1959 Chevrolet Impala Takes Owner Back To His Childhood

CHESHIRE, CT – Like so many other classic car owners, Bill Borriello of Meriden, CT gained his love of a specific make and style as a child, and that explains why he has owned his vibrant white 1959 Chevrolet Impala sport coupe since 1981. 

In fact, it’s the second ’59 Chevy that he’s owned over his 69 years. He got his first one when he was 19 years old – a convertible that cost him $100.

“The only reason why I’ve got a ’59 Chevy is I was four years old when they came out and I tried to talk my father into buying one. And he did,” Borriello recalled last fall as he chatted with RIDE-CT outside of Blackie’s Hot Dog Stand in Cheshire.

Bill Borriello and his 1959 Chevrolet Impala sport coupe.

“He went out and bought it. We were in need of a car at the time. But when he came home, he came home with a Biscayne and I’m looking at the car and I’m asking my father, ‘Dad, where’s the rest of the car? It’s missing all the chrome.’ He says, ‘Not this car. This is way it comes.’”

The Biscayne was the lowest trim level for Chevrolet’s flagship model in 1959. The Impala at the top with the Bel Air in the middle. Borriello may have been disappointed that the car his father purchased wasn’t flashy but its styling was fine. 

“We had that car for years and then, I think in ’65, he decided to sell it and I was really disappointed that he did. I told him, ‘When I can drive, I’m going to get a ’59 Chevy.’ And I was lucky enough to come across a convertible and I had that for a while.”

His first ’59 Chevy wasn’t in great shape. “I bought it but the floors were rotten, the trunk was rotten. At the time I didn’t know how to weld and all that stuff, so I sold it ’cause I needed the money for school,” he said.

Once his education was completed, Borriello went searching for another Chevy. He was 27 when he spotted his current Impala in “Cars & Parts” magazine. Its owner was in Pennsylvania and was planning on showing it at the annual fall car show and swap meet in Carlisle, PA. “I told him, ‘Don’t sell it. I’d like to see it,’” said Boriello, who went to the show and plunked down a deposit.

“Body-wise, it was pretty much as you see now. He had fender skirts on it. He had one antenna in the front fender. It was pretty much a grocery-getter. The seats were dry rotted ’cause the car came up from Arizona. His parents had it and they retired down there, and the car stayed down there the whole time until I got it.”

Since getting it more than four decades ago, Borriello has made thoughtful adjustments to the Impala that have upped its visual appeal. He removed the fender skirts making it sportier.  

“Well, the paint got tired, so I had it painted in ’88. And the interior was all dry rotted from Arizona, the heat, so I had the seats and the floor redone. Everything else is original inside,” he said. 

“I took off the front antenna when I painted the car and put the two antennas on the back. I thought it looked a little more sporty.”

Check out the 1959 Chevrolet Impala in action in this YouTube video:

The biggest alteration was made on the back end with the addition of an externally mounted spare tire, known as a Continental Kit. (The feature was developed by Lincoln).

“Haven’t touched the trunk. The trunk is all original. It did not have a Continental kit on it,” said Borriello, explaining that he found an NOS (new old stock) Continental kit at another Carlisle show.

“It was an accessory. It was an option. But they didn’t put it on in the factory. It got shipped out to the dealership and they put it on at the dealership; I guess because the back end was so long they couldn’t get the cars on the carriers,” he said.

Chevrolet reportedly built 164,901 examples of the Impala sport coupe for the 1959 model year. Borriello’s is powered by a 283-cubic-inch V8, which has been rebuilt and rebored. It has a two-speed Powerglide transmission.

Borriello has taken the Impala to Canada three times as well as on other long excursions. “Very solid. Being an Arizona car, it had no rust underneath it,” he said. “I’ve got a little surface stuff showing up now. Might be time for another paint job but the car is very, very solid,” he said.   

In addition to the Impala, Borriello also owns a 1928 Packard 526, a 1930 Ford Model A, and a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette.

Borriello’s Impala always gets attention when he takes it out. Some folks are surprised by its length. The Impala was nearly 211 inches long, but the Continental kits makes his even longer.

Others folks who see the car are just taken by its styling. “Well, it’s tough. You go to a gas station and you just want to fill it up and people stop and they want to look at it,” he said.

“Some of the younger people have never seen a car with wings on it and they’re asking me, ‘Boy, you must be really good at customizing? I’ve never seen a car like this with wings on it” and I try to explain it to them, ‘No, this is how the car came in 1959.’” 

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. He also hosts the weekday chat show "Talk of the Town" from 10 a.m. to noon on WATR (AM 1320, FM 97.7) in Waterbury. A graduate of Vermont Academy, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1975. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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