Story and photos by Brian Earnest
If the thieves who swiped Bill Schill’s 1962 Chevrolet Impala SS many years ago had known how great the car was going to look and what a wonderful machine it would be at 56 years of age, they might have tried harder not to get caught.
As it turns out, having been stolen and moved across the country just makes the car a little more interesting. Somehow, the gorgeous black coupe has remained almost entirely original and unmolested, and that’s the way Bill and his wife Bonnie aim to keep it.
“We bought it just to have fun with it. At the time I actually didn’t realize that it was a survivor. I didn’t think much about it, I just liked the car,” says Schill, a resident of Campbellsport, Wis. “It caught my eye because I had a good friend of mine, his older brother had one that looked just like it except it had more engine. And it reminded me of that one and we just ended up with it. We’ve really enjoyed it and now it’s going to be hard to ever part with it [laughs].”
Aside from a few maintenance items, Schill hasn’t changed or restored anything on his authentic Impala. The black paint and beautiful red interior are entirely original. All the chrome is still on the car. The engine has never been apart. Schill is even still running the same tires that were on the Impala when he bought it 13 years ago. “They are good to go for a while yet,” he jokes.
“The paint is 53 years old and it has some scratches, of course, but it still shines good. I had a nephew of mine who does bodywork buff it out this spring, and it looks good, but I think we’re probably down to the last buff job. There’s just not a lot of paint left anymore.”
A while back, Schill used the Impala’s original paperwork to contact the car’s first owner. That’s when he began to learn everything about the car’s interesting past.
“The car originally came from California. The gentleman bought it for his mother. She drove it until she couldn’t anymore, and then he took it back and drove it sparingly. Then he moved to Lake Tahoe and he decided — he was in the mountains — that was no place to have the car, so he put it up for sale. A gentleman from Fond du Lac, Wis., who ran a body shop bought it and had it shipped back to Fond du Lac … It ended up he died and it had been parked for about eight years in a storage shed.
“The family decided to sell it. Nobody really wanted and we found out about it. … I think that was 2003.”
Long before the car ever made it to Wisconsin, though, it was heisted from the first owner and smuggled across about a dozen state lines. “The original owner told me that in the early '90s it was stolen from a parking garage in California, and it was gone over a month. One day they got a phone call from some police department on the East Coast, and they had the car. Well, the insurance company said, 'We’re going to pay you for the car,' and he said, 'No, you’re not ,you’re going to ship my car back. I want the car back.' And you can still see some scratches the back by the trunk on the bumper, they jimmied the trunk open and kicked out the back seat. That’s how they stole it. And they tore the VIN plate off when they had it out East, I guess so they figured they couldn’t be traced. When it got back to California, the State of California had to issue a new VIN plate with the original VIN number on it.”
The black coupe still bears a few small scars around its back bumper and below the trunk opening from the episode. The bandits left their mark on the Chevrolet, and Schill knows the scratches only adds to the car’s authenticity.
“That’s why I don’t change the trunk panels back there or the back bumper. It’s all part of the story of it when it was stolen,” he says.
Ultimately, the crooks didn’t get away with the car, but at least they had good taste. The Impala was one of the country’s most popular cars in the early 1960s and for the 1962 model year total production was a whopping 704,900 assemblies.
The Impala resided at the top of the Bowtie hierarchy and was available in almost any configuration a buyer could want — convertible, two-door sport coupe, four-door hardtop sedan, post sedan, and six- and nine-passenger wagons. The Impalas were also available in a wide range of engine choices, from a 235-cid/135-hp six all the way up through the famed 409/409 V-8. Schill’s car received the popular 327-cid/250-hp four-barrel V-8 with dual exhausts — a $191 option at the time.
The redesigned 1962 Impalas had new C-pillar styling on everything except the four-door hardtop, with a new wraparound rear window replacing the “overhanging” roof look seen previously. The 348-cid V-8 was dropped in favor of the 409 and the Turboglide automatic also disappeared from the options list, although Powerglide was still available.
Standard equipment on Chevrolet’s top-tier cars included: aluminum front seat end panels; bright metal backed rearview mirror; extra-long front and rear armrests with fingertip door release handles; built-in door safety panel reflectors; rear seat radio grille (built into Sport Coupe and convertible); and Sport-type steering wheel with Impala center emblem. The instrument panel included an electric clock; parking brake warning light; glove compartment light; and bright metal valance panels. Interiors were plusher cloth and leather grain vinyl combinations, with embossed vinyl headlining. Exterior bodyside trim consisted of a full-length upper molding with color-keyed insert; a wide, ribbed body sill molding; stainless steel window reveals (except convertible); and Impala script badge on the rear fenders. Front fender ornaments were standard while at the rear, a brushed aluminum cove panel with six taillamps was found. Back-up lights were built-in. A simulated rear window vent was seen, below the glass, on all styles except the convertible.
Of course, if you wanted the coolest Impala, you checked Option Code 240 for the Super Sport (SS) package available on the Impala sport coupe and convertible at $53.80 extra, plus $102.25 for bucket seats. The package was introduced for 1961 and for ‘62 attracted nearly 100,000 buyers.
Schill says he was actually snooping around for a 1964 Impala when he came across the ’62 with a “For Sale” sign on it at a show in 2003. He wound up calling the owner to inquire about the car and three weeks later it was his.
“It was almost like what you see now,” he says. “I believe [the mileage] was in the upper ‘60s, when I bought it — maybe 67,000, something like that. Now It’s pushing 82,000. We use it a lot. We take it to a lot of car shows. We probably put on close to 2,000 miles a year.
“We’ done a few mechanical things to it just to keep it operational. I’ve tried to keep it as original as I can. Inside, the only thing I’ve done is the buttons on the door lacks, and new floor mats. There wasn’t original floor mats in it when I bought it, just aftermarket ones. I bought these to kind of make it look like the original ones. The engine has just been run-of-the-mill stuff — fuel pump, battery, plug wires. There has been a little bit of work on the suspension in front. It had a few worn-out pieces. The two license plate panels front and back [are new]. They were getting pock-marked and rusty.” Schill says he also bought new “hockey stick” trim pieces for the that wrap around the corner tail lights, but he didn’t like the way they looked so he had the original pieces refurbished.
Schill admitted that there will probably come a day when he has break down and have some restoration work done to the car, especially if he keeps driving it several thousand miles a year. He’s going to hold off on that decision as long as he can.
“I keep thinking I’d love to throw a $10,000 paint job on it,” he says, “but everybody says don’t do it, so we’re leaving with it the way it is. We enjoy it just the way it is.”
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