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Zaleski: 1963 Impala was beautiful, but it fell apart

I overheard a conversation at a Fargo coffee shop. Two oldies (like me) watched a vintage 1957 Chevrolet pull into a snowy parking slot outside the window. Beautiful machine. They gazed in awe as the car glowed in the winter sunlight. I silently joined their admiration for the marvelously restored classic. "Don't make 'em like that, anymore," said one. "They don't," said the other. "Great car. Takes me back."

"Yup, don't make 'em like that, anymore," the first historian repeated.

And that's a good thing.

The only car I ever loved was my mom's 1963 Chevy Impala, a metallic green, four-door hardtop (no door post) with a 327 cubic inch engine, bench seats, AM radio, padded dash, smooth automatic trans and wide tires. No air conditioning, but who cared. With windows down in summer, the wind whistled through. The rakish roof line and six tail lights in a field of brushed chrome made a statement. Loved that car. It loved me. The girls loved it. I wasn't cool, but the car was.

So, it pains me to say that by every measure, except styling, it was inferior to today's vehicles.

Consider:

The Impala got 15 miles per gallon. Not that anyone cared. Gasoline was 30 cents a gallon. I'd tap the guys, have five bucks in minutes, and fill enough gas to cruise all night. Today, a vehicle that gets under 20 mpg is a guzzler.

Remember the 1,000-mile oil change? It was the rule then. Engines did not have today's tolerances and alloys. Today, an oil change interval is 5,000 miles. Synthetic lubricants are superior to 1963's Pennzoil. A properly serviced car can go 100,000 miles or more without burning oil. Mom's Impala was with us for 10 years and 80,000 miles. At the end it was eating a quart between oil changes.

The old cars were elegant, but after a year, rust/rot was certain. By midlife, the Impala's fenders had rusted through; rot had pitted the finish. Cars still rust, but not as quickly because of double body linings, rust-proof composites and durable paints.

Loved the '63. It's my nostalgia ride: senior prom; first year at university; impressing dates; parked at the malt shop with the guys. But I gotta be real. The new vehicles we've owned—Subaru Outback, Ford F150, GMC Terrain—were superior in every way but one: When she was new (and I was new) the Impala sure looked better.

FAKE NEWS II, a followup to the Fake News I panel discussion a few months ago, is on for April 26, 3:30-5 p.m., Minard Hall 130 at North Dakota State University. Panelists are Scott Hennen, radio talk show host; Kristen Stromsodt, Grand Forks Herald editor; Jim Shaw, Forum columnist and former TV news director; Robert Mejia, assistant professor of communication at NDSU; Joe Radske, KVRR TV news director; and me, as moderator.

It's free and open to the public. We'll take audience questions. If Fake News I was any indication, Fake News II should be lively.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5521.

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