Volume III, Issue 12, Page 37

Words and photos by John Carollo
12/16/2008

ne of the absolute best things about car magazines and websites is seeing some really cool stuff that is extremely rare. It gets even better when you see something you never even knew existed. Tom Dietz’s expertly restored ’59 Impala drop top is one of them. Yeah, it’s a cool example of big ass fins, continental kits and wide whites – the excess of styling in the late ‘50s. But taking a closer look will show you that Chevy was seriously thinking performance in those days, too. What, you scoff? Performance from a land yacht ’59 with an extra 200 pounds hangin’ off the back bumper? You bet! This baby is a classic example of a factory sleeper and the list of factory options on this Impala will blow you away.

The best one is fuel injection. Yep, that Rochester Ramjet system we’re used to seeing on C1 Corvettes also appeared on this large barge. And they knew that back in the day because they adjusted the FI mechanics for hauling the extra mass. That much is evident by the extra letter on the badge on the distinctive FI cylinder head. Look closely and you’ll see a stamped ‘R’ at the end of the part number is noticeably bigger. It signifies the unit has been recalibrated for the larger car.

Tom, already an expert in restoring such cars and especially those with W-motors, tells us there were (arguably) 26 of these FI/full-size combos made: it would be the last year for FI in any passenger cars. Chevy pushed FI as a fuel economy feature back then and even made wagons and four-door FI versions. Imagine finding one of those in a barn. A ’59 Fuelie was so rare, when Tom took this one to a high-end Vette show, he was told his combo didn’t exist. These ’59 FI full size cars became rarer the following year, when FI was only offered on Vettes.

But the hot stuff doesn’t stop there. This sleeper was warmed up by Chevy with a 30/30 Duntov cam and solid lifters. By the time Chevy was done throwing goodies at this motor, its solid-lifter 283 produced 290 horsepower. One more trick was the use of resonators in the exhaust to reduce back pressure and increase the flow but yet keep noise down. Remember, this was 1959.

To back up the performance angle, the transmission that came in this ride – again, from the factory – was a four-speed manual. And that was a brand new deal as it was the first year you could get a four-speed from the factory in a full size car. That might just position this ragtop as the beginning of full-size Chevy muscle cars. It would be only two years later we’d see 409, four-speed Impalas coming off the line. Still thinking performance, a 10-bolt, Posi rear end with 3:55:1 gears helps move all that mass on down the road. Wheels and tires are 14 inchers with 800-14 Firestone rubber.