Story and photos by Brian Earnest
He isn’t sure if it was his car that landed the girl, but Steve Reinen isn’t taking any chances.
Reinen happily admits to using his long-gone 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS to woo his prospective girlfriend. He has since upgraded his 327 Impala SS convertible to an SS 409, and upgraded Karen from girlfriend to wife. He’s pretty confident both his spouse and favorite car are with him for good.
“I had always wanted one of these because back in college at [the University of Wisconsin-Madison]. I had a very similar one with a 327/300-horse engine,” Reinen recalls. “It cost me 200 bucks between my freshman and sophomore year at UW. It was red and black inside. It was the same car, just with a different engine, but I had to sell it to go back to school in the fall, because I didn’t have any money!
“Well, I had met this gal over at a bar in Middleton [Wis.], and she thought I was really something, driving this car… Now we’ve been married 41 years!”
Reinen and his second Impala SS got hitched back in 1997, when he tracked the car down with the help of family.
“It came from the suburb of Rockmart, Ga., outside of Atlanta,” Reinen said. “My brother lives down there, and I called him and said, ‘Hey Larry, will you go check this out for me?’ And he said sure, and he knows a lot more about cars that I do… When I got the car it was delivered to my house on a trailer. I trusted my brother, but I hadn’t even seen it.”
There were no unpleasant surprises when the big Chevy arrived. It was as advertised — a very original and authentic ’64 Impala SS 409 with mostly original interior and one repaint of its Riverside Red exterior.
“The place I bought it from, Danny’s Classic Cars, had known about the car for years,” Reinen said. “They said, ‘All our friends have owned this car.’ It was in Georgia and South Carolina, and it kind of went back and forth, and the odometer reads 94,206, but it’s possible that’s 194,000… I’m sure this thing got driven pretty hard at times, but it’s held together.”
The 340-hp powerplant had been rebuilt and the front bucket seats had been re-covered with black vinyl before Reinen took ownership. At some point, some dealer-option chrome rocker panels were also added. “I was told the [rocker panels] were actually designed for the ’61 Impalas. You’ll see some of these around where people put those on the later cars, and I think it’s a nice touch. It fills in the space just about right. For the longest time I thought somebody put those on because they were hiding something under there.
“The engine had been rebuilt once, but I’m not sure it needed it. It was probably pretty strong yet.”
The paint was re-done when car was still young — probably only about six years old. The second coat has lasted more than four decades and Reinen is in no hurry to give it another. “A fella in my town of Verona took it through a four-step buffing process, and it’s still got a lot of imperfections, but the paint looks pretty nice,” he said. “It’s got a nice lacquer shine to it. The bumpers have also been re-done. Other than that, it’s pretty much an original car.”
Perhaps the most noticeable non-original item on the car, at least to 1960s Chevrolet buffs, is the Hurst shifter sticking out of the stylish chrome console. Reinen says the change was made more of out necessity — and laundry concerns — than anything else. “It had the Muncie and it had the little chrome ball, with the reverse lockout, and I think the car had been driven pretty hard through the years and so that doggone linkage would jam up on me,” he said. “And sometimes I’d be driving the car, and I dressed up for work a little bit, and I’d have to crawl under the car and jiggle that linkage all around. In fact, I had a little piece of paper I kept in my wallet to show how [the linkage] is supposed to be arranged.
“So we put [the Hurst shifter] in there and of course now it shifts really nice, and I don’t have to crawl under the car and get all dirty.”
The beautiful red ragtop 409 is actually the third Impala Reinen has piloted over the years. In high school he drove a 1961 Impala “bubble top.” That was the same model year that Chevy offered its famous 409 for the first time and also the same year the SS arrived on the scene and began leaving huge tracks on the muscle car landscape.
The ’61 Impala SS was launched as an option package, rather than a model. The 1964 model lineup offered a separate Impala SS series. Later, as interest in the big SS started to fade, it became an option package again.
In addition to all the standard Impala goodies, Super Sport buyers received leather-grained vinyl upholstery, individual front bucket seats and swirl-pattern dashboard and body molding inserts. They could also store their gloves or sunglasses in a locking center console. Naturally, there were red “SS” emblems all over the cars. In addition, the doors carried red reflectors, and stylish wheel covers were included. In back were the calling-card Impala triple round tail lamps — an easy way to spot an Impala at night.
For 1964, due to the performance ban that GM brass put into effect the previous year, Chevrolet engine choices stayed about the same as in late 1963. The standard SS engine was actually the Turbo-Thrift 230-cid inline six, rated at a pedestrian 140 hp. Above that were the 195-hp 283, and 250- and 300-hp versions of the 327 mill. Further up the ladder, the Turbo-Fire 409 V-8 was available in three versions. The first had a single four-barrel carburetor and 10.0:1 compression. The second version, costing $428 extra, came with a single four-barrel carburetor, dual exhausts, a high-lift camshaft, solid valve lifters and an 11.0:1 compression ratio. The third 409 was a 425-hp version costing $484 extra. It had dual four-barrel carburetors, dual exhausts, a high-lift camshaft, solid valve lifters and an 11.0:1 compression ratio.
The 400- and 425-hp beasts could only be had with manual transmissions. Powerglide was optional on the 340-hp cars.
Ban or no ban, the Impala SS 409 hardtop ($2,947) or convertible ($3,196) was still a big, fast car for the time. The hardtop tested out at 7.5 seconds for 0-to-60 mph and 15.3 seconds in the quarter-mile.
In 1963, a total of 16,920 big Chevrolets left the factory with 409s under their hoods, but in 1964, orders for these engines dropped and only 8,684 were installed. That makes the 1964 Impala SS 409 much harder to find than a 1963 edition. In both years, most 409-powered Chevys were Impala Super Sports.
Reinen’s car was ordered with the four-speed and power steering, windows and brakes. The engine breathes through dual exhaust with glass packs that “give it a nice tone,” Reinen says. “They won’t shatter your eardrums. It’s got a nice sound to it, and that’s important, you know?”
He hasn’t challenged anybody to any stoplight showdowns in the big red droptop, and Reinen doesn’t figure he’s be able to blow anybody’s doors off anyway. The 3,500-lb. Impala would need to go on a diet to be really quick, even with 340 ponies under the hood. “If you rev it up and drop the clutch, obviously you can burn some rubber,” he says with a chuckle. “You can get a little squeak in second gear, probably, but I don’t drive it that way…. It’s got a lot of weight to pull. The engine was basically GM’s truck engine back then, so it’s got a lot of torque.”
Of course, economy is also part of the price you pay for rolling with 409 cubes under the hood. As much as he loves his smooth Chevy, Reinen has to think about his wallet before he gets too far from home. The Impala can burn through a tank of premium in short order. “I don’t worry about the miles at all, but this thing sucks gas like crazy!” he says. “The needle goes down really fast.”
Reinen also has a 1985 El Camino and 1999 Corvette at home, but he says he still gets the most old car enjoyment out of his iconic 409, particularly when he has his son Trevor along. “He has special needs, and this is a big deal for him,” Reinen said. “We go out and take the car out together and go to shows, and he keeps an eye on the car. It’s a good father-son thing. We’ve had a lot of fun together with it.
“And having met my wife when I had a car like this, I wanted get one back. I guess that’s the story line… I’ll have it for a long time. Every once in a while somebody says, ‘Hey, do you want to sell that car?’ But not with the special memories of it. We’re going to keep it.”
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