1961 CHEVROLET IMPALA 4 DOOR SEDAN-HOW TO WORK WITHIN A BUDGET ON A DRIVER LEVEL PROJECT
Four door sedans are like your drunk and obnoxious Uncle Sid at a wedding dance-tolerated, but generally not respected.
Thousands of 4-door-sedans have given up vital body parts to save their more glamorous cousins-the convertibles and 2-door-hardtops.
These cars are cannon fodder in the car wars-there's such a stigma attached to "more door" cars that rare 4 door hardtops are often included in mass executions.
One guy decided to go in another direction.
Trevor Comfort is a 20-year veteran of the auto body business and he has seen and repaired more vintage iron than a Cuban mechanic. He was in the market for a solid, reliable car for his wife-a car that reflected his vintage Chevy leanings with a serious nod toward safety and reliability. This 4 door Impala was destined to be an organ donor for her 2 door hardtop.
Here is what happened as Trevor recalled,"Some years ago I purchased a 1961 Chev Impala 4 door sedan. The car was purchased to be used as a parts car, but after driving it home and having a closer look at the car, I realized it should be saved. Due to the fact that it is a 4 door sedan I knew from the start that a high end restoration would not be in the cards".
That could have been the end of the movie for this 61 Chevy but Trevor added,"The 4 door was bought to be parted out for two of my existing cars. 1, I wanted the dash parts & lower valance panels for the 61 hard top, 2, I was going to use the drive train, power steering and power brakes for the 59 sedan delivery. Shortly after getting the 4 door I scored a steal of a deal on a rebuilt 396. This meant I no longer needed a motor for the delivery.
This did not really matter because as soon as I drove it home and had a real good look inside the car and realized that the odometer reading of 59,000 miles was probably original miles. That was the moment I realized the car needed to be saved.
The biggest hurdle was finding fenders that were repairable. It took nearly two years to get a set of fenders from a solid Southern Alberta car. ($400.00 and lots of hrs) When the car went in for a safety inspection, the mechanic could not believe the car still had its original ball joints because they unusually only last 50-60 thousand miles.
Not many 61 4 doors had the following. 283, automatic, power steering, power brakes, factory full tinted glass (rare in Canada) and dual exhaust".
Trevor is an expert in the field of breathing new life into rusty old iron but this project was different. He had to work within a very realistic budget for time and expense, so ultimately he had to decide how far he wanted to go with the unloved four door Impala.
Trevor recalled, "I liked the car but had no emotional attachment to it. It was decided that the rust repairs would be done properly but I would keep the prep & paint labor to a minimum. What this means is the car was not to be stripped to bare steel, smoothed out and block sanded and primed in high solids primer over and over until it was near perfection. I simply wanted to save the car from the crusher and make it look respectable".
The cost of supplies can be a huge factor in any restoration so Trevor had to factor this into his affordable project, "It was painted with a low cost industrial paint that is not friendly when metallics are involved".
Trevor kept the car on budget with this strategy, " I painted it my self just because I wanted to do it my self. Although I have been in the auto body trade for 20 years I have spent little time behind the paint gun. I got the car done and I am very happy with it. I had the car at an indoor swap meet last fall. Although I know quite well the paint job I applied is not show quality I am still very happy as it was done on a next to nothing budget".
The 1961 Impala was done with one basic theme-a realistic cost. This is a driver done on a budget because Trevor respects the parameters and hurdles that average car guys face in a project.
Trevor uses the Impala as a visual example to illustrate realistic expectations for a budget project, "One more thing that's great about the 4 door is I actually use it to show customers what a low budget paint job looks like. We did do one job where I showed my customer the car and he said from five feet away it looked like a million bucks. So we painted his muscle car in the same fashion, because he said it only had to look good from the bleachers at the drag strip, and he did not have to lose sleep worrying if his car got scratched".
He explained, "When I go to car shows I always look at the positive things that every car has to offer no matter what it looks like, and always understand that not every car gets the royal treatment of a full frame off restoration".
Trevor empathizes with the budget-driven car guy at a show because this Impala symbolizes what they face, "It is also good to dish out the compliments to some one brave enough to show there less than perfect car next to the jewels of our hobby. Two years ago I met a young lad that had a mid-sixties Ford 2dr sedan. The car had a very low budget paint and body job. I went over, shook his hand and asked several questions about his car. At first he kind of acted as though he was embarrassed by his car, as soon as he realized I could care less about its flaws, he opened right up and I could tell that just like my 4 door Impala, he was very proud of his less than perfect car".
Trevor sums up the 61 Impala with these words of wisdom,"I believe that the MOST VALUABLE PERSON in a restoration is the car owner who has the guts to save a classic, no matter what the car critics might have to say!"
And another 1961 Chevrolet Impala 4 door sedan was saved...
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