(by Gary Dulude) Here’s the story of the ’64 Impala I grew up with, which led to the ’64 Impala I’ve owned for nearly fifteen years.
My parents bought a 1964 Chevrolet Impala four-door sedan in December 1966 when I was six months old. I believe my Dad paid about $1,800 for it, trading in a ‘59 Ford Galaxie that was such a lemon he switched to Chevrolet. My Mom named the car Nellie after Roy Rogers’ jeep. Nellie was Meadow Green with an Ermine White roof, 283 V8, Powerglide, power steering, power brakes, AM radio and factory air. Being stationed at Dyess AFB in Abilene, Texas, having air conditioning was a big deal, especially since the cloth seats with their cool 1960s pattern were promptly covered with clear plastic seat covers from JC Whitney. This picture was taken shortly after we got the car.
This picture of me with Nellie in the background was likely taken in late 1967 or early 1968. Until 1975, Texas issued new license plates every year, and you usually had until April 1 to get that year’s plate:
And this picture was taken in late 1970, just before my Dad left for a year in Vietnam. My parents are from New Hampshire, so we moved back to be close to family while my Dad was overseas. I still remember looking down that long green hood as we crossed an enormous bridge over the Mississippi River. I also remember trips to the car wash in the dead of winter with my Mom scrubbing off the salt because, “If your father comes home and finds rust on this car, he’ll kill me!” Nellie emerged from a New England winter pretty much unscathed, although a small spot of rust started showing on the fender in the late 70s.
We had Nellie for 17 years, and I eventually learned to drive in that car in the spring of 1982. I have loved cars for as long as I can remember, and I had been longing to drive for at least a decade when my time finally came. I can still vividly recall my very first time behind the wheel of that Impala. Everything was so smooth and easy. In that car, driving felt like the most natural thing in the world. I aced my driving test, including parallel parking. Big as it was, you could also see all four corners, so parallel parking wasn’t hard.
My Dad sold the Impala when I was in high school. I had wanted a car of my own and bought a ‘74 Toyota Celica with a 4-speed that was fun and sportier and much better on gas. After a rebuild, the 283 drank gas like a B-52. I offered to buy Nellie, as did my older sister, who also learned to drive in the car and loved her as much as I did. But he was tired of working on it, and sold it to an airman on base for $500. I washed Nellie one last time and took her for a final spin the day before her new owner picked her up.
I had vowed that one day, I would have another ‘64 Impala. After years of looking off and on (mostly off), I got a phone call out of the blue from my younger sister in February 1999. She was looking for a first-generation Firebird, and saw this ad:
I called up the owner. I was living in Phoenix at the time, and factory air was a must. It didn’t have to be working; it just had to be there. So I asked if the car had air. The owner said, “gee, I don’t know.” The car was in San Luis Obispo on the central California coast, so he never needed air conditioning. I asked if there were little chrome balls on the corners of the dash; only 64 Impalas with factory air had them. He said yes. So I bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles and a AAA membership and went to look at the car.
It looked rougher than I had hoped. Lots of bondo and surface rust. But the car was complete and unmolested. It was even Meadow Green, which was a happy coincidence. And the four-door hardtop was my favorite body style, too. When I got behind the wheel, everything was exactly as I remembered. While not as distinctive as the Chrysler hummingbird starter, this Impala sounded just like Nellie did when I turned the key. The 327 V8 in this Impala had that same cheerful burble. I shifted the Powerglide into Drive and was sold before I had even left the parking lot. It was as smooth and easy as I remembered from the first time I drove 1982. I had gotten my past back.
On the way to the bank to do the cashier’s check, I asked the owner if the car had a name. He said her name was Betty. I thought it was perfect.
Driving Betty home, I called my Dad. Considering he had sold Nellie for $500 in 1984, I told him he owed me $2,500. He laughed. But a few days later, I got a check for $500 — and his old Chilton shop manual. He had kept it all those years. I told him I would have another ‘64 Impala. He’s happy I have Betty.
I’ve had Betty for nearly 15 years now, and driving her always puts a smile on my face. I’ve restored her gradually — a paint job in 1999, engine rebuild in 2000, OEM-style seat covers in 2002, an upgrade to a THM700R4 4-speed automatic in 2010 and all new wiring in 2011. Everything works, including the A/C and the clock. There’s always something more I want to do, but mostly, I enjoy driving her — 80,000 miles so far.
This is from the Car d’Lane show in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho with my dog Hoover, who loves to go for rides in Betty.
And this is from a Labor Day weekend trip to the Long Beach Peninsula in southwest Washington.
We stayed at the Sou’wester Lodge in a vintage travel trailer.
Betty officially turned 50 last Monday. When I was looking her over in that parking lot in San Luis Obispo, I opened the glovebox and found the original owner’s manual, still in the plastic pouch.
But tucked inside was the build sheet indicating she was built on November 4, 1963. I always make it a point to drive Betty on her birthday. This year, there will be cake to celebrate the milestone.
Great story and pictures.I love the colour of your car,I can recall seeing one the same colour in Lendrums the London GM dealer in the 60s.For some reason 64s are driven by bad asses,I recently saw Nero’s goons in Sons of Anarchy in a 64 and the Niners in an early episode up to no good in a 64
How cool to have an almost identical car to the one that you spent so much time in (and loved) as a kid! I agree that the 4 door hardtop is particularly attractive among the 64s. Frankly, it is really refreshing to see a 64 Impala that is not a 2 door, not donked, and not red or white. A really enjoyable story, so thanks for bringing it to us.
I remember that shade of green, as it was fairly popular on GM cars that year. I recall that if the car sat outside for most of its life, that shade did not weather all that well, but it sure looks nice on yours.
After graduating from high school, a friend bought a 64 Impala from an elderly relative. 327/PG and air, just like yours, but it was a white 4 door sedan with turquoise cloth interior. It was a beautifully maintained car, and looked extremely nice about 1979-80 when he got it. I recall that he did an internship with GM one summer, and he reported that everyone there really loved it.
Great story. I’m glad to hear that Bettie found such a happy home. Ya know, my car’s birthday is coming up soon. I wonder what I should do? (Yeah, you’re not the only one here who keeps track of his car’s birthday.)
Wow did that story bring up a lot of memories. I can recall my fingers freezing when I would wash Nellie while in NH. I am so glad that you were able to find Betty, sometimes it’s great to recall childhood memories! Thanks for sharing, can you run off a copy for Dad to read, you know him and computers!
Hehe first time an author’s mom chimed in…that’s a truly fantastic story!
Very nice story Gary, and a beautiful car.
Neat story that comes full circle, although that first picture looked like you were about to be devoured by the ’64! One could fit at least 15 toddlers across the front of that grille.
I also liked how you kept it stock, which is rare these days. My old man had a few cars that I would really like to have had today, but salt took care of cars within ten years in my neck of the woods. What was the reason why the original didn’t find a way into your hands, starving student or no place to keep it?
Congrats. I’m sure many of us here have dreamed of owning a car from our childhood memories, or perhaps our first car, but not many actually do it.
This particular car certainly brings back memories for me. My Dad purchased a ’64 Impala four-door sedan in 1964, to replace his ’57 Bel Air. It was light metallic brown, with a matching interior. Unlike your Dad’s, it had virtually no options – no P/S, no P/B, no A/C.
And my Dad made sure it had no radio, just like every car he owned. His job involved railway safety, and he saw too many level-crossing accidents first hand where the driver did not hear the locomotive because of the radio. Back then, many level crossings were not protected by signals or gates (just a sign), so hearing the train’s whistle or horn was important. I can only imagine what he would think about using a phone while driving (never mind texting), were he still alive today.
And yes, I also remember that upholstery pattern you mentioned.
Back in 1970, the teenage son of a friend of my parents was killed along with his buddies for that same reason. Not having a radio
because of it seems a little extreme IMHO, thought.
It’s like someone wanting to ban the Internet because their spouse met someone else on line and ran off.
You still have eyes, and if people don’t use them, well, there a name for that…..evolution.
Nice story. My grandfather had a ’64 Impala 4-door sedan just like your “Nellie” White with red interior though, he had that car a long time with the awful plastic covered seats. Great memories
Good story, and a nice Impala. Glad to see you actually use it for what it’s for. I’ve seen a lot of ’64 Chevys, but I don’t recall one in this colour. Looks good!
Friends of my parents purchased, new, a car identical to Betty, except it was a “6.” It had 7:00/14 tires. That was the beginning of my distrust of General Motors.
Did you see this? https://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/how-gm-nickled-and-dimed-americans-to-death-part-1-undersized-tires/
When I bought Betty, she had 195/75R-14 tires. She now has 215/75R-14 tires, and the wider treat definitely makes a difference. I also installed a rear stabilizer bar, which did wonders for the handling without any negative effect on Chevrolet’s Jet-Smooth Ride. Good shocks are also a must. I have KYBs, which have excellent damping.
But Betty was never one to float or wallow. Neither was Nellie, although with skinny bias plies and no rear stabilizer bar, she would heel over on a winding road. I did manage to bottom out in Nellie when I hit a dip too fast, but she just shrugged it off.
I was too young to drive my Dad’s ’64 Impala, but I remember that he complained about the rear of the car wandering quite bit at higher speeds. He was definitely much happier with the high speed stability of the ’68 Chrysler Newport Custom that replaced it.
Hence the only Chrysler in the world without a radio.
Here is the aforementioned upholstery. It just screams 60s:
Beautiful! The Impala interior in ’64 was not much below the Caprice package in ’65. Just no brocade / carpet on the doors and no fake wood. But, the door design has such wonderful detail in your car. I like the chrome and stainless approach in the Impala.
Wonderful car, story and color! Beautiful upgrade to the hardtop!
How is it so many of us have photos of ourselves taken with cars in such similar poses? My parents thought film, especially color, was expensive. In the digital age, it occurs to me I have no such photos of my kids.
Here I am with our Grecian Green ’68 Impala 327 sedan, automatic, power steering, aftermarket air. These things were so prolific that my “upgrade” lived about 5 blocks from us when I was a kid. It was a 4 door hardtop with fender skirts and a black vinyl roof – pretty rare set up on an Impala when the Caprice was a logical step up in ’68. While my inner brougham prefers the black vinyl over Marina Blue Caprice coupe my grandfather had, I’d be thrilled with a ’68 Impala 4 door hardtop – with factory air!
im the proud owner of a 68 4 dr hard top…i got it in 1985 when a neibors mom passed on as it was her car…he didnt like the big car as he was a tru VW beetle fan so i bought the car off him for 200 put in a battery and vroom drove it home!…since that time i used to bring it to car shows until my gf at the time came home drunk and crashed into it parked in the driveway…. not too much dammage but enough to make her my ex!
How did the upgraded 4 speed transmission affect the way Betty drove? Mileage? Noise at highway speeds?
I’m happy with the 700R4. The 1-2 shift happens at roughly the same time as it did with the Powerglide, and the 2-3 and especially 3-4 shift are so smooth you barely feel them. I like that it doesn’t feel all that different.
At highway speeds, the overdrive drops RPMs by about 1,000. It would top 3,000 RPM at 70 MPH, and now it’s just a little over 2,000 RPM. It’s definitely quieter, and I hope it will be quieter still once I put some additional insulation user the carpet (which needs replacing) and replace the roof-rail weatherstripping.
Gas mileage is up ~2 MPG, although it’s still not stellar. My daily driver is a 2001 Cadillac Seville, and the Northstar V8 is surprisingly good on gas, which shows you how much fuel injection and other technology can do.
I can get in the mid 20s on the highway in the Seville, and in my usual mix of 70% highway, 30% city, I average 21-22 MPG.
Betty gets ~13 MPG most of the time. On a trip this summer, the high was 16.71, and that was not running the air, plus I had a tailwind going east on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge, which is notoriously windy. After The Dalles, I turned on the A/C, plus I lost the strong tailwind and mileage dropped to 13.85. Coming back home going into the wind with the A/C running, I got 12.89.
Chevrolet offered some beautiful colors in 1964. Meadow Green wouldn’t have been my first choice; I would have likely picked Silver Blue, Daytona Blue or Azure Aqua. And the interior color choices were just as extensive.
I’m so bored with black, gray and tan, although at least the tan in my Seville is two different shades and has some beautiful polished wood to brighten things up.
Meadow Green may not be our first choice today; however, it was popular in its day.
So much so that the two-page spread for the Impala in the ’64 brochure is a Meadow Green, four-door hardtop, just like Betty!
Great story and nice Impala. My old car has a similar story, but I was lucky enough to keep the original car itself. I like the fact that you have kept it mostly original but only done minor upgrades that improve the driving experience of the car. Looking at the car it still looks bone stock. It’s nice to see an old car being enjoyed instead of just being trailered around like a show piece.
I enjoyed the story too. It reminds me of one of my first employers in Sweet Home, Oregon, who had 1962 and 1963 Impala 2-door hardtops, both pale metallic blue. Also a college pal of my wife had a maroon 1964 Impala 2-door hardtop, with black interior iirc.
For quite a while I looked for a 1936 Chrysler Airstream coupe, because that was one of the cars that Pop had when I was little, but never did connect on one, and now they are either high-dollar collector cars or lumps of rust, and many of the latter are priced as though they were the former….
Very nice story, thanks for sharing. My Dad owned a 1962 Impala, wish we still had it.
I have mostly been a Ford guy, but the ’64 Impala is one of my favorite cars. My uncle Jack had a Maroon ’64 SS with a Silver painted roof and Silver/Black interior. That car left an indelible impression.
My cousin has had several ’64 Suprt Sports over the years, including a 409. He now has a ’61 Impala convertible with a factory 4 speed (not an SS).
Such a great story. You photos added to the meaning of Betty and Nellie to your life. I stumbled upon a 1962 impala convertible (100%) complete and needing a home. It hadn’t been driven in 25 yrs but had been cared for.
The car’s gas tank rubber interface had deteriorated to nothing so as I drove it away the owner was shocked I wasn’t getting it towed. As I went to fill it up the gas pooled up around the back wheel. I replaced that, got an oil change and drove it for 600 miles. From there I steadily studied the manuals that came sight the car and talking to “old metal” guys. There is much to do but I am happy to say she has broken down once or twice but that was simply due to my inexperience.
I was introduced to your story by a blogger discussing powerglides and there validity. He mentioned you because I have a 283 with a powerglide. It is next on the hit list since it’s the river of fluid from the bottom of my car. I drive it as much as possible and tinker everyday with my car so I want the best driving experience.
You put a 4 speed? I was told change to aluminum PG, re-build mine or slap in a TH350. Then I read your story. I also have a line on a 327 from 1966. With everything numbers matching I wonder if that matters because I probably will have the car forever.
What would you say?
I always like to hear stories of people who grew up with full size Chevrolets from back in the day. My dad was a Ford man after a 2 year battle with his corvair he bought when he came to the states in 1966. I remember the Galaxies, Maverick,Torinos and the Granada before he started going to Honda and Acura later on. His younger brothers , my uncles, had 1970 Chevy Impala sedans, one was fathom blue and the other Forest green. My Aunt had a worn ’63 Impala sedan when finishing grad school though have fond memories of that car. Finally, my teacher in kindergarden had a stunning regal red ’65 Impala SS with black interior, this was in 1977 she bought new and kept immaculate. Right now I own a ’63 Impala SS 4 speed 409, 65 Impala SS 327 & my ’70 Impala sport coupe. I bought them when I was 19 through age 22 and was smart enough to keep them now that I’m 43. My daily beater is a ’86 Caprice sedan I prefer to drive over my wifes BMW X3 and my 3 series LOL! Thanks.
Awesome story! My father owns a paint/body shop and that’s where he restored his 1962 Chevy impala… he did it slowly and painted it a cherry red. Many memories, he has 3 girls and we all grew up with that chevy…we won’t even let him sell it! Now he has grandkids (2 girls), and they won’t even let him sell it. The car is part of our father and we always want it around to remind us of him. Now in his 60’s, he has a 1968 Chevy impala that he is restoring slowly…and now it’s up to the grandchildren to decide on a color!
More pics of my father’s cars..
1968 chevy impala in process…..
Hey Great Article,
My dad bought a brand new 64 Chevy BelAir in the fall of 64. 283 V8(4 door) Lagoon Aqua color. I loved the new car smell!
It was the only new car he ever bought.
I tried to talk him into the 327 4 barrel but he wouldn’t go for it:)
I learned to drive in that car also. We had it for years until it finally quit running at about 130, 000 miles. Lots of good memories from back then.