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For Neil Heesacker, the fun is in the fixing

Banks resident gets ready to roll in his restored Chevy Impala


by: COURTESY PHOTO - Banks resident Neil Heesacker has shown his restored Chevrolet at several car shows, outdoors and indoors. The cherry red 1966 Impala will be at Concours dElegance in Forest Grove July 21.Thumbs ups, raised eyebrows and hoots of “great look” and “looking perfect” bombarded Joanne Heesacker as she drove her husband’s Chevrolet home one evening.

“She thought they were talking about her,” laughed Neil Heesacker. The Banks resident and former spokesman for the Portland Fire Bureau owns a regal red 1966 Chevrolet Impala, which he’ll show at the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance classic car show July 21.

In 1965, Heesacker bought the brand-new Chevrolet for $3,160. Almost 50 years later and after four years of restoration, his car is worth more than $50,000.

This is the Impala’s third consecutive year at Concours. In 2011, it won Best in Class out of all the 1960 to 1972 Chevrolets there.

“The car garners a lot of looks from people,” said Heesacker.

This is in part due to the authenticity of the car. The seat belts are original. The headlights are still the same. The glass on all the windows have a brand etched into them, making the car itself more authentic.

“At Concours it’s a first class operation. They want excellent restoration,” said Heesacker. “I think my car sits in that category.”

Unlike cruise-ins, more casual car shows, Heesacker described Concours as a “premier event.” The judges look for originality and excellence — they’ll even peer at the undercarriage of a car — but for Heesacker that’s not a concern. For him it’s been about the experience.

“The neatest part of this restoration is the people you meet,” he said of the work he’s put into his Impala.

To be sure, nearly everything about the look of the car had to be restored, said Heesacker, especially since Concours is a “purist” event for car lovers.

The regal red color is the same as it was when he bought the car, but the quality has improved. Heesacker took the Impala to John’s Auto Body Landing in Portland for a glasurit paint job, which is used on Rolls-Royces and Mercedes, he explained. After the paint is applied, it’s perfected with 2,000- to 3,000-grit sandpaper, but not by Heesacker. Every inch of the Impala was hand-sanded by Rick Oldford, who offered to let Heesacker help — but Heesacker jokingly said he’d leave sanding to the professionals. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KATHLEEN ROHDE - Neil Heesacker of Banks shows off the owner protection plan he received from Carr Chevrolet in Beaverton on Dec. 13, 1965, the day he bought his 1966 Chevy Impala for $3,160.

The car didn’t need a lot of body work; there were only a few issues with rust, typical of old Impalas.

To fix up the carburetor, Heesacker met a man at Merle’s Carburetor Inc. in Portland who specializes in that area.

“He repaired it and it looks brand new and it runs brand new,” said Heesacker. “I thought, now there’s a guy that’s got some real talent.”

More engine work was done by Central Cylinder Head Inc. in Portland — and Heesacker found a small community through his repairs.

Delmer Lee from Associated Upholstery did all the interior work on the car. Keeping the original vinyl was important to Heesacker for Concours.

He found a man dedicated to polishing, Harold Wallace from Camas, Wash., who polished the grill of Heesacker’s car.

“This guy is so good,” Heesacker said, that metal companies hire Wallace to polish their stuff. “It gives you a love for the mechanical and a love for the knowledge of these people.”

His passion for cars started earlier, the same year he bought the Impala. It was 1965 and the Forest Grove Booster Committee held a raffle for a 1929 Chevrolet worth about $375. He bought a single $1 ticket for the car and had to come up with a theme for a festival the committee was throwing.

With the help of his mother, he came up with several theme ideas and went back to buy two more tickets in his parents’ name. His father’s ticket won with the theme “nursery rhymes of olden times.”

He bought the Impala later that year with the intent to drag race it. Heesacker liked the fast lane and drag racing. He put the brakes on when he and his wife had four children in five years.

The Impala had been untouched until a friend told him “that car’s too valuable to be sitting in a barn,” he said.

After that, his passion was restoration. Heesacker estimates he’s spent $15,000 restoring the Impala, and said it’s been worth every cent.

“The money I put in ’em is what I get out,” he said.

For Heesacker, his reward will come the third Sunday of July, when Concours hits the lawns at Pacific University.

“I hear people say ‘Oh, I wish I would’ve kept my car’ a lot,” said Heesacker. “It’s been a lot of fun to have it out where people can see it. It’s just fun to exhibit the car.”

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