to death, or just “lost to time” and this “little engine that could” survived.  For some reason THIS car survived being “last years model”, it got past just being “old”, she neighbored the Yugoslav wars, made it through a gas crisis (or two!), recessions, the ’80s, low-riders, hip-hop, Daytons, hydraulics, sub-woofers, and the Pro-Stock/Pro-Street trends.  THIS car.  Not some SS model or a “Four-oh-nine”, not some car with “all the options”, not a “power-glide”, not a convertible, THIS one.  No gimmicks, no climate controlled bubble, no “never seen the rain”, no “one owner”, and she was never put in a museum.  It was all just spit, blood, and elbow grease (and probably a lot of Hungarian swear words).  She just happened to pick the exact right chain of “previous owners” who happened to pass her to the right “prospective buyers” enough times that she’s made it 48 years.  Can you imagine?  It just goes to show, time really is a brutal test.  You never really know what’s going to make the grade.

After moving his family and the Impala to Washington State, the Impala almost had to go. It wouldn’t fit in the garage of their new house. After a failed E-Bay action and a Craigslist debacle, Bill received permission to keep the old gal and made a few structural modifications to the garage ensured the Impala will be with him for a while.

DSC_0251_zpsb77584b3

Which is good, because after all this mighty Impala has endured, it would be a shame to see it go the route of the Impala from the Hungarian film “Uveg Tigris”

Forward to 1:19:00 if you have the stomach.

“Vagy Impala, Vagy Semmi” (The Impala or Nothing)

 

 

 

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25 Comments on “The Impala or Nothing...”


  • avatar
    Land Ark

    My first reaction was, why are they showing a picture of a 66 impala and saying it’s a 67 – I thought this was a car site! Very cool story.
    One day I’ll need to fully tell the story of the Land Ark (my US built 67 Impala) on here. I can definitely relate to it not fitting in the garage.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    I believe it is a 1966.

    • 0 avatar
      Tomifobia

      Sometimes, countries away from the homeland are a generation or two behind on some models. North America is usually a couple of years late with the Golf, for instance. Heck, in Brazil you could buy what was essentially a 1966 Ford Galaxie up until 1982.

      • 0 avatar

        The Chevrolet Opala, originally using an amalgam of Opel Rekord-Commodore sheetmetal and Chevy Impala mechanicals was built here (Brazil). It outlasted the Galaxie by a decade being built from 1968-1992.

        Many still round, seen everyday. Those in mint condition still go for a pretty penny.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      This is a 1966 body. The 1967 was bigger. My dad bought one of these when I was a junior in high school, although, thankfully, it had the 283 2bbl V-8 rather than the 250 six. He had a 1963 with the six and it was a dog; the V-8 was much nicer. Both cars had manuals. If this car has the two-speed Powerglide automatic, it will seem seriously slow.

      Interestingly, this car appears to have power brakes. Note the vacuum booster on the master cylinder.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    I knew instantly it was a ’66 Impala Sport Sedan, so what’s the big deal, is this Murilee’s new ride? Wait, this is an Impala, where is the engine flag on the fender, don’t tell me it’s a six cylinder, no way. Way. How come the steering column shroud has no Powerglide quadrant? Oh wait, do I see three pedals. No Powerglide, even better-a stick.

    This car is one slick ride.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    that car looks very nice in it utter simplicity. classic lines, classic functionality. i would not change a thing.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    A most excellent car to hunt demons with.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BU_NDBul88

  • avatar
    mikey

    A “stove Bolt Six” with three on the tree. I grew up driving these sort of cars. I would have bought it in a heartbeat, and brought it back to its place of birth.

    Well, the CKD building is long gone and theres a Costco in its place. But I could still buy gas there.

    I really like that car.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Yup. Simple, reliable, classic lines…honest with no pretenses. I was never a ‘GM man’ but these were great cars, it’s no wonder the Impala was America’s favorite car for over a decade. I really envy the owner of this car.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        The 1965 model was the first year of the perimeter frame, full sized GM cars. How long did they keep that basic platform? I remember Murilee saying he upgraded a lot of mechanicals from the ’70s and they just bolted right on.

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      Yup, I have driven many a mile in 3 on the tree 235 Stovebolt six Chevs back in the late ’50s, early ’60s. An extremely smooth engine.

      But, Chev canned the Stovebolt and gave us the brand-new 230 six for the ’63 model year. It was a bigger displacement version of the 194 ci six from the new ’62 Chevy II.

      When the brontosaurus size ’65 Chev replaced the lightweight ’64 and ditched the X-frame, GM upped the 230 to 250 whopping cubes to tow the weight around. That’s the engine in this car.

      As for the frame, Chev designed a whole new one for the ’77. That lasted until the end of the Caprice/Roadmaster in the mid 1990s. No wonder GM used to make money until they had to make FWD cars from 1980. Just recycle the mechanicals for 20 years.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Nice! I can almost hear its high rev whine as it warmed up before an old Norseman tapped the throttle to slow it down on a frozen Norwegian morn.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    For those who disparage D3 vehicles and us ‘oldsters’ who long for their return to pre-eminence, this vehicle demonstrates why we have such great memories and enduring allegiances.

    This basic, 6 cylinder, lower end GM product would have provided its owner with exceptional prestige and reliability in Europe. Exceeding that of most European cars and all Asian vehicles.

    For decades Cadillacs, Lincolns and Imperials were indeed halo vehicles with stirling reputations.

    And I would love to see it back in Oshawa, nearly as much as I would like to see GM continue to build its descendants in Ontario’s ‘motor city’.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Great old Impy, one of the few “European” cars I’d be interested in.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Yeesh…driving my ’66 on anything but interstate was often hairy, and white-knuckle in the winter, because of its sheer bulk, primitive brakes and bias ply tires. Iowa 218, I hate you.

    What it must be like on European roads?

  • avatar
    dancote

    Former owner of a ’62 Impala Super Sport convertible salutes your choice. Yeah it had a Powerglide transmission (that died in the hills of Pennsylvania) but, in my mind’s eye, that was the prettiest of the Impala series back then. So sad that I couldn’t find a picture to share with you.

  • avatar
    Stovebolt

    Yep

  • avatar
    Daniel Latini

    Great stuff, Ward. Glad to see you contributing here again

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Very nice indeed ~ the car , the back story on this one and the video too .

    I remember when these cars ruled America , not the top line V-8’s everyone wants now ~ they’re all ground to dust yet this basic Stovebolt soldiers on……

    Any folks ask me why the hell my old Shop Truck remains with it’s I6 engine ~ because _it_works_ and does the yeoman duty I expect it to .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    After WWII, this plant would assemble just over 78,000 “Chevrolets.” In 1967, they assembled just under 1,500 Impalas, Novas and even Camaros. These were sold in the Baltics and Eastern Europe – well that is not true at all. Under Soviet Union there were no western cars or any western products sold in Baltics. Also in Warsaw Pact countries western products were limited at best, usually non-existent, so I am not so sure new Chevrolets were sold there either.

  • avatar
    antwerpimpala

    We are the new stewards of this great car. Plan to keep her as she is- with a few safety upgrades (disc brakes)
    follow her at antwerpimpala.com

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