Car of the Week: 1960 Chevrolet Impala

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

You can tell sometimes just how much a fellow likes his car just by his “giddiness factor.”

It’s that intangible, can’t-hide-it excitement and pride that you hear in their voice when they get to talking about their car. They don’t even have to tell you how lucky they feel, or how grateful they are, or how much fun they are having owning a particular car. You can tell just by the way they talk about it.

When it comes to his amazingly original, low-mileage 1960 Chevrolet Impala sedan, Scott Berger is one of those guys with a high giddiness factor. He knows there aren’t many guys driving around in a gorgeous, 54-year-old four-door sedan that shows just 14,700 miles on the odometer and is so pristine that you’d swear it must have been professionally restored in its recent past.

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The Impala is as genuine as the grin on Berger’s face when he is behind the wheel, or showing it off to large crowds like he did a few weeks back at the 2014 Iola Old Car Show in Iola, Wis. “I think it had about 10,500 miles when I got it,” laughs Berger, a resident of Wind Lake, Wis. “I know, it’s amazing. It is unbelievable.

“When you crawl around this car underneath, and look at the brakes and all that, everything breaks loose like it was just put on. There is no stress or straining. It’s been such a pleasure to work. I’ve taken it camping, so I drive it. I definitely only drive it in the summer and I don’t drive it every day. It’s only a weekend car and I drive it to car shows and whatnot.

“People can’t believe it, and then they have to go look closer at the car. I say, ‘The car speaks for itself. I can’t do this to the car.’ All you have to do is look at it.”

The four-door Impala was seemingly born with good luck on its side, and all the stars lined up perfectly to keep it in showroom condition. It lived most of its life in the South, was stored — if not carefully, at least without incident — for many years, and had a first owner who was fairly well-off in life and didn’t drive it much. In fact, the car is probably getting driven as often now as it has at any time in the past 50 years.

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“The original owner bought it in October of 1960. He was an aeronautical engineer. His name was John Hooker. He bought it new in Huntsville, Ala.,” Berger related. “When he bought it I think it was about $2,700 and he wanted a push-button radio. It cost $99 for the push-button, and he wasn’t going to pay the $99 until he got it installed [at the dealership]… He worked for Apollo 7 and Apollo 13, and he was relocated down to Cape Canaveral in ’71. I have a new title for the car from Florida in ’71 where the car had the low, low miles on it. When he retired in ’78 he drove back to Huntsville. He had a brand new garage … and he parked it in that garage and that’s where it sat for the next 30 years.
“I don’t know why. I’m guessing it was like a lot of older folks, they have good intentions on getting back to it and never do.”

The car eventually wound up going to a neighbor friend of Hooker’s. The neighbor didn’t do much with the car, either, and he finally put the car for sale on eBay. At that point, the car had just 10,000-plus miles on it and basically hadn’t been touched from the day it was new.

“I was looking for a car from the year that I was born, and that was 1960. This was on my bucket list, this Impala and this type of style,” Berger recalled. “I was always looking and I found it on eBay and the mileage got me and I had to call the owner and we ended up talking for over an hour on the phone. I placed my bid, but it didn’t meet what he had as a reserve, so I thought ‘Oh well, I’m not going to get it.’ But nobody got it because it didn’t meet the reserve.

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“And then the next day the owner called me back and told me that after talking to me for over an hour he knew that I really wanted the car and he wanted it to go to a good owner and if we could work out a deal, he’d like to sell it to me.

“We did strike up a deal and here it is.”

Berger says he wasn’t really in the market for a four-door sedan at the time. Regardless of the number of doors, however, this Impala was just too good not to investigate. “The whole combination of the mileage, the shape it was in, it was all just very striking and it didn’t matter if it was a four-door or two-door.

“I never thought I’d own a four-door. Now it’s one of my favorites.”

It’s hard to gauge which is more impressive: the Impala’s near-perfect original interior, or its original Suntan Copper-and-white two-tone paint job. The wheels, chrome, undercarriage and drivetrain — which has never been apart — are all equally unmolested. The original factory markings are still clearly visible on the firewall, showing “8/9 60” — the car’s build date.

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If there was any doubt about the authenticity of the car’s upholstery and interior, it was wiped away when Berger began going through the Impala and detailing all the nooks and crannies. “I have the original bill of sale. I was looking for the original build sheet under the front seat and it was there,” he noted. “And while I was down there, I saw something orange under the front seat. It was a ‘Wallace For Governor’ sticker from 1966, and since it was from Alabama, it was right in the thick of things! I haven’t removed the rear seat yet. I don’t know what I’m going to find back there.”

Berger’s Impala is one of 497,048 four-door sedans built by Chevrolet in three different series — Biscayne, Bel Air and Impala — for the 1960 model year, making them the most popular body style among buyers. Chevrolet did not keep records that broke down 1960 production by series, but the Impala was one of the country’s most popular models from the moment it debuted in 1958.

For 1960, the Impalas were available in two- and four-door sedans, two-door hardtop, convertible and four-door Nomad station wagon. The four-door sedans carried base prices of $2,590 for the 235.5-cid six-cylinder version and $2,697 for those carrying the base 283-cid, 185-hp V-8.

Next to the Corvette, the Impalas of the day were Chevrolet’s most expensive cars, and the most dressed-up. They were toned down a bit from the radically redesigned 1959 models, with tailfins that were less prominent. A calling card short molding strip extended rearward from the headlamps. Twin pairs of bar moldings were above and below this strip on the fender tips. The quarter panel missile ornaments had two moldings streaking rearward, the area between them painted with a contrasting color insert and holding an Impala script with crossed racing flags insignia. A trio of tail lenses on each side and a vertically ribbed aluminum panel jazzed up the rear. There were simulated vents on the lower rear window moldings on all the Impalas except the ragtop.

Standard equipment included power steering and brakes; a parking brake; glove compartment and backup lamps; anodized aluminum trim; electric clock; and oil filters and oil bath air cleaners on V-8 cars. There were seven drivetrain options available, topping out with the Special Super Turbo-Thrust 348-cid V-8 rated at 350 hp.

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John Hooker’s car carried the 283 with Powerglide and push-button radio and a vacuum booster for the brakes. “That brake booster was considered an option. They always thought with the power brakes the brakes would stop working if the car ever stopped running, so the booster built up an extra vacuum for the brakes,” Berger noted. “Other than that, the Impala came with the clock and deluxe interior. It’s got the Powerglide, two-tone paint and tinted windows. And he had it undercoated at the dealership as well. It’s all undercoated everywhere under there. And it’s so solid. When you shut the door it just clicks. There is no sag at all.”

The Impala seems to have just enough imperfections to prove its originality. There is very minimal wear on the front seat carpet and door sills. And Berger pointed out there is one blemish in the paint that he wants to keep. “There is a scrape on top of the hood from a gravel truck. You can see where he painted over it with paint that didn’t match so it wouldn’t rust. It has its imperfections, but I figure it’s like tarnish on copper. I just figure, hey, it deserves that… The trailer hitch was put on when he went down to Florida. He had a little trailer that he pulled with a little lawnmower in it.”

The sedan was apparently destined to pull trailers, because it is still doing so even in its semi-retirement. Berger is the talk of the campground when he pulls in with his 1960 Impala towing a matching tear-drop trailer, which he also pulled behind him on the 160-mile trek from Wind Lake to Iola this summer. “The trailer I painted to match the car. I’ve taken it to the national meet for teardrops where there were over 200 teardrops and I won the People’s Choice Award,” Berger said. “It’s a four-door car so you always think of a family-type car and camping kind of goes with that, so I just thought [the trailer] would be a nice thing to add to the motif. I get a lot of thumbs-up driving down the road with the two of them together.”

Berger has also tried to preserve the car’s nickname, Miss Evelyn, which was hung on the car by the original owner. He displays the car with an accompanying sign that states: “Driving Miss Evelyn.” “It’s named after the original owner’s wife. I have a license plate that says Miss Evelyn that was given to me with the car. He named the car after his wife, so I’ve tried to keep that name with it,” Berger noted. “It’s just part of the history of the car.”

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Berger knows it’s not going to be easy to keep the car as original as it is today, but that’s his goal. He’s definitely not going to stop driving it, and if something fails, he’ll just do his best to fix it and keep rolling. “The hardest thing is keeping it original if something does break,” he admits. “I had to rebuild the carburetor. The master cylinder, I had to send that away and get that rebuilt. Brake parts, you can get that type of thing, but there were a couple of little chrome parts that were dented, like the little chrome spears. That was part of the fun … finding those spears.”

Berger also has a 1965 Impala and a 1968 Pontiac Bonneville convertible at home, but it’s doubtful he will come across any cars he admires and cherishes more than his wonderful 1960 Impala sedan. Such machines that have defied the ravages of time are few and far between, and Berger is enjoying every moment he can with the car.

“I’ll definitely keep it. I’ll keep it and drive it and enjoy it,” he says. “I definitely won’t do anything different with it. I’ll drive it and take it camping every now and then.

“The car is so original, it’s hard to believe, and it’s just so much fun. It’s an amazing car.”
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