As the media have noted, those of us of a certain age can vividly recall exactly what we were doing in the early afternoon of November 22, 1963. I was in a Sociology class, trying to stay awake during a lecture. Then the professor was called into the hall and informed of JFK’s assassination. She returned, red-faced and sobbing, and implored us to “Go to the chapel and pray.” We did.
Not Bob Breslin. He and his father, Bob Sr., were in the showroom and offices of Courtesy Chevrolet, late of Penns Grove. Bob had just graduated from high school and had a ’57 Chevy with a cracked head (he discovered later) that made it run “bad.” His Dad said, “You want to get rid of that car? Let’s take a ride.” Courtesy had put Bob in their new Malibu and he drove it for quite a while, finally deciding that this was not the car for him.
So father and son headed back to the dealership, and, by about 1:30 or 1:45 in the afternoon they were sealing a deal with salesman Ray Buechler on a 1964 Impala SS two-door hardtop. Bob (Jr.) had ordered a hard-to-find Tuxedo Black with an even rarer silver interior. Suddenly Ray’s brother Paul ran in and shouted “Somebody shot JFK in Texas!”
“You never forget where you were on a day like that.” And Bob took possession of the car — issued to “Bob Breslin” with no mention of Junior or Senior — on the 18th of December, 1963. And has the paperwork to prove it. “I pumped gas for a while and then went into the service. I parked it on a hill in Staten Island during the week when my ship was in port and drove it home on weekends. Dad took it over after I’d driven it for two years – I had a ’64 Pontiac Tempest by then – and he drove it until 1984. By the time we put it in the barn it had accumulated 235K miles. I did all the service work on it, including one valve job.”
A little while after Bob retired he retrieved the ’64 Impala from the barn 20 years after it had gone in. “It’s a tribute to Pop-Pop, who was a true gem,” his wife Sue — a car person in her own right — noted. She and Bob disassembled the car, Sue labeling every zip-lock bag and keeping everything organized. Then the long process of a frame-off restoration really began. Much of it done out of a multi-bay garage that was once part of the old Garton’s Body Shop adjoining their comfortable Quinton Township home.
After the frame was media-blasted Bob replaced everything attached to it. He farmed out some of the work he thought would be better done by professionals: The Powerglide transmission to Joe DiNoia, the engine rebuild to Richie Elwell, the complete re-do of the interior to Smitty’s in Westville. Much of the body work to select pros. “Not all at the same time, of course.”
The work on the details was endless and often excruciating. At times Bob wanted to abandon the entire project, but Sue kept him going, saying “I don’t care if it takes every cent we’ve got!” A small example of their joint work on the car is the console. The one that came with the car was severely compromised, both cosmetically and functionally. So onto eBay they went, finally getting an original one in better shape. Sue did the sewing of the material for an inset while Bob smoothed and repainted it to match the rest of the interior. A new “SS” emblem finished the project – right down to the rear-facing light.
Now it’s nearly finished. Only a few minor things remain – and Bob is working on them. It’ll be shown this coming season and my money is on it to do quite well. The rare machine has been brought back to better-than-new in many areas.
And it drives very well — even for now — for a 50-year-old car. Bob honored me by letting me take the huge wheel which all but pinned me to the seat. The GM steering wandered a bit – as GM steering of that time was known for – and the drum brakes felt ... well ... like drum brakes. “I resisted the temptation to upgrade. I wanted it to be just as it was when I bought it.” Overall it was very solid and confidence-inspiring. And smooth and quiet, too. It felt as if one could drive it cross-country at highway speeds without fear of breakdown.
The country has undergone incredible changes since that fateful day in Dallas. But the ’64 Impala hasn’t.
More Pictures at http://photos.nj.com/8002621/gallery/bob_breslins_1964_chevrolet_impala_ss/index.html