If the Curbside Classic website were a religion (and it may be to some people), I would be “Orthodox”. That is, I like finding all-original old cars on the road or parked somewhere, which bring back memories of the now-misty past, and show us something of the state of automotive technology and styling at that particular time. So that’s why I wanted to share this 1964 Chevrolet Biscayne sedan for sale in Norfolk, VA, with plastic seat covers, six cylinder engine, Powerglide transmission, and a mere 52,000 miles.
You will not find a Chevy like this in Chevrolet enthusiast books, or in Super Chevy magazine (except as a “before”). Which is yet another reason why CC fills such an important role: showing you cars that other “mainstream media” won’t show–even if such cars have deep significance to many, many people. In fact, CC has run previous articles on the ’64s, including a 2-door sedan, taxi, and station wagon.
As a young car spotter in the 1970s & ’80s, I always was impressed by the 1959-64 full-size Chevys. Each year was distinctive in appearance, especially from the back. You could immediately tell an Impala (six taillights) from a Bel Air or Biscayne (four). I usually saw Impalas and an occasional Bel Air; Biscaynes were relatively uncommon, but they were out there.
As the 80s wore on, these once common conveyances of the proletariat started to thin out. I seem to associate them with supermarket and shopping center parking lots. By this time such cars were driven by older people who wanted to stick with the familiar. I specifically remember a ’57 Chevy wagon; two ’59 Impala sedans in blue; a black and a green ’60 Impala and a gray ’60 Bel Air; and quite a few 61-64s, with ’61 being the least common. I talked to a couple of owners, who were quite bemused that a youngster like me was so interested in their obsolete machines.
At a gas station in Millburn, NJ, I saw one of these ’64 sedans which had been hand painted black with a brush (or a broom–I couldn’t tell). It looked like a roofing-tar job on wheels! No shine, brush marks all over; no masking so there were slop marks on trim, taillights, glass. Worse than anything Earl Sheib ever turned out. But it was obvious that the owner put a lot of time into his project, and I’m assuming that it looked even cruddier before he started. I will say the thick black paint was doing a good job protecting the metal, and that’s what paint is for, isn’t it . . . ?
You’ve got to wonder about the guy who walks into a Chevy dealer’s and says, “Listen, I just want a plain ’64 Chevy sedan in white. Six cylinder with Powerglide. Radio, heater, and plastic seat covers–that’s all.”
I can imagine his trade in–a ’56 Plymouth Plaza sedan (solid gray), with push-button PowerFlite. A noisy muffler, missing one hubcap, and spewing clouds of blue smoke, despite several applications of STP. Rust holes in the floor are covered by old license plates.
Now before you start making fun of such a person, you have to remember that life is expensive. And other than a house, a new car is the largest purchase most people will make. Being able to afford the down payment and the monthly payments (with interest) will not be easy for many. So the idea of having low-cost “basic transportation” that is reliable represents true value to those who don’t want (or can’t afford) extravagance or showiness. “It takes all kinds of dogs to make a world.”
An interesting fact, however, is that in ’64 an economy buyer could select a higher-trim Chevelle Malibu sedan for less than the bottom-of-the-line full-size Biscayne–$2349 vs. $2417! The Chevelle was about the size of a 55-57 Chevy. I guess Biscayne buyers felt the bigger size was worth $68 extra?
Our featured Biscayne looks the way I remember a lot of these looking–worn and weathered, but not a total bomb. It’s got surface rust, engine and transmission leaks, and a few other problems–the kind of things that a couple of decades ago would be enough to send it straight to the boneyard–just another worn-out old car. I’d like to think that something that has lasted this long would be spared that fate, but “the hobby” can be cruel. Most “enthusiasts” don’t want to preserve and drive around in a tired 4-door Biscayne with a six. (Author’s note: I have a ’59 Biscayne six w/Powerglide and I think it does just fine in normal driving. If you want fast with tight handling, buy something new–this is about authentic nostalgia and charisma!)
**SUPER BONUS** CC Effect struck while creating this post! If that Ermine White Biscayne doesn’t do it for you, I can also offer you this Desert Beige version, with 283 V-8, bumper guards and gas filler door trim, for sale in Richmond, MO:
For some reason, this shade of beige (usually called “Desert [something]”) was quite a popular choice in the early ’60s. You will fall into one of two camps: either you think it looks like mud, and “Why would anyone pick that?” or you appreciate the warm, subtle quality of earth tones, which bring out new, artistic effects of the “cleanly sculptured” body styling. Apparently, GM color stylists believed the latter.
$6500, runs well; this may be the better buy.
Who knew there would be two of these things still around?
Snazzy seats. Looks original, and still looks great. Tiger skin seat covers with leopard carpeting!
So that’s my ode to the 59-64 Chevys. I prefer the 59-60s, with their sleek, other-worldly designs, but the 61-64s are interesting too–they were clean, “friendly” shapes which millions of people owned or were familiar with driving down the American road. But that was many years and many miles ago. This once ubiquitous part of the carscape has become an antique curiosity.
Sensitive readers may want to skip this last part: