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By Brian Earnest
Charlie Milligan admits he had grown a bit disillusioned with his search for a nice collector car back in 1995. The Rochester, Minn., resident had parted with his 1951 Buick and was poking around looking for another toy, but he wasn’t having much luck.
That’s when a friend hit Milligan with an unexpected surprise: the man’s 1966 Chevrolet Impala four-door hardtop — a car with just 28,500 original miles on its odometer — was for sale, and Milligan was going to have first crack at it.
“I had actually just come back from looking at a car in the Minneapolis area and I was just thoroughly disgusted,” Milligan remembers. “It was a ’64 LeSabre, and it had a hole in the trunk … The door material was falling off the doors. It was a mess — nothing like I thought it would be.
“I got back and talked to my friend and he said this car was for sale. We agreed on the price and I pretty much drove it out of his garage and drove it into mine.”
Milligan had previously been more of a Buick guy than a Chevrolet loyalist, and he had also owned a Cadillac, MG, Oldsmobile and Corvette, among others. But there was no way he was going to pass up the Impala sedan that he had long admired.
“The car was here in Minnesota in a little town called Zumbro Falls,” he said. “My dad sold Buicks for many years, and that’s what I had been looking for, but when I found this car for sale, my decision was very easily made. This was by far the best car I had seen, plus I had known the car for a long time, and had looked at it frequently. I just always liked it. It’s a nice color, the interior is so nice, and the car is just so straight.
“I always liked the car, too, because of its somewhat unusual makeup. It’s a four-door hardtop with a three-speed on the column and overdrive with the 283. That’s kind of an unusual combination. I doubt that a dealer would have ordered that for stock. It was probably an ordered car.”
And it apparently was also a pampered car. The Impala had been bought originally from a small Chevrolet dealer in Oregon, Wis., by a man from Madison. Milligan isn’t sure why the car was used so sparingly over the years, but the car eventually wound up for sale in pristine condition at the Iola Old Car Show sometime in the mid-1980s.
“I’ve owned the car close to 16 years, and my friend had it for about 10,” said Milligan. “That takes us back to about 1985, so in those 19 years from 1966 to ’85 somebody put only 28,000 miles on it, and I don’t know what happened. I tried researching it, and nobody knows anything about it. I’m speculating, but the car is rust-free — no rust in lower front fenders, in the quarters, no rust anywhere — so I can’t believe the car was driven at all in the winter, even where it was from. It was put away, and certainly not driven repeatedly [in winter].
In the 1960s, the Impala was a versatile fixture of the Chevrolet lineup and the country’s top-selling automobile. With so many body styles, trim levels and engine options, there was an Impala for just about every new car buyer.
The four-door hardtops were among six different body configurations. They were competitively base priced at $2,852 and tipped the sales at 3,650 lbs. when equipped with the standard 283-cid, 195-hp V-8. Buyers who favored more ponies could dig a little deeper into their pockets and order an optional 220-hp Turbo-Fire 283, a Turbo-Fire 327 with 275 hp, a 396 Turbo-Jet with 325 hp, or they could damn the torpedoes altogether and go for a 427-cid big block with up to 425 hp. Chevrolet built a staggering total of 654,900 Impalas for the model year, and the overwhelming majority — 621,800 — had V-8s under the hood.
The Impala’s sporty cousin, the Impala SS, was also a very popular choice, with about 119,300 rolling off the assembly line for the model year.
Milligan’s Impala sedan looks very much like it did the day it left the factory. The car’s body, paint, interior and drive train are all entirely original. The previous owner added power steering, and Milligan put in a factory original AM/FM radio. “And I think it probably had the small hubcaps when it was new,” he said. “I put original equipment wire wheels on it. The wheels are original, and the spare has never been on the ground.
“The motor runs perfect. It doesn’t use oil, doesn’t leak any oil. It’s a three-speed and it shifts just fine, and the overdrive works like a champ. As far as I know it’s got original brakes and wheel cylinders. It may have the original exhaust on it. It may be the original muffler and tailpipe on it, but I don’t know for sure. For many years I’ve been tempted to pull the back seat and see if there is a build sheet in there, but I never have. I know it didn’t have power steering. It had full hubcaps. It’s got carpet, a nice vinyl interior … It had an AM radio, and the good heater-defroster. It’s got the full-width floor mat. The seats are perfect, the dash is perfect, the steering wheel is perfect.”
That doesn’t mean that the car is treated with kid gloves, however. Milligan cruises regularly in his beautiful Chevrolet and doesn’t worry too much about putting a little wear and tear on the car. He’s added about 7,000 miles to the odometer reading, bringing the total to 35,000-plus. The car stays in heated storage for at least half the year, but in the summertime, when the weather is nice and he’s not riding in his 1992 Corvette, Milligan is never shy about having his Impala on the street.
“I bought it to enjoy it, and that’s what I do with it,” he said. “There are some scratches in the paint, and it’s not a 100-point car. It’s something I like to drive and enjoy. We have a number of really nice small weekly shows in town here, and I am definitely not afraid to drive it. Sometimes I get concerned about getting over the 40,000 mark, but then I didn’t want to get over the 35,000 mark, or the 30,000 mark, either.
“It’s got the 283, two-barrel with a stick. It’s a pretty low-geared rear end with the overdrive, and it’s got a lot of giddy-up out of the hole. Once you drop it into overdrive, you just cruise.”
Milligan admits he has long targeted a 1956 Thunderbird as his dream car, but in a way he figures he has an even more unique car in his four-door Impala. Sure, there were an awful lot of them made, and they probably don’t top many collector car “must have” lists, but an “everyman’s” four-door from the 1960s that remains so original and unblemished is a rare specimen.
“I’ve got a ’66 Impala now that, in my opinion, is truly unique,” he said. “My feeling is they are only original once. You can restore it to original specifications, but it’s not original. Original is the way it came from the factory.
“And a lot of people say we are just caretakers of these cars, and that’s true. I want to keep it nice so the next person that gets it can enjoy it as much as I have.”
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