A 51-year, real fine 409 affair
When Chevrolet introduced the Super Sport package for Impalas in the middle of the 1961 model year, it apparently caught performance car enthusiasts a bit by surprise. Although the Super Sport option cost a mere $53.80, only 453 of the more than 491,000 Impalas produced in 1961 came equipped with it. And of those, only 142 were fitted with the new 360hp 409 engine. By the following year, however, Chevy’s potent new big-block Impala was a secret no longer, with Super Sport production topping out at an amazing 99,311 cars! Of these, no fewer than 15,062 were powered by a 409 engine.
The SS 409’s near-instantaneous ascendancy to cultural icon status was cemented by the Beach Boys, who so famously crooned, “She’s real fine, my 409” beginning in 1962. From that point onward, a four-speed, dual-quad, Positraction 409 was at or near the top of the wish list of every car enthusiast in America.
Native New Yorker Bob Cirello was certainly no exception. He was 12 years old when the Beach Boys first released “409” as the B-side of the single called “Surfin’ Safari.” Five long years later, after he saved his pennies and dimes working at a local Esso station every day before and after school, he was more than ready to “giddyup, giddyup.” And it just so happened that his pal’s older brother had to sell his prized 1963 409 because he was a fatherto-be.
“I first saw the car in June 1967, and I loved it,” Cirello recalls, “but my father talked me out of buying it. The shifter linkage was sloppy, it had a small oil leak and a little bit of blow-by, and it had 60,000 miles, so my father didn’t think it was worth the $1,200 asking price.
“Another three months went by and I looked at a lot of other cars, but none of them reached out and said, ‘Buy me.’ Then one day the guy with the 409 pulled into the gas station I worked at. I made him an offer, and he accepted. I bought the car in September 1967, when I was 17 years old and in my senior year of high school. The 409 was definitely one of the coolest and fastest cars in the school. This car was truly my first love.”
“The 409 was definitely one of the coolest and fastest cars in the school”
Cirello didn’t have a lot of mechanical experience or expertise when he bought the 409, but that changed quickly. Working on it in his parents’ driveway, he and his friend Al Kiezek pulled the engine and rebuilt it with assistance from the guys at his local auto parts store and machine shop. They learned a great deal and had a lot of fun.
Besides carrying Cirello to his senior year of high school and to work, the Super Sport saw regular action at local Long Island dragstrips, which brought him great joy. All of the fun came to a sudden end, however, on one dark and rainy night in 1970 when somebody stole the 409.
Cirello says, “I came out very early in the morning to go to work, and the car was gone! I immediately called my cousin, and the two of us drove around town with a baseball bat and a loaded
n Cirello has earned a lot of trophies racing his 409, going all the way back to 1967.