After a long absence, ‘Telling your Tale’ is back, offering readers the chance to share their tales of American automotive wonder. This month, Nigel Manners relives the epic journey he took with his son Will to buy and collect the Chevy Impala SS of his dreams. A new classic American and a road trip to boot… lucky chaps! Words & Photography: Nigel & Will Manners.
Found it! At last I’d found the ’65 Impala SS in the colour and interior combination that I have wanted for some years, having seen them in Arizona on previous car part finding trips for my ’67 Caprice: ‘Evening Orchid’ with ‘Parchment and Black’ interior. It also had the same small block 350 as I had in the Caprice, which is just right for UK roads and fuel prices. Plus it had a 4 speed automatic transmission, power-steering and power-brakes, plus 12 bolt posi-traction rear end. It was totally rebuilt and like new underneath and two owners.
This seemed to be the one… but the car was at Gateway Classics in Colorado (www.gatewayclassiccars.com ). I sent an offer over by email and it was accepted. That was it. Then it was just a case of “Do I or don’t I?”. It took a few minutes and the decision was to go for it and so a deposit of $1000 was sent over to hold it whilst we sorted flights and hotels – There was a lot of other paperwork to arrange too, including insurance and our travel plans to go and pick up the car and drive it to a port in the US for shipping to the UK. Rather than paying for it to be transported, my son and I decided to kill two birds at once, doing the job ourselves and having a road trip of a life time!
Three weeks later we flew into Denver which is 5200 feet up on a plateau and found our pre-booked hotel shuttle bus outside amongst dozens of smart buses, taxis and limousines. A huge 15 seat ‘mini’ bus, for £12 each it would take us to a hotel that was around half a mile from the classic car dealer that had the Impala. We were the only ones on it after he dropped off another holiday maker at another hotel, so we asked the driver if he would detour to where we were meeting our contact and gave him $20 tip, for which he gladly assisted in dropping us directly at the dealership, much to the surprise of the sales manager.
The alternative taxi ride from the airport was $140 for the hour-long journey, so this was a cheap ride. With full sun and blue skies at around 60 degrees we were extremely happy, but tense walking in. It had been a huge commitment to pay for the Impala by bank transfer, so I decided to use a Foreign Exchange operation that bought the dollars on the market and sent them to the Dealership account the following day, three days before we left home. It did mean we got over $1.40 to the pound with no fees, so it was about as good as we could hope for at the time. We had also arranged comprehensive insurance through a Colorado company and AAA breakdown cover just in case.
There in the showroom, sat on chrome Cragar wheels, was the Impala gleaming, outside although the tarmac was clean and dry, the snow had been pushed into huge piles. We had been weather watching for a week. With snow predicted for the following day we had changed our hotel from on in Denver, to one 100 miles further south in Pueblo, in an attempt to avoid the forecasted heavy snow that night.
Paperwork completed, we jumped in and powered off the forecourt with an unintentional wheel spin when it changed into second! Having bought a ’67 Caprice two-door sports hard top some year back and drove it from Arizona to LA to ship that one home, we knew from experience to go to an Autozone stores to buy spares. The Impala SS was well tuned and in great shape and drove like the wind, but our first stop was at a Sonic’s drive-in for proper size burgers and fries!
Autozone were very helpful as usual, finding the correct spare belts, top-up fluids and 20-litre plastic fuel can which is a necessity out in the wilds of rural America. We also picked up a new radio aerial and fitted a battery cut off switch. Happiness, was filling up at a gas station for only $3 a gallon. Now it was time to head south, straight down the I-25 Intersate to Pueblo. I-25 took us right through Colorado Springs, which looked amazing with all its lights twinkling and with the mountains as a back drop. Our hotel in Pueblo turned out to be very smart and most importantly, it had plenty of parking.
After an eat-as-much-as-you-want breakfast, we happily stepped back into the Impala and having thought of a few more things to buy for the car, plus food and drink snacks for the journey ahead we drove to a nearby retail area. Once again into Autozone store, then a Dollar store and a food store. We headed off south down the I25 to Trinidad, into blue skies and a warming sun and once again we enjoyed totally dry roads, so the Impala still looked super clean and polished.
Trinidad is a great town full of older buildings and fairly quiet streets and it was here we turned left towards the east and headed for New Mexico, but first, time for lunch and fuel stop, before a day’s drive of around a further 300 miles. East on the route I-60 through tree covered mountains either side, following a rail road winding its way up and over the mountain range and right onto the 389 south to Des Moines (the little one in New Mexico, not the big one in Iowa,) where we joined the 87 having dropped out of the mountains. The road straightened out and the skies stayed blue and air temperature gradually rose. The Impala ran superb at a steady 65 mph and with an overdrive it dropped the revs right down to about 2000rpm at the chosen 65 mph.
Route 87 turned out to be a road trip delight as we took in old homesteads, railroads and small towns. We came into Clayton, an old town that has seen a decline in its fortunes, so we found many old buildings and garages to stop at for photos. In many ways, we thought this route better than Route 66 for untouched “Wild West” type buildings from the Thirties to Sixties and we saw many abandoned shops and businesses left empty. The road widened to two lanes in both directions and soon Texas beckoned: very flat and very straight.
We now understood the term ‘Texas Sky’ as we enjoyed a full 360 degree view of the distant horizon. Amazing sunsets and farm after farm passed by, some dotted with dozens of wind farms, but most with herds of cattle. Further down route 87 as it turned dark we entered Amarillo and cruised the historic Route 66 section, going west to east through the middle of this large town. So more gas thrown in and we headed for the Texan Road House for a great evening of eating. It was great to have Will able to share the driving for this long distance road trip. He loved it!
Sun rise was stunning the next morning, with some frost on the ground, and after more eat-as-much-as-you-want breakfast, we checked the Chevy’s tyre pressure and pumped it up to 35psi. We headed out of town east on I-40. Today would be a push to cover 550 miles down past Dallas to Huntsville north of Houston. The plan was to get into the shippers around lunchtime and wanted an easier drive that morning. On the edge of Amarillo we turned off I40 and headed down route 287.
We were pleasantly surprised again, as the whole route was your typical classic American highway, with fantastic old towns and sights all the way down. Passing through the town of Memphis we simply had to stop; firstly there was a 65 Impala for sale at the road side totally brown rust coloured. Then there was the busy railroad, with mile long wagons passing plus a very empty town of old buildings, with brick paved square that must have seen better times in the past…We could have stayed for hours, but had to push on, so carried on south on 287.
When we reached Vernon we could see on the map that Oklahoma was just to our left and turned north on route 1-83 towards Davidson which took us into the State. We turned right onto the 70 which was as straight as ever and empty with small farm homesteads dotted along this fantastic road. This ran parallel to the route we had left and so we turned south again onto I-44 which ran south into Wichita Falls.
Back onto the 287 and through more small towns as the sun set on our right side as we headed for Fort Worth and Dallas. Now this is where it all changed and the number of lanes grew from the one to seven. Plus the overhead junctions and bridges over multi-level freeways we were packed in with full-on Dallas traffic. Not for the faint hearted in the dark whilst being overtaken by most trucks whilst we kept to our 65 mph. We had 197 miles to go to Huntsville down I-45 so had booked a hotel on the edge of Sam Houston national forest. Whilst we realised we had spent too much time enjoying the towns and sights on Route 287 further back, we were very glad we had, as now we were in a huge, sprawling city. We stopped for gas, checked engine oil and topped it up a little. We arrived at 10 after diving into a nearby drive-in for dinner. However, in the bath was a huge cock roach! Once dead we went to bed without a bath! The hotel did not charge us at all for the room after bringing this to their attention after breakfast which was nice.
The next morning we checked the Impala over before driving down I-45 to Houston. We made the right choice to take a Sat Nav set up for the US, as it was a great bonus navigating our way around Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as to the shippers in the middle of industrial east Houston. We needed a hire car later after dropping the Impala at the shippers and so we picked up our pre-booked rental car from Houston airport on the way to the shippers. We managed to get a huge Dodge Ram pick-up. “Awesome” said Will.
We drove in tandem to the shipper’s address and by pure luck we got there before they closed early on a Friday, where we had to sign in with security and then sort out paperwork, whilst the Impala was taken round the back of the facility to await loading into a container. It wasn’t a pretty place, with lots of activity and the packing all sorts of items to go into ships. I asked if I could take a picture of the Impala in the warehouse and was taken through the back of the site where the Impala was parked. There were many vehicles outside, but the Chevrolet was with several other classics inside including a 1960 Rolls destined for Europe. Two guys were packing vehicles and filling two containers and they seemed to be skilled in the process.
So we drove off for a recommended weekend on Galveston Island, south of Texas, which is a local holiday get away place with seaside pier full of fun fare rides. White sand beaches and great places to stay and of course lots of places to eat. It was Mardi Gras weekend so the added attraction of full on American parade and bands all day Saturday along the sea front. It was a fantastic end to the road trip of a lifetime and a great distraction after dropping the Impala off after our epic journey. Now all that remained was the five week to pick it up at the other end in the UK!
Nigel’s Road Trip/Car buying Tips
- Pre book first two nights hotels so you know where you are going on the route to begin with.
- Take a Sat Nav set up for the USA.
- Pre-book your transport from the airport
- Use a Foreign Exchange dealer in the UK to buy your dollars to send over to the Dealer.
- Drive the old roads rather than the Interstates where possible
- Always have cash for gas and eats
- Take a credit card for use in the States so the dollar exchange is best with no fees. The Halifax Clarity card for example, or Post Office card.
- Know where the nearest Autozone store is and make sure you stock up on spares and fluids.
- Make sure you know when the shippers are open and time they close each day as it does vary.
- Plan sufficient time to stop in old towns for pictures and eating.
- Most of all HAVE FUN!