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1966 Chevrolet Impala always part of the family

- - Thursday, September 1, 2011

Like a lot of financially challenged students, Rick Berger struggled through college. Upon graduation he landed a job a couple of states away with no way to get there.

This isn't a modern-day tale but one that is 40 years old. Some things never seem to change.

Upon graduation Mr. Berger found himself in western Pennsylvania with a degree in one hand and a letter promising employment at a high school in Severna Park, Md., in the other. He did the sensible thing and in July 1966 he married his girlfriend, Gwen. With her at his side, the problems didn't seem so intimidating.

The next month he purchased an Aztec Bronze 1966 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport convertible with a 327-cubic-inch Turbo-Fire V-8 engine under the hood pumping out a very healthy 275 horsepower. All of that muscular power was transferred to the rear-drive wheels through a four-speed manual transmission.

The base price of the car was $3,199 but the price quickly rose as the desirable optional extras were added. Mr. Berger says he was happy to get the total price discounted by $600.

With most of their worldly possessions packed in the new Chevrolet, the newly married couple set off for Maryland on life's adventure. They were cruising along in the 3,630-pound convertible on tires sporting 5/8-inch-wide white sidewalls - but who knew how much more the luggage addedlinkage slipped down where it shouldn't and the disabled car coasted over to the side of the road.

With the aid of some good Samaritans and some tools, Mr. Berger managed to get the gear shift linkage working once more and the couple continued on to Severna Park.

Once there, Mr. Berger began his teaching career with the biggest problem being the end of each school day when his wife would come by the school in the flashy new convertible to take him home.

The youthful Mrs. Berger regularly would be mistaken by the security detail for a student and be directed away from the faculty parking lot.

Eventually the young lady in the Aztec Bronze convertible was recognized as a faculty wife.

The Chevrolet did daily service for 10 years, doing what all family cars do, including providing the first car ride home from the maternity hospital for daughter Laurie in 1970 and son Doug in 1975.

By 1977 Mr. Berger took his well-worn car off the road with the idea of restoration in the back of his mind.

'In 1980 I spent $1,000 in parts,' Mr. Berger says. Every time he saw something that he knew would could in handy during restoration, he bought the part.

'It was getting tired in 1985 and the top was shabby,' Mr. Berger says. That's when he pushed his convertible over to the far corner of the garage, where it languished and gathered dust.

Finally Mr. Berger decided the time for restoration had come. He had assembled all the necessary parts and his son was now old enough to be useful in the process. Trim pieces that were not replaced were sent off to be replated with chrome while the rest of the car was disassembled.

On many popular cars, such as this one, a large number of parts remain readily available and often it is more cost-effective to replace the part than repair the original.

Such was the case with both front fenders of the Chevrolet. Not only were the replacements rust- and dent-free, they fit precisely. Likewise, the grille. Mr. Berger found one still in the original protective wrapping for the sum of $39.

While the engine and transmission were getting a new lease on life, the car was being repainted in the original Aztec Bronze and the interior received new Parchment vinyl upholstery, which appears whiter than white in contrast to the black carpeting.

The odometer on the Chevrolet recently rolled over 90,000 miles and Mr. Berger reports his very large car still delivers about 18 miles per gallon on the highway.

Chevrolet manufactured a total of 119,314 cars like Mr. Berger's. Most of them have gone to that big junkyard in the sky.

With the Super Sport 'SS' emblem at the hub of each wheel on the 119-inch wheelbase, the ride is very soft.

Mr. Berger is happy that the restoration was complete by July 12, 2005, when his son, Doug, drove his wife, Becky, home from the maternity hospital with their baby Gwen in the same car he made the same trip in 30 years before as a passenger.