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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Car Feature: Snake’s 1958 Impala


Introduced in the late 1950s, the Chevrolet Impala has been celebrated for decades. Long before the model gained notoriety for being one of America’s best-selling cars and the introduction of the notorious cop cars, the Impala was widely known as Chevy’s top-tier model. This made the Impala the perfect collector’s item for Chevy and classic car enthusiasts alike today.

A Match Made In America

Leroy Baca, 76, of Fort Collins, Colorado is one such enthusiast. Baca has always been a Bowtie guy, with plenty of passion for the classic vehicles of his younger years, especially the early Impalas.

But it wasn’t always an Impala in his garage. He grew up around Chevy trucks, dreaming of someday owning some Chevy cars of his own. Baca told us that it was in the early 50s that his passion for Bowtie-wearing cars really took a hold.

So what led him to conclude that the first-generation Impala model was the ultimate prize? Well, it had a lot to do with the body lines and all the car’s unique brightwork. 

“I just LOVE the ’58 Impala,” Baca told us.

Even before it became known for its high sales volume, the Chevy Impala was the apple of Baca’s eye, especially the first-year model.

In fact, Baca has loved the first-gen Impala right from its beginning, purchasing his first 1958 back in 1960 and tapping into a long-lived passion for the Detroit-made icon.

Baca kept that particular vehicle for eight years and regretted selling it the minute it was gone. The first-generation Impala model always remained a must-have in Baca’s mind. In 1979, he came across what turned into this beauty here in an upholstery shop. He picked up this ’58 for just $750.

Though Baca has had his current ’58 Impala Sport Coupe for about 35 years now, it wasn’t until 2011 that car’s restoration got underway.

For two years, the Impala’s build became top priority. Despite the roadblocks set in the way, like the body shop, which was working on the car, loosing its lease in the midst of the project, Baca’s Impala was completed in May of 2013.

Car Feature: Snake’s 1958 Impala

Baca told us about his pursuit of finding and building his ultimate project- his second 1958 Impala, “I just love the body lines and all the chrome and wanted another one.”
What She’s Boasting

Nicknamed Snake’s Toy, based on Baca’s nickname from back in the day, the Impala features a stock “new for 1958” X-type frame with a factory reinforced chassis and suspension system with disc brakes in the front and drums in the rear.

Resting underneath the classic setup are modern Foose wheels measuring 18-inches in the front and 20-inches in the rear. These are wrapped in 235/40ZR18 93Y and 245/40ZR20 99Y tires respectively.


A surprise to Baca from his friends, the bright orange air cleaner painted with “Snakes 58″ pays tribute not only to Chevrolet’s long tradition of painting their classic engines orange, but to Baca’s own nickname growing up. How’s that for the perfect combination every time he pops the hood?
Under the hood, you’ll find the Impala’s classic Super Turbo-Thrust V8 348 ci engine, the biggest engine offered in the ’58 Impalas, which is original to the car and recently refreshed.
The Impala is fitted with triple-deuce carburetor setup, which is Baca’s favorite feature on the car. These factory carburetors help give the Impala about 280 hp. 

The powerplant is also topped with a customized “Snakes 58” air cleaner and just enough chrome and orange to give the eye more than plenty to explore.

The engine has 60,000 original miles on it, acquired from Baca and just one other owner all these years. 

Backing up the engine is an automatic transmission with a column shifter, while spent fuel is expelled through glass pack mufflers and a two inch exhaust system.

Originally fitted with much smaller wheels and tires, the freshly-wrapped Fooses tucked under Baca’s Impala help give the car the unique stance it has today.

Brought onto the market as the highest trim level of the Bel Air line, the first-generation Impala took many of its styling cues from the iconic Tri-Fives, from the extensive amounts of chrome to those unique sculpted rear fenders.

Equally as classic as the Impala’s running gear, is the time-honored body shape, which was expertly restored to its current condition by Waylon Crabtree of Crabtree Auto Body Shop in Loveland, Colorado.
 True to its late 50s Chevy design, the Impala remains low-slung, long, and with plenty of girth. This gives the car quite the stance and presence while also providing a roomy passenger compartment.

New in the Chevy lineup for 1958, the three circular taillights gracing either side of the Impala’s rear end became one of the model’s most well-known traits for decades.
Up front, you’ll notice the car’s dual headlights, a feature that was brought out new for the first Impala model. The iconic double-flag logo still remains on the car’s flanks, along with much of the car’s traditional brightwork, reaching from nose to tail.

What you won’t see on Baca’s Impala is the chrome piece that originally skirted the underside of the doors on either side- a piece that Baca chose to do away with for aesthetic reasons. He may love the chrome on his first-gen Impala, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! 

Out back, the Impala features the first-generation’s iconic chiseled rear fenders and hallmark triple round taillights. Atop the back window, Baca’s Impala even maintains its classic chrome crown.

Though Baca’s Impala was painted with a custom color, it is very similar to Harley Davidson’s Black Cherry Pearl.

Setting off all of the brightwork that the Impala does still feature is a gorgeous custom Black Cherry-colored ColorMax 2 Glasurit finish, complete with a Diamont basecoat.

 This highly-renowned paint combination gives the car’s finish more depth than a tiered coastal tide pool and causes it to change colors uniquely depending on what angle you look at it. 

Baca entrusted his Impala’s interior treatment to his good friend Max Abeyta, who not only grew up with Baca, but also owns his own upholstery and trim shop in New Mexico with all the supplies to make any classic car interior better than factory-new!
Inside, the Impala features seats and matching door/side panels designed by Max Abeyta, owner of Max Auto Trim in Albuquerque, New Mexico that compliment the classic Chevy’s stock dash and gauges.

 Uniquely maintained, in addition to the dash and instrumentation, is the Impala’s two-spoke steering wheel and brushed-aluminum trim pieces, as well as all the insignia distinguishing this first-gen Impala from the rest of Chevrolet’s 1958 car lineup.

Just like when it was brand new, Baca’s Impala doesn’t feature any modern amenities, not even something as simple as a CD changer or stereo system adapted to connect to an MP3 player or cell phone.

If you’re looking for modern gadgets, this is certainly not your type of ride, but if you can appreciate the greatness and beauty of a classic car for what it was when it rolled off the factory floor some 50+ years ago, this Impala is right up your alley.

One Prized Chevy

With four boys he put through college, Baca’s gorgeous ’58 Impala took awhile to restore to its current condition, but the wait was well worth it! Now the car is a beloved member of Baca’s car collection and will be passed down to one of his sons in the future, allowing it to stay in the family and eventually join two early Corvettes.

Since completing the Impala last year, Baca has taken the car to a handful of shows, winning top awards at the majority of them. As long as Baca is able to, he’ll continue to show, drive, and enjoy his prized Impala.

“I love the 1958 Impala,” Baca explained. “This Impala brings back a lot of nostalgia from the first Chevy Impala I owned.”
Not surprisingly, the Impala is not the only Chevy Baca proudly drives around town, however.

In fact, sitting in his front driveway alongside the Impala is a 1949 Chevy pickup with a 454 ci engine under the hood. Soon, the truck will be painted and it too will go to shows and events with Baca until it’s handed down to another of his sons-one which has helped build the truck.

It’s obvious that Baca has passed his passion for classic vehicles, especially Chevys, down to his sons, and with a number of grandchildren now in the picture, we’re sure at least some of them will get their grandfather’s car bug as well. What a gift that is!
Much thanks goes to Baca for allowing us to photograph and drool over his fantastic ride!