The First Chevrolet Impalas

This advertisement for the 1958 Chevrolet, made in conjunction with the Kansas City Auto Show, describes the 17 models available in ’58:

Note that the lineup includes Impala models as part of the Bel Air series:

This marked the first opportunity for a member of the car-buying public to purchase a Chevrolet Impala, but it was not the first time General Motors utilized that particular name. A “dream car” presented at GM’s 1956 Motorama car show was a futuristic five passenger sport sedan that was, believe it or not, called a Corvette Impala.

Like the production Corvette, the Corvette Impala had a fiberglass body. It was almost the same width as a Chevrolet sedan, but four and a half inches longer and six inches lower. The power plant was a 225-hp Super Turbo-Fire V8 with 9.25-to-1 compression ratio, high-lift cam shaft and a four-barrel carb. Being a GM product, it naturally had a Powerglide transmission.

In a departure from the typical more-is-more styling of the 1950s, little chrome was used. It did have a toothy, Corvette-like grille, however.

So, would you have been in the market for this Impala concept car, described as having “fleet, buoyant lines that accent motoring adventure with safety and luxury?” Or do your preferences in motoring adventure run more along these lines?

Vintage J.C. Whitney Catalogs

Long before online ordering, one catalog that was indispensable to every car guy was the one that came from J.C. Whitney. The roots of the company go all the way back to a Chicago scrap metal yard started in 1915 by Lithuanian immigrant Israel Warshawsky, so this company has been enabling automotive junkies for over one hundred years. This advertisement is from 1927:

By the 1940s the business was using the name J.C. Whitney, and Warshawsky’s son, Roy, took over and expanded the company. I found a newspaper story from the 1970s that said Roy Warshawsky just “made up” the name J.C. Whitney and didn’t even recall why he chose it. The story went on to say that when people would call and ask to speak to the “boss,” meaning J.C. Whitney, the phone operators were known to maintain the illusion by replying, “Mr. Whitney is in Europe.”

I recently got my hands on a 1956 J.C. Whitney catalog, and it was a blast to look through:

As I thumbed through the fragile pages, I saw things that I did not even know were an option such as plaid convertible tops . . . .

. . . and hat racks.

You frequently see vintage bug deflectors for sale online and at swap meets, and there were many variations of these listed in the catalog:

There was also a variety of ways to achieve the look of white wall tires without actually shelling out the dough, including the rings seen below and a paint kit called White Wall Wonder.

It looks like vintage J.C. Whitney catalogs are currently going for $10-30 apiece online, so it might be time to drag yours out the attic!

1936 Plymouth

1965 Lincoln

1955-56 Dodge

The cars of the 1950s were long, wide, covered in chrome and topped off with an exotic hood ornament. It was the golden era of colossal hood ornaments, but the largest of the large has to be those found on the 1955-56 Dodges. The one pictured above is off a ’56, and here it is sitting in front of an average Border Collie for a size comparison:

The doggie model is my lovely Lily (and her size is the ONLY thing about her that is average). The hood ornament measures an exceptional 36 inches in width, big even by the standards of the Fifties. Here is a ’55 Dodge with a slightly different but equally imposing front end:

The hood ornament wasn’t the only impressive aspect of these Dodges; they were also powered by hemi engines. The hemi had debuted a few years earlier with the 1951 Chrysler Firepower engine, and for both the ’55 and ’56 Dodge, the Super Powered Super Red Ram V8 engine was available as optional equipment on all V8 models. It was a 315ci engine (3.63 bore and 3.80 stroke) and the “special power equipment” included single or dual 4-barrel carbs and dual exhaust. I think the hood ornament resembles a hammerhead shark, and that is probably no coincidence because that hemi would eat your lunch.

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1956 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer
1956 Dodge Royal

1956 Corvette

My Dad has a shirt that says, “I may be old, but at least I got to drive all the cool cars,” and, boy, did he ever.  Not only did he drive them, he owned many of the very coolest cars.  One of his favorites was this 1956 Corvette.

He bought this ’56 Vette in 1958, while he was still in high school.  And no, he wasn’t some spoiled rich kid.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  My Dad was what was known as a “South Sider”.  The kids on the South Side had it a little tougher, so they had to be a little tougher.  My Dad was only able to afford this dream car in 1958 because he had been working as many as 60 hours a week since he was 15 years old at Charlie’s Mobil, a car lot and service station located right on the Lincoln Highway in Kearney, Nebraska.  Working at a car lot meant this Vette was just the latest in a long line of incredible horsepower he had already owned, cars like a 1936 Ford Tudor hot rod, a 1947 Merc, lowered and painted Bahama Blue, a 1949 Oldsmobile fastback and a 1933 Ford with suicide doors, 16 coats of black lacquer and a Cadillac engine, just to name a few.

This beautiful little Vette was painted white with red sides and a red interior.  It came with both tops, the hardtop and the fabric one, and a Wonderbar radio. The transmission was the optional Powerglide automatic transmission. Under the hood was a 265-cubic inch, 225-hp “Turbo-Fire” V8 with duel 4-barrel carbs and factory high power exhaust headers:

Keep in mind that all that power was really just a safety feature (at least according to the sales brochure):

I am not sure how much “safety” was being practiced the day Dad raced his Vette against a new 1958 Pontiac down the Lincoln Highway at 138 mph.  The Vette did come out the winner that day, albeit with a partially melted bumper from the heat of the exhaust. 

Dad worked for Charlie until he was 19 and wouldn’t trade those days for anything, especially because he was working when he met his future wife.  They have been married since 1961, and this is a picture of them taken around that time:

Two things stand out about this picture. First, my Dad is about 40 pounds lighter than usual because he had been dieting at Fort Leonard Wood boot camp, and second, he must have really loved her to let her sit on that 1957 Olds.