1964 Chevrolet Impala and a Governor at the Wheel

By: Anthony Fontanelle

"It has a 409 V-8," former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves said about his 1964 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport convertible. "That's the important part." Graves got the red convertible 15 years ago. He described it as a car he had to have because of a used 1963 Chevrolet Bel Air four-door sedan that he drove to high school in Salina, Kan.

Back then, he desperately wanted a 409-cubic-inch V-8 engine in a car with two fewer doors and a top that went down, but his father thought otherwise, Graves said. He became governor in 1995 and served until January 2003. During his term, the car did not get much use so it had been put together to close a speedy deal at an auction.

He patched things up by sending the 171/2-feet-long car to a restoration shop in Hutchinson, Kan., for a timely overhaul. Now, Graves said, "the motor is a thing of beauty." The car was then trucked to Kansas City, where the cosmetic imperfections were cured. When it rolled out of that shop on its 119-inch wheelbase, it looked better than new. "They made it whole again," Graves said.

In 2003, he flew to Washington to report for duty as the President of the American Trucking Association in Alexandria. His cherished Chevrolet came later, in the same moving van as his household goods. The restored Chevrolet stands 55.8 inches high and is 77 inches wide. It easily fitted inside the mover's trailer. After the trip, the fluids were replaced, which meant filling the 20 gallon gasoline tank, adding five quarts of oil to the engine and 22 quarts of coolant to the radiator.

Now that the Graves family is settled in McLean, the former governor and his car have been reunited. The Impala may not have to create a dramatic finishing touch but the former posses the attributes that Graves desire. He said that he has driven the rebuilt engine a mere 2,417 miles. With a four-barrel carburetor feeding premium fuel to the big engine, it generates potent 340 horsepower.

According to the automaker's records only 3,555 Impala Super Sport models were manufactured during the 1964 model year. Each one carried a base price of $3,196.

To make driving easier, Graves has added power steering to his Chevrolet. As a concession to safety, especially when his daughter is a passenger, seat belts have been installed. Occasionally, he will pick up his daughter at her school while driving the red convertible. "It makes quite an impression in the car-pool lane," he conceded.

A reverberator on the radio was a famed addition when the car was new. In the late 1950s, the automaker's chief engineer described the Impala as a "prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen." For many years, the Impala was the best selling vehicle in the United States, and its 1965 sales of over one million units remain as an unbeatable record.

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