CC Story: 1959 Chevrolet Impala – Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Note:  The story you are about to read is true.  The names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent (or the guilty!)  So there!

One of the great mysteries of life is . . . Why are people motivated to do what they do?  What is this irresistible urge to . . . do whatever it is that turns us on?  And enthusiasm for that thing (or things) is not something we can control–it’s just there.  Passions vary greatly from person to person, which makes us all individuals.  The early signs of this phenomenon go back very far, like when you were 2 or 3.  You can see it young children;  you can see it in yourself.  If the desire is encouraged, it will grow and flourish.  If it is discouraged by others, it will flourish anyway despite opposition.  “You will be who you will be.”

Identical car–except for the knock-off wheelcovers.


I bring all of this up because the other day I happened to stumble across this mint condition 1959 Chevrolet Impala sedan on the VanDerBrink Auctions website, and I said, “Wow–there it is!  Just like I remember it!”  And all these memories came flooding back.

But first a little backstory:

That’s me, circa 1970 with a toy garage.


Somehow, I’ve always been interested in cars.  Particularly old ones.  Originally I was very into the real antiques–cars from the ‘teens to early ’30s.  I would see them in Charlie Chaplin movies, Laurel & Hardy, The Little Rascals, etc.  One of my favorite bits from Sesame Street was this little montage (particularly the second half).  Once Dad brought home W. C. Fields’ Hurry Hurry to show on our home projector–I found it so hilarious that I insisted he rewind the film and show it again!

Internet photo–not the actual show I went to.


I got to go to an antique car show.  At that time, almost all the cars would have been pre-war.  They were lined up on the grass, and I marveled at the wooden spoke wheels, running boards, sweeping fenders, polished upright radiators, tufted seats, hand cranks, and Steampunk (we didn’t have that word then) gauges.  The cars seemed so beautiful, strangely familiar, and SO BIG!

Queens, New York, 1970.


However, I still lived in the “modern world” of the early 1970s.  The cars I saw on a daily basis were interesting too.  There was one particular car that stood out which I instantly recognized and found endlessly intriguing.  You guessed it . . .

It was sleek and beautiful, but a little frightening with those oddly sinister rear lights tucked under the V-shaped wings.  The front had “eyebrows” over the headlights which were the same shape as the taillights but stretched-out and reversed.  Made perfect sense!  Then there was the gracefully curved roof line and the unique vent window shape with a windshield that wrapped all the way around!

At the time, I didn’t know what kind of car this was.  It was just “That Car”.  Sightings were not that common and all too brief.  It wasn’t until I got a copy of Tad Burness’ American Car Spotter’s Guide that I found out it was a ’59 Chevrolet.  I also learned the true identity of “familiar faces” (and rear ends) of other older cars I recognized.  I determined that I liked cars from 1955-61 the best, and they became the new focus of my enthusiasm.

Around 1977 I became a big fan of the TV show In Search Of . . .  Every week I was regaled with stories of UFOs, ghosts, the Bermuda Triangle, the Nazca Lines in Peru, Pyramid Power, the legend of the Mary Celeste, and on and on, as told by Mr. Spock himself!  One of the most intriguing stories was the case of Betty & Barney Hill, who were allegedly abducted by aliens while driving through New Hampshire in 1961.

Highway marker in New Hampshire.


Actress playing Betty Hill leans on the fender of her 1959 Chevy as a flying saucer approaches!


Then I found out that there was going to be a movie on TV about the Betty & Barney Hill abduction.  It was on past my bedtime, but after everyone else went to sleep, I snuck downstairs and started watching The UFO Incident.

Notice how the alien’s eyes have the same shape as the ’59 Chevy taillights?


Opening scene of the movie shows the Hills driving their ’59 Chevy.


Oh, boy–is this creepy.  They’re driving That Car and they’re going to get abducted by aliens!

The aliens are scary as hell.  The Hills are taken aboard the craft and are strapped to operating tables.  Then they show the surgical instruments the aliens are going to use on the Hills.

I freaked out.  That’s it–I can’t take it anymore!  I shut the TV off and went to bed, hoping the aliens weren’t going to come after me next!  After all, this wasn’t just another scary fictional horror movie.  This was presented as real!

I recently re-watched The UFO Incident on YouTube and came to the following conclusions:

  1.  This is a really bad movie.
  2.   It didn’t seem nearly as scary now as I remembered it being.  Also it turns out that in real life the Hills actually owned a ’57 Chevy, not a ’59.

Fast forward a few years . . .


My grandparents: Pietro (Pete) and Agnes Pellegrino, solid citizens of Millburn NJ. Grandpa “The Boss” built several of the commercial buildings in town.  That’s me at lower right.


One day I’m visiting my grandparents.  Grandma and Grandpa are nice, but sometimes it gets a little boring just hanging around the house . . .

I still have this bike. It’s in my parents’ attic.


Luckily, I kept my “old” 20 inch bike in my grandparents’ garage so I could get out of the house from time to time and explore the neighborhood.

Millburn ShopRite. At one time those cemented-over areas were glass windows.


One day Grandma asked me to go get something from the local ShopRite supermarket.  Since Grandma never learned to drive, normally Grandpa would drop her off at ShopRite (in his green ’71 AMC Matador wagon) while he stopped in at the Casa Columbo Italian social club across the street.   But this time Grandma asked me to run the errand, so I got on my bike and pedaled over there.

1959 Chevrolet images from VanDerBrink.


I came out of the supermarket with whatever it was I was supposed to get, I look out into the parking lot and–“Oh my God . . . look at that!  I can’t believe it!”

There it was, looking like a landed alien spacecraft–a genuine 1959 Chevrolet Impala 4-door sedan, resplendent in glistening Crown Sapphire and Snowcrest White.  It completely stood out from the sea of boxy, broughamy, compact, and sporty cars of the ’70s surrounding it.

I walked slowly around the whole car, taking it all in.  It was the first time I got to see a ’59 Chevy close-up like this.  The car is much more dramatic in person than it is in photos.

Who would own such a thing?  Just then a little old lady approached.  A conversation ensued:

Me:  “I really like your car . . . heh, heh.  Is this yours?”

Lady:  “Yes, it’s my car.  I’ve had it for __ years.”  (I forgot how many.)

Me:  “Um, would you ever want to sell it?”

Lady:  “What could you possibly pay me for it?  Fifteen dollars?!”

That kind of hurt.

I don’t know what was said after that, but the lady drove off and I went back to Grandma and told her about my conversation.

Grandma posing in front of an unusual AMC model owned by a visitor.


I described to Grandma the lady I met and her car.  Grandma says, “I know her.  That’s Mrs.______.”  Really?  Grandma knows the identity of every older Italian lady in the neighborhood?  Apparently so.

This struck me as odd because for one thing Grandma has never owned or driven a car, and rarely talked about cars at all.  Her one automotive comment I remember was her statement that “Fords are good cars.”  This was apparently based on the fact Grandpa had a mid-30s Ford woody station wagon up until 1957.  The idea that a Ford from the ’30s had virtually nothing in common with a Ford of the ’70s would not have occurred to Grandma.

The house in question. It looks a little different now, but I definitely remember that downsloping driveway.


A few weeks or months later, I’m riding my bike exploring Grandma’s neighborhood and out of the corner of my eye–“Whoa!  What’s that?”   I can see the turquoise ’59 Impala in an open garage.  Now, I don’t want to get into trouble, but sometimes things come together in a certain way and you just get sucked in.


It looks like no one’s around, so I walk down the driveway and peek in the garage.  Then (I know this is awful) I go inside the garage, open the driver’s door and check out the interior and dashboard, which looks a lot like TV’s Batmobile.  Cool!  But I now realize that I have to close the car door, which will make a loud slam.  Someone will hear me and then I’m in deep doo-doo.  I have no choice–I slammed the door, ran like hell, got on my bike and pedaled as fast as I could.  No one came after me.

I never saw the car again.  I’d like to think that since it survived as long as it did that it would have been preserved, but I’ve seen too many cases where that doesn’t happen.   I wanted to save it;  but I had no money, no license, and worst of all, no parental permission.  My father (a foreign car guy) thought that the ’59 Chevy design was ugly and ridiculous.  So I was all alone and nobody understood.

Finally, in 2018, I got a ’59 Chevy of my own.  “A dream come true.”  I was happy to discover that it’s not just a good-looking car, but a good-driving car too.  As a commenter on another website said about his own ’59, “It rode like a cloud!”  And it handles decently too, now that new radial tires and KYB gas shocks have been installed.  The 6 cylinder engine with Powerglide is super-smooth and quiet, and the car has been very reliable.

A monster lives in the garage . . .


So that’s my ’59 Chevy story.  Strange that a car that I only saw a few times briefly has had such an effect on my life.  And if I did get abducted by aliens, I’m sure they wiped the experience out of my memory banks.  Because there are certain mysteries that we are better off not knowing the answers to.