(Despite my COAL series being over, there was a little more left to skim off the mine. It seems appropriate to run this on the heels of that series. JS)
It was early June in 2021. Tim knew this phone call would be coming. He answered on the first ring.
Me: What you are doing?
Tim: Filling out an incident report.
Me (with a sinking feeling): Is it for a certain gray Impala?
Such has been the life of this Impala since our last update. Similar to what John Steinbeck wrote about the Jobe family truckster, it’s been to Hell and back on its belly. Even better, its anticipated service life isn’t even half over. So what has happened?
We had our last update about this Impala in July 2019. At that point our heroic Impala had 20,773 miles on the odometer and it seemed as if General Motors should at least send me a thank you note for this car having sold a few more Impalas. I guess their note got lost in the mail.
At this point I believe I owe General Motors a thank you for building a car which has proven itself to be as stout as 190 proof moonshine and as tough as chewing a mouth full of roofing nails. But I ought not be surprised; this is the same company that built 5,438,103,462 Cavaliers that kept running and looked like death warmed over longer than most cars existed.
In February 2020, I took a trip to the company facility in the town of Salem. With a population of 4,600, Salem is one of an abundance of towns around the state being in the 4,000 to 7,000 population range.
Upon leaving Salem, I was driving north on Route 19 toward Steelville, another of these small towns and the self-proclaimed “floating capital of Missouri” due to the abundance of canoes on the nearby Meramec River. Midway between Salem and Steelville I heard an unwelcome “pwooooof” from the trunk.
A coworker was with me. Startled, he began inquiring if we had a flat tire or if something on the car had blown up. I told him it was nothing of the sort but did not tell him what it was. Sometimes it is great fun to keep a person in suspense.
After pulling off onto a county road a few miles later, I popped the trunk. The powder came rolling out like snow blowing in a blizzard. The poorly restrained (rather, unrestrained) fire extinguisher had discharged.
Stopping at the company facility in Steelville, we attempted to vacuum the mess out of the trunk. “Attempted” is the operative word as the exhaust from the shop vacuum was blowing the dust right out and covering the entire car. The upshot is one could clearly see every fingerprint on the exterior. It looked like something from one of those dozen or so Crime Scene Investigation shows.
The downside was both front windows were down due to being quite warm that day and the powder had blown into the interior. Oops.
Leaving Steelville, we continued north on Route 19 to return to Jefferson City. As we approached Cuba (no Castro family there), I saw traffic stopped on the north side of the railroad bridge over Route 19. Getting closer I saw a chunk of concrete bouncing around on the pavement.
As I got closer, figuring I could avoid the errant chunk, there was a loud “WHAM!”. Another errant chunk of concrete almost succeeded in coming through the windshield. Naturally, the windshield had spiderweb cracking and had deformed where the concrete hit. Thankfully I could still see, so we continued on our way back.
Both of these events happened within two hours of each other.
Adding to the luster of the trip was our breathing in the powder which had blown into the interior of the Impala. It was making us powerfully thirsty. We won’t think about the side effects of inhaling the stuff.
Fast forward about a month, to March 2020. I had been sent home to work and had asked to park my beloved assigned Impala at my house. Even though I am ostensibly office-based, there are still things I have to investigate and attend to in the field and figured having the car at the house would better allow me to avoid others.
In late March, there was a severe hail-storm in Jefferson City. I knew it was a bad when the banging on the roof was deafening, combined with the broken pieces of hail stones landing on my deck being breathtakingly large.
This is one of the smaller hailstones. This landed near my backdoor; the hail was so large I had fist-sized divots all over the yard.
Not so good was having parked the Impala in my lower driveway. Thankfully no glass was broken, unlike many vehicles here in town. Interestingly, this Impala was parked next to my 1991 Dodge pickup (you can see a wheel in this picture), which acquired all of one minor dimple in the hood.
That hailstorm was so bad nearly every structure in Jefferson City got a new roof over the next twelve months. During the Summer of 2020, for about fourteen hours per day, the sheer number of nail guns being used sounded like gunshots in the distance.
Before the Impala could get fixed, there was a push to get more vehicles to field staff to minimize interaction and exposure as the nature of their job did not allow remote work during the pandemic. Thus I called Tim. I told him his facility could benefit from having more units and told him to come get this Impala for himself.
Tim happily took the Impala where it spent the next thirteen months in the Lake of the Ozarks area. I saw it a few times during that period and Tim was the only person who drove it. Nearly every time, Tim told me of some recent mishap involving wildlife. He hit opossums, a bobcat, a fox, a few skunks, and several raccoons. One of those raccoons, which he thought was dead, wasn’t. He had drug it about a quarter-mile when he heard it start hissing. He said there was fur stuck somewhere under the car from that escapade.
Upon returning to the office in May 2021 I told Tim I’d call him when the Impala needed to come back. When I called, as seen above, he had just broken a headlight from having hit a quail that morning. Tim warned me the front air deflector was held on with a pop-rivet from having annihilated some other critter, so I better not look at it for too long.
The headlight got repaired and I got my beloved Impala back. Despite all its bad luck, I had missed driving that car. It is comfortable, quiet, and has a delightfully refreshing amount of power from its 3.6 liter V6. If only GM had built an Impala like this twenty years sooner…
Now fast forward to November 2o21…I had business with the officers at Troop I of the Missouri State Highway Patrol in Rolla (pronounced Rah-luh). Adjacent to the Patrol’s troop office is a commercial drivers license testing facility.
When we left, I asked my (now former) assistant to drive as I had a few texts and calls that needed a response. As we were departing, we got stopped in the driveway behind an eighteen wheeler. I was sitting in the passenger seat of the Impala in my own little world, planning and strategizing.
Something told me to look up. That eighteen wheeler was rolling backwards toward us. I told my (now former) assistant to get us out of the way.
Before this statement could travel across the car, there was a loud noise with an unsettling amount of grinding.
Yes, that eighteen wheeler hit us. He also pushed us 28 feet. We were almost shoved into a Patrol vehicle that was right behind us and witnessed everything. The poor CDL student did not hear the car horn nor did he feel he was shoving over two tons of Impala and people.
It took the patrolman to fly around us with his lights and siren on to get the student to stop moving. I also now have even more respect for Mansfield bars.
When we finally stopped, I got out of the car and could only start laughing. It was all so damn stupid, I didn’t know what else to do. At this point, the CDL instructor walked back my way, saw me laughing like an idiot, looked at the patrolman and said “that’s a fail”.
Yeah, no shit.
While the Impala looked mostly okay, all the gaps between doors, fenders, and header panel were now wonky. Ultimately, there was well over $5000 worth of damage to my beloved assigned Impala.
A quick aside about this…the body shop could not work on the Impala until early January. I was told it was okay to drive the car, but knowing how things now tended to go when this Impala is involved, I left it parked. One day I was needing to head out. My (now former) assistant and I walked down to the garage to get a car.
Our wise, savvy, and perceptive yet refreshingly profane and unfiltered service attendant saw us walk in. I told him we needed a car. He is a joy to talk to and always puts me in a good mood; we get along famously. Looking directly at my (now former) assistant he said (with a big smile on his face):
“Shafer, you better drive. You let this other guy drive all he’s going to do is wreck the mother f–ker. Every f–king thing he drives comes back wrecked.”
Yes, don’t worry, I’ll drive.
One morning mid-May, I went to open the trunk. In the garage where the Impala was parked, there are a few parking bollards so one doesn’t back through the adjacent wall. The Impala had been parked such that the rear bumper was quite close to one of the bollards.
Did you know that when opening the trunk lid on one of these Impalas, the lip of the trunk lid extends beyond the rear bumper during its arc? I didn’t either until then. The trunk lid got stuck on the bollard and put a little orange paint on the lip of the trunk lid.
Every story needs to end on a happy note. Well, this one does. As of two days ago (edit: this was written in early July) I can attest to the anti-lock brakes on this Impala working flawlessly. I was on Route 179 on the north end of Jefferson City when an old man in a battered Toyota Sienna did not yield in a right turn lane and nearly hit me.
One other positive – the original Firestone Firehawk tires lasted for 61,000 miles. They still had tread but their performance in rain had diminished. Plus it has averaged over 27 mpg throughout its entire service life.
Overall, this Impala remains a great car – although GM should have built something like this twenty years sooner. Despite all it has been dealt, it keeps rebounding. Maybe one could wager that is the true talent of General Motors – they can build a car that is thoroughly capable of withstanding all manner of (ab)use. While I understand the reasoning, I hate these were cancelled.
These are among the best Impalas ever built and I’m glad it’ll be hanging around a while longer.