A 1959 CHEVY IMPALA WITH A 409? - An “Old Car” Guy Searches For A Dream But Finds a Legend

6/30/2024
Darrell Olgers
Every "old car" guy has a story of a car he wishes he never sold. This story is about a motor I wish I never sold, but it helped someone fulfill a dream.
 
For over 30 years, I dreamed of having a 1962 Bel Air bubbletop with a dual quad 409. I loved hearing drag racing stories from guys who grew up in the 1960s and always asked them about any 1962 409s they might know about. One day a fellow told me about a 1959 Impala in the area. Supposedly, it had a 409 and was a terror on the streets back in the mid-‘60s. I had my doubts and thought for sure he was confused and that it must have been a 348.
 
 
Based on his directions, I drove out to the country to an old home where I met a man who said that in 1962 he was the proud owner of a black 1959 Impala 2-door hardtop with a rip-snorting 348 and 3-speed. Apparently, he had made quite a name for himself in the local street racing scene as the 348 had put down many challengers.
 
Well, that same year his buddy got a brand new 1962 Impala SS with a 409/409. It was blisteringly fast but was demolished one night when it ran into a grove of trees. This happened just after a fellow from a few counties over said he was coming to Dinwiddie County to mop the road up with that old black 1959 Chevy 348 with his own stout 1962 Galaxie equipped with a 406 tri-power.
 
So he and his buddy pulled the 409 out of the wrecked 1962 SS and swapped it into his 1959 Impala. Then, he sent word to bring on that 406 to see what she had for the 1959 Impala. It seems this race was a legend in the making as people from several counties assembled on the appointed Saturday night for the showdown.
 
The Galaxie guy was talking all sorts of trash, but apparently the hood of the Impala was never opened before the race, so he had no idea that the dual quad 409 now rested where the 348 had once been. They got a flagman and lined the Galaxie up beside the Impala, and with engines revving, the flag dropped.
 
He said the sound of the dual quad carbs with the song of three Holleys on that 406 is a sound he will never forget. They were neck-and-neck on moonlit blacktop until he hit second gear. That’s when the 409-powered Impala jumped ahead a car length—then another and then another as he shifted into third. At the finish line, he was about six car lengths ahead of the Galaxie, and the deed was done. The mighty 406 had fallen, and a resounding cheer from the crowd cut through cool night air. He says he can’t remember a happier moment in his life than that night, and the attendees told the story of that race many times over the years to come.
 
He grew silent for a moment as he was overcome by emotion. He told of how he had been drafted to Vietnam, and he didn’t have space to park the car in the family barn before he left, so he pulled it out into the pasture with his favorite horse. He drained the radiator, took off the dual AFBs and the air cleaner, and poured a quart of motor oil down the intake before blocking off the open holes left when the carbs were removed. He said he wanted to put it in a state of "hibernation" for whom-ever may get it if he didn’t return. Well, after he returned from Vietnam he never took an interest in the 1959 again and says now all he has are great memories of youth and that legendary evening when he felt like the king of the world.
 
He walked me out to the horse pasture where it was just as he had left it. She was covered in briars and much of the black paint had given way to rust. I asked when he last opened the hood, and he said it had been 15 years or more. I asked if we could try, and he said it would be fine. With a bit of work the black bonnet was lifted to reveal the very first 409 I had ever laid eyes on—not just any 409 but the one that had shown no mercy to the 406 that fateful night. He pulled the dipstick, and it was on the full mark with clean oil just as he had left it decades before.
 
I explained my dream of owning such a motor in a 1962 bubbletop. He said he was only familiar with the Impala body style and never remembered a bubbletop back in the day.
 
I thanked him for sharing his story and asked if it was okay to drop by upon occasion and chat, and he said that would be just fine. So, about every six months—usually on a Sunday afternoon after church—I would visit and ask him to tell that story "just one more time." Each time he became emotional, and you could tell it transported him back to his youth and the night he was a hero. He would ask if I had found the car I wanted, and I always said I hadn't because I was away at college and money was tight.
 
Well, one Sunday I dropped by and he said, "That car was once my dream, but that time has long since passed, and I'm going to sell it to you." I thanked him profusely but told him that the body was so rough it may be beyond fixing. Plus, I had a very limited amount of money. He said, "would you give $600 for the car?" I nearly passed out and said I would be glad to but felt the motor was worth much more than that. He said, "$600 take it or leave it," so I did what any car nut would do and went home to get a trailer and two come-a-longs.
 
After fighting four frozen brake drums I got it loaded. I still remember the old fellow coming out of the barn holding the dual Carter AFBs and black air cleaner and putting them in my truck. The body was rough, but somehow someone from NY found out I had it, and I sold the 1959 body to them but kept the 409 for many years though I never found a bubbletop to put it in.
 
Years later, someone else who was restoring a motorless 1962 SS heard about my 409 engine. I felt it only fair that if I couldn't fulfill my dream, then perhaps I should help them fulfill theirs and sold the motor for their 1962. Everybody has dreams, and while it’s great when you can make yours come true, sometimes it means even more if you can help someone else realize theirs.
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