The Impala or Nothing

W Christian Mental Ward
by W Christian Mental Ward

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

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

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

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 ( 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 inputsIt 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)

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.

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)

W Christian Mental Ward
W Christian Mental Ward

School teacher, amateur racer, occasional story teller.

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2 of 25 comments
  • Brock_Landers Brock_Landers on Sep 27, 2014

    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.

  • Antwerpimpala Antwerpimpala on Oct 16, 2016

    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

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