- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

Being industrious has its rewards. Ronald Jongeling worked at several odd jobs while attending Northwest College in Orange City, Iowa. He was a senior nearing graduation in 1966 and had saved enough money to buy a new car.

“Dad didn’t allow loans,” Mr. Jongeling said. Consequently, the young student had to shop for a bargain price on his first new car. One February day, he walked by the Kooiker Chevrolet dealership on West 1st Avenue in Rock Rapids, up near the Minnesota state line.

On the car lot was the dealer’s allotment of 1966 Chevrolets. Mr. Jongeling was attracted to several of the two-door hardtop Impalas. Many of the sleek Impalas were loaded with expensive accessories, such as bucket seats, but he found a tuxedo-black Impala with a bench seat, a 283-cubic-inch V-8 engine mated to a three-speed manual transmission.

“It was love at first sight, especially when I saw the sticker price,” Mr. Jongeling says.

That particular Impala did not have air conditioning, but it was in his price range. “I thought about it for two days,” he says, before returning to the dealership to make the deal on Feb. 25, 1966. The dealer allowed Mr. Jongeling $538 on his 1958 Chevrolet trade-in, which left a balance due of $2,262.

At last, the young student had his new Chevrolet. “I say that I was able to date Cheryl, my wife of 41 years, because of my new car,” he says. “The night we got engaged,” he continues, “I put the box that held her ring in the cubbyhole - and it has been there ever since.”

Upon graduation, he drove his Impala to his first real post-college job in Adairsville, Ky. After 2 1/2 years, he drove back to Castlewood, S.D., where he and his car have been since then.

After 145,000 miles of use as the family car, Mr. Jongeling says of his Impala, “the valves were getting shaky.” His son took the car to his school, where his auto-shop class overhauled the engine. While there, the brake system also was restored, on the theory that the ability to stop is as important as the ability to go.

By 2006, the time had come to complete the restoration. Mr. Jongeling drove his well-worn car 180 miles to the body shop he had selected to do the work.

The rocker panels were replaced, but the rest of the car was amazingly free of rust. All of the glass was removed and set aside for later reinstallation.

Two of the original wheel covers that dressed up the 14-inch wheels were salvageable and were polished to a like-new appearance. The other two were damaged beyond repair, so they were replaced.

The red interior was reupholstered. Mr. Jongeling made certain that the treasured jewelry box remained in the glove compartment, at the right end of the dashboard. The other end of the dashboard holds the 120-mph speedometer. He thinks that speeds of 100 mph or maybe even 110 mph are attainable. Soon after purchasing the car, he says, “I had it up to 90 once.”

The restoration of the Chevrolet was declared complete in May 2007, when Mr. Jongeling drove it home. “It rides and drives better than new,” he says.

Now that he has 151,000 miles on the restored 1966 Chevrolet, he is pleased with the results. If there is one regret, he concedes, it is that 43 years ago he did not have the money for air conditioning. The temperature in the summer months in South Dakota can be on the warm side.

“We roll down the windows,” the owner says, and if that doesn’t provide relief from the heat, they wait until the evening hours to go cruising in the Impala.

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