Big Al's Featured Car's
Tom's Rare "59" Fuelie
Owned by Tom Dietz
Pictures & Story by John Carollo

Rare is an Understatement
One 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 get to see something you never even knew existed. Take Tom Dietz’s expertly restored ’59 Impala drop top. Yeah, you might say, 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 Chevy was seriously thinking performance in those days, too. What, you scoff? Performance from a land yacht ’59 with an extra 200 pounds on the back bumper? You bet! This baby is a classic example of a factory sleeper. And get ready to be amazed as the list of factory options on this Impala WILL blow you away.

The best one is fuel injection. Yep, that Rochester system we’re used to seeing on first gen Corvettes also came from Detroit on this much larger 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, fined FI head. Look closely and you’ll see the 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 only 26 of these FI/full size combos made as 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. ’59 full size Fuelies are so rare, when Tom took this one to a high end Vette show, he was told his combo didn’t exist. The ’59 FI full size cars were made even more rare the next year, 1960, when FI was only offered on Vettes.

But the hot stuff doesn’t stop there. This sleeper was warmed up by Chevy with the famous 30/30 Duntov cam and solid lifters. By the time Chevy was done throwing goodies at this motor, it exceeded its 283 cubic inches with 290 horsepower. One more trick from Chevy 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. 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. One popular combo was to get the new 348 W motor with four speed and three deuces. Having the four gear might just count this ragtop as the beginning of full size muscle cars for Chevy. 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 gears helps move all that mass on down the road. Wheels and tires are 14 inchers with 800-14 Firestone rubber.

The list of amazing factory options doesn’t stop with the FI and four speed. Not far from that stick shift is a new option called ‘Speed Minder.’ What we now know as cruise control started life as a knob on the dash next to the ignition in ’59. It joins a long list of lofty options such as power steering, windows, seats and brakes, vacuum ashtray, padded dash, automatic headlight dimmer, dual antenna, the aforementioned continental kit, back up lights (under the bumper), push button AM radio and just to confuse that sleeper/custom look even more, a set of spinner hub caps with the wide whites.

So while the compare/contrast of performance and late ‘50s styling elements clash and make this a very rare car, Tom’s body-off restoration makes it even more so. It took Tom seven years of working summers only to bring this baby back. But more importantly, he used ONLY original or New Old Stock (NOS) parts on it. This car was in such pristine condition when Tom got it, he used all the original body panels. When he needed to replace a part, he used his vast network of contacts to find NOS parts; no repops. The paint was old school, too, as 18 coats of hand rubbed Roman Red lacquer (paint code 923) were used with no clearcoats. More detail is in the fuel injection fender emblems. They’re directional with left and right side versions. Ever seen those before? That’s because they were only used on the full size 59s.

An amazing fact is that Tom doesn’t own a computer which means he finds all his parts – and he’s got a bunch - the old fashioned way. In fact, his reputation as a guy who finds the good stuff on a regular basis caused Chevy legend, Bill ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins to usually ask something like, ‘Where the @#$%! did you find that, Tom?’ Tom has owned over 100 Chevys from 1958 to 1970 in his 40 plus years as a Chevy gear head. Others routinely ask Tom to help with their restorations and when we visited his sworn to secrecy location, we saw close to a dozen ’62 Chevys in various stages of restoration. He has a simple rule, he doesn’t buy junk and he tells us that makes his work much easier.
So the next time you see a rare Chevy, take the time to really look it over. You can never tell a car by its cover - spare tire cover, that is.