Steve Preis­ter’s B-body heir­loom is an­cient … and age­less

Chevy High Performance - - Contents - TEXT: Ro McGone­gal | PHO­TOS: Grant Cox

Steve Preis­ter’s B-body heir­loom is an­cient … and age­less

Weve al­ways held that the essence of hot rod­ding eclipses the gnash­ing of the me­chan­i­cals and the pride as­so­ci­ated with a clean, spec­tac­u­lar ren­di­tion. A lot of the time it’s a family en­ter­prise and is es­pe­cially vi­brant when the car has been sim­mer­ing in the stew since it came out of the dealer’s nest and was passed on from fa­ther to brother to son.

The ori­gin of this af­flic­tion is time-hon­ored: son learns from fa­ther. “This car has been in my family since it was new,” said Steve Preis­ter with a tinge of de­light. “My dad pur­chased it in 1965 in Fre­mont, Ne­braska. He and my mom drove it away from their wed­ding. They drove it ev­ery day un­til 1975. I went to car shows with them as a young­ster. As an adult, my in­volve­ment was spurred by my friend Eric Soren­son.”

The thing was far from cherry. It had suf­fered some time liv­ing rough, naked, and ashamed be­fore it found shel­ter. The el­e­ments had not been mer­ci­ful. When Steve brought it into the light he cringed at the clots of rust and he saw hail dam­age and all the frac­tured glass. And a cou­ple of times the stove went cold, went dark, and the Im­pala spent years passed out, wrapped in a tarp over in a gloomy cor­ner.

Let’s go back­ward a minute; get a small sense of the Im­pala’s his­tory. Steve’s un­cle Vir­gil needed wheels and Steve’s dad cut a deal. He’d loan it to him with the stip­u­la­tion that he’d give it back when he found his own wheels. About 12 months later he did and the car went right into grandpa’s shed and stayed there for 15 years. When Steve was 14 his dad thought his son should be­gin his first hot rod­ding hump with the heir­loom Im­pala. This was 1990.

The hulk that Vir­gil pulled from the shed needed a lit­tle at­ten­tion to get it run­ning smart. Some used tires, a new bat­tery, a fresh tank of gas, and a splash or two di­rectly into the car­bu­re­tor got it lit. Steve and his dad drove that thing for two hours. “I couldn’t be­lieve it,” he croaked. “I thought this was the great­est thing ever. My dad and I cleaned it and fixed the brakes so I could drive it up and down the drive­way and then through Ford dealer Bob Wood­house’s lot next door to us. I could drive around with­out get­ting out on the road and with­out get­ting caught by the cops.”

Then he suf­fered a touch of tem­po­rary in­san­ity—and bought an RX-7. The in­fat­u­a­tion was fleet­ing. Soon, Steve zoomed in the op­po­site direc­tion, se­ri­ously de­luded by a ’32 Ford high­boy. Then he got his senses back. Se­ri­ously, there was no room for a kid seat in there at all. End of story. In Novem­ber 1998, his pop put the Im­pala on a trailer in Blair, Ne­braska, and headed out for Steve in Wi­chita, Kansas.

“We pulled the plugs and squirted oil in the cylin­ders but it wouldn’t turn over fast enough to start.” So, of course, he and the guy who’d stay with him un­til the end, his pal Eric Soren­son, went to din­ner to dis­cuss bat­tle strat­egy. Eric helped with an­other splash of gas, new plugs, and vi­brant bat­tery and that baby fired right up again! They drove it around the block then into the shel­ter to be­gin the long haul. The ta­ble of con­tents would in­clude pre­serv­ing orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance, a bit of modern tech­nol­ogy, and, of course, more power.

They sep­a­rated the body from the ’rails and put it on a ro­tis­serie so they could twirl it at will. The frame was sand­blasted and pow­der­coated. There was enough strife in the in­terim to deem the Imp an of­fi­cial project car. Along with Eric’s car-build­ing ta­lent,

Steve’s project was em­bold­ened by paint and body buddy Bob Sta­ple­ton, a bona fide god­send af­ter Steve’s un­sa­vory ex­pe­ri­ence with the orig­i­nal metal shop (he didn’t elab­o­rate but the sit­u­a­tion so frus­trated him that it nearly doomed the build). On top of that, it took him nearly two years to con­vince Bob to work on it. When he did, Sta­ple­ton smoothed fields of hail dents from the flats, ex­cised a lot of rust from the lower fend­ers and doors, put up pris­tine rear quar­ters and in­ner fend­er­wells and com­pleted the cure with a fresh trunk pan.

Steve and Eric con­sid­ered the grunt-heavy 502 and the driv­e­train to com­ple­ment it. Since the goal was go­ing cruis­ing and not go­ing into com­bat, he looked to the beefi­est four­speed au­to­matic. Adapt­ing the 4L85E trans­mis­sion re­quired the orig­i­nal mount and cross­brace be re­lo­cated a skosh to the rear. Eric mod­ern­ized. He im­proved throt­tle re­sponse and drive­abil­ity with a FAST throt­tle body and its sup­port­ing cast. He put hefty Baer discs all around. He ce­mented the nos­tal­gic air with classy, clas­sic Hal­i­brand al­loys with rub­ber so mod­est that in­stalling wheel­tubs was never con­sid­ered.

Where he would be, Steve left the ac­com­mo­da­tions to Harry Funke at his Mor­ganBulleigh In­te­ri­ors shop. Blind­ing white vinyl meets a con­tra­dic­tory black un­der­lay­ment and pops like a cherry bomb. There are no rollcage or har­nesses to in­ter­fere with its sub­dued per­son­al­ity.

Epi­logue: The epic took about 10 years to com­plete and cost Steve more than he could have imag­ined. What sticks in his mind? “Driv­ing the car home for the first time af­ter my un­cle had quit driv­ing it for years,” he said. The most chal­leng­ing as­pect was get­ting the body­work com­pleted by some­one he could trust. “When I got burned by the pre­vi­ous body guy I al­most gave up the project.” It helped that I had friends into hot rods. If I had not, I would have def­i­nitely had to do more re­search and talk to a lot more peo­ple for ideas. I can thank Eric Soren­son for that,” he said. CHP

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