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1961 Chevrolet
Impala

Return To Service

Client Project



This is a true survivor! Purchased a number of years ago from the proverbial "little old lady" who had grown too old to drive, this car had lived its entire life in west Texas up until maybe 5 or 6 years ago. It was "rescued" and brought back to life after sitting in storage for several years. It was then sold to its current owner about 4 years ago.

Its current owner was forced to set the car aside for the last four years. Priorities have changed and now he has decided to to have us perform our "Return To Service" project on this beautifully original example of a 61 Chevy Impala so that he can put it up for sale and feel confident that the next owner will be buying a mechanically sound car.

When we say "survivor", we mean that the car is in truly original condition. It wears the original laquer paint. The interior has never been touched. There have been no modifications to it whatsoever aside from the addition of an aftermarket fuel filter. It even has factory A/C! And, the odometer indicates just 58K miles - which is reported as being accurate original miles. Given the overall condition of the car, we have to assume this to be true.




BEFORE

The body on this car is straight and nearly perfect. Aside from the normal wear & tear in the form of nicks, chips and scratchs, the only apparent "damage" ever to have happened is to the right rear corner around the outer tail light. This apparently happened very early in the car's life and it was repaired properly with just a thin coat of body filler over the steel. Of course, after nearly 50 years, this body filler is cracked and peeling in spots. But, it would be an easy repair - which will be left to the next owner to do - or leave as-is. There are spots of rust pretty much everywhere the paint has been chipped or pitted. But, none of the rust has gone deep or perforated the steel. All of it could be easily eliminated should the next owner elect to strip and repaint the car.

Like the body, the interior shows wear and tear, but it is minimal. Aside from the entry/exit wear in the driver's seating area and some scuffs in the kickpanels, the interior looks nearly perfect. Aside from a good cleaning - and maybe a new front seat cover, this interior should be left as-is.

The windshield has a crack that extends from the left edge to just past the rearview mirror. But, replacement windshields are readily available.

As with all our "Return To Service" projects, our mission is to make the car mechanically sound so that it can be safely driven with reasonable reliability. As such, no attempts will be made to improve upon the cosmetic condition of the car. Given its originality, it is questionalbe whether or not any efforts should be made to change its cosmetic condition. Since the current owner intends to sell the car once we complete this project, decisions regarding any cosmetic reconditioning are best left to the next proud owner.

If you are interested in this Impala, feel free to contact Midlife Classics prior to our completing the Return To Service project. We'd be happy to tailor any remaining work to your desires.

         
         
         
         
         
         
Click on an image for a larger view



FUEL SYSTEM

When we perform a Return to Service project, one of the primary concerns of most clients is whether or not the engine will run. So, we tend to focus on that first. But, when cars sit idle for extended periods with fuel in the tank, it's a safe bet that - at a minimum - the fuel has gone bad. So, after doing some preliminary work on the engine (see below), we usually tackle the fuel system.

In the case of this Impala, we were told that the car had sat just four years. So, we expected to be able to just drain the old fuel from the tank, remove the top from the carburetor to drain out the old fuel, blow out the lines and then continue with the rest of the work on the engine. Not so in this case.

When we started draining the fuel tank, the slow flow combined with the putrid smell clued us in that we were in for more work than we had bargained for. When we dropped the tank (with maybe a gallon of fuel that wouldn't drain out), we immediately removed the fuel gauge sending unit (which is combined with the fuel pickup tube and filter sock) to get a look inside. Well, the sending unit had to be pulled pretty hard to separate the float end of it from the pool of tar-like goo in the bottom of the tank. One look inside the fuel tank and we knew it would have to be sent out for refurbishing. After soaking the sending unit in the solvent tank for 48 hours, hardly any of the goo came off. In fact, the filter sock was so full of semi-hard goo, that it felt like a bag of silly putty. Also, the sending unit tested bad. So, we trashed the sending unit, ordered a replacement and sent the tank out to be reworked.

With what we found in the tank, we knew the carburetor was going to be a problem. We found the same tar-like goo in the bottom and on the float. The jets were completely clogged to the point where no amount of solvent or air pressure would clear them. We resorted to the (gasp) safety-wire routing method to clear them out - being extremely careful not to enlarge the jet holes and screw up the air/fuel mixture. This was followed by a lot of soaking, spraying, scraping and then blowing out all the orifices. Since all the rubber inside the carburetor looked fairly new - including the float needle, we opted to reassemble it without ordering a rebuild kit. That was a mistake. When we first started the engine, the carburetor flooded the engine because the float valve apparently would only regulate the flow of fuel when it felt like it. Fortunately, the local parts store had one in stock - as well as the internal sintered-metal filter, so we took the carburetor off and performed a proper rebuild. When we were done, the carburetor was leak-free.

The housing for the choke's heat-sensitive spring and plunger was loaded with rust. We were able to get this cleaned out and after some work, the mechansim moves freely. But, the spring seems to have lost some of its temperature-sensitive action, so the choke may only be marginally functional. We'll know more when we are able to perform some repeated cold starts through warm-up and back to cold start.

         
         
         
Click on an image for a larger view



ENGINE

The engine appeared to have been untouched since new except for (hopefully) regular general maintenance. All the hoses looked to be in excellent shape (likely replaced just before being sold to the current owner), so we left them as-is. Cosmetically, the engine looked to be in sad shape, but so would any engine that hadn't been cleaned up and freshened up in 50 years.

Our first order of business was to remove the spark plugs and inspect them for any signs of trouble. They all looked fine except for a minor amount of what appeared to be oil deposits on the #1 plug. But, it wasn't bad enough to cause any great concern. We'd just make a point of keeping an eye on that cylinder if we suspect any problems down the road. With the plugs removed, we then sprayed a few shots of WD-40 in each cylinder to break down any rust that might give us some concern the first time we turn the crankshaft. We let that sit and soak for a few days and went on to other work.

A few days later (after working on the rear brakes and rear suspension), we made it back to the engine. We removed the valve covers to inspect the valve train for sludge and any obvious problems. Surprisingly, it looked sparkling clean inside - evidence of frequent oil changes throughout its life. While we had the valve covers off, we ran them through the media blaster and gave them a couple coats of Chevy Orange engine paint.

The next step in bringing it back was to perform an oil and filter change. With that done, we wanted to ensure that the entire engine was properly pre-lubricated before we attempted to rotate the crankshaft. So, we removed the distributor (after marking it so that we could reinstall it without losing the ignition timing) and used our handy oil pump priming tool to spool up the oil pump long enough to push oil through the engine's oiling system.

With the carburetor off and the distributor out, we removed the coil and went ahead and painted the top of the engine. Then we reinstalled the distributor - taking care to realign our marks to preserve the timing. Now we were ready to hand-crank the engine.

We then discovered that this Impala's 283 V8 engine is one of those that came without a bolt at the end of the crankshaft to retain the harmonic balancer. That left us without any reasonable means to crank the engine by hand. So, we resorted to hooking up the battery and cranking it with the starter. We did this with the spark plugs removed to keep from having to overcome compression and to give any WD-40 left in the cylinders a means of escape. The engine cranked over easily and we were ready to move on to the next step.

Everything was bolted back onto the engine, the cooling system was topped of and we were ready to attempt a first start. Fuel was provided via a remote gas can with a hose routed to the fuel pump inlet. After some cranking sessions to fill the carburetor bowl with fuel, the engine sparked to life and settled into a steady idle right off the bat. Per our "First Start" policy, the engine was run for just 30 seconds then shutdown for inspection. On its second run, a problem with flooding forced us into doing a proper full rebuild of the carburetor (see "Fuel System" above). Once that was resolved, we were able to run the engine for an extended period and let it reach full operating temperature. After letting it maintain a consistent temperature for 10+ minutes without any smoke or other problems observed, it was shutdown and inspected for leaks. No engine or cooling system leaks were found.

The video below was taken during the second run of the engine - just before we started experiencing a problem with the carburetor flooding

         
         
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BRAKES

The current owner supplied us with a full set of replacement brake shoes, wheel cylinders and a master cylinder. We've also picked up a full set of rubber brake hoses. We've already replaced the rear brake components while rebuilding the rear suspension. When finished, all the normally-wearable components of the brake system will have been replaced.

         
         
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SUSPENSION, STEERING & UNDERCARRIAGE SECTION

One area that typically suffers from extend periods of storage is all the the rubber bushings in the suspension. Actually, just about all the rubber parts in a car (hoses, belts, bushings, etc.) age poorly when not excercised regularly. So, it is one of the first things we check whenever we perform a Return to Service project.

As expected, the rubber suspension bushings on this Impala were dry rotted and - in some places - literally falling apart. A complete kit of urethane suspension bushings is being installed in place of the original rubber units. Not only does urethane provide more precise control over the suspension's movement, it also is far less susceptable to damage from age.

In additon to th bushings, the upper and lower control arm ball joints and outer tie rod ends will be replaced with quality reproduction parts from Rare Parts. The rear shocks were already replaced not too long ago. The front shocks are not leaking, but do look like they might just be original. We'll see how they function on our first test drive. The rest of the suspension and steering components appear to be in great shape.

         
         
Click on an image for a larger view




Send Mail to
bob@midlifeclassics.com