Alamo resident Bill Coll had been thinking about getting an older Chevrolet for a while. At first he was thinking of a 1955 to 1957 Chevy, but because there are so many of those, he decided to look for a 1958 model.
"I didn't want the Impala," he said, "because they are really big or at least look big."
After about a year of searching, Coll was passing through Calistoga with a buddy when he spotted a car for sale.
"It was some dot.com guy's project that he started but lost interest. He had added power disc brakes, but the headliner was falling out, the seat covers were all torn, and it looked like rats had invaded it. It was painted white and blue highlighted with rust," he said.
But Coll saw the potential, paid the owner $11,000 and drove it home.
The model Chevrolet introduced in 1958 was only produced for one year. In those days, body styles usually changed every two or three model years. Chevrolet and Ford were sort of like the Hatfields and McCoys, fighting for sales dominance. Ford's new body style in 1957 narrowly outsold the face-lifted 1957 Chevrolet, but with the new 1958 Chevy it was no contest, as the Ford face-lift was rather unattractive, plus the company was busy trying to launch the Edsel.
The new 1958 Chevrolet models were lower, wider and longer. Quad headlights were new. The top of the line was Impala. I think the designers styled the Impala, and the bean counters
Coll took on the job of general contractor in getting his 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne restored.
"I took the car to Kevin Flores, owner of Marshall's Body Shop in Glen Ellen. I told him all I want is a driver with the straight seats," he said.
But as time went on, it turned out that wasn't all he wanted.
The engine that came with the car was not up to Coll's standards. He had a new custom-built V8 engine made using a 400-cubic-inch Chevrolet block with Edlebrock exhaust, headers and air cleaner. The new engine is matched with the popular 350 Chevrolet four-speed automatic transmission.
"I customized the driveshaft so it's only one piece," Coll said. "We learned the rear suspension wasn't adequate, so we did some modifications to the frame, plus increased the height of the floor hump as a result of the new driveshaft."
One day Coll was looking at his car and said to Flores, "I think we should put new glass in. And, while you are doing that, can you install power windows, including the vent windows?"
The answer was yes, and power window kits were purchased plus new window frames, which raised the next question: Wouldn't new chrome window molding improve the appearance?
Well, one thing led to another, and by this time Coll is well beyond the original plain-Jane plan. He decided to personalize the old Chevy with the stuff he likes. He completely redesigned the dashboard, giving it a beautiful and elegant appearance.
The straight bench seat plan was chucked in favor of heated and power Acura bucket seats in front and a Cadillac rear seat all done in rich brown leather.
The interior is not complete without a console, so Dirk Tuinstra of Route 66 Autotops & Upholstery in Petaluma custom-built one. It houses an OPG Horse Shoe Shifter and encompasses the latest and greatest stereo system.
All shiny parts, including the customized grill, were re-chromed. Center line rims by Billets were installed as were LED tail lights, Xenon head lights and a custom steering wheel and column. Coll also added air conditioning and power steering.
Then Coll and his team went to work in replacing what the bean counters had removed from the Impala model to make the Biscayne ordinary. They added accent chrome trim on the front and rear fenders as well as the wider Bel Air exterior chrome trim on the sides to give the car a more impressive appearance.
Two-tone paint was very popular in the 1950s, and the style of the exterior paint job is period correct, but not the colors. The paint from the House of Colors is called Root Beer Brown and Windsor White, which harmonize well with the brown leather interior. This gives Coll a constant reminder of his youthful trips to the A & W Root Beer stand for one of their great root beer floats. He even has a personalized license plate that reads "58RBFLT."
The bottom line is that what started as a simple project to restore a basic car ended up as a new, custom built $50,000-plus luxury performance coupe hiding in a 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne body.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.