Coming Home – Denny Jorgensen Finds His First Car
This is a story of a car that refused to die or to be crushed – a car that hung around long enough for its long-lost owner to get off his butt and find her.
The tale begins in the spring of 1964, when Denny Jorgensen quit college and found a job to avoid working on his parents’ Iowa farm. “I was headed home from work one day and drove by the local Chevy dealership,” Denny said. “As I came around the corner I saw it – a light green ’63 409 SS Impala. Boy, that sure was cool! I mentioned it to my folks and their comment was, ‘If you buy a car you probably need to find someplace to live, because you didn’t quit college to buy a car!’ Well, long story short, I bought the car.”
Denny enjoyed cruising the Impala that summer as he worked to raise money to move West. “Those hot summer nights usually involved a little bandit racing on some of the country roads,” Denny said. “The old girl could hold her own pretty good.”
That fall, Denny loaded up and pointed the Impala toward California. He made it as far as a buddy’s place in Fort Collins, Colorado. “I partied a little too hard and figured I had better find a job for a while to get some money ahead and then move on,” Denny said. “Fort Collins was quite a car town in those days. I took a job at the local Mopar dealership and eventually worked my way to service manager.”
Denny put down roots in Fort Collins. After a few years of tuning and improving the 409 to make it faster, he tired of the wrenching and ordered a new Plymouth – the first of several Mopars. He sold the green Impala in 1967.
“Though the years I would wonder where the old 409 was or if she was still on the street,” Denny said. “In 1992 I checked with the Colorado DMV – they said give us a serial number and we will search it. Heck, I didn’t know what the serial number was!” On the advice of his sister-in-law back in Iowa, Denny contacted the Iowa Motor Vehicle Department and was able to get a copy of his original title from back in 1964. Title in hand, he applied for a VIN search in Colorado and received a reply with information on the current owner, who lived in a small town up in the mountains. “That meant that she probably wasn’t in the great salvage yard in the sky!” Denny said.
Denny made several failed attempts to call the owner. He finally made contact through a friend who happened to be traveling that way. The owner on record, Marv Heemeyer, ran a muffler shop in the town of Granby but had sold the Impala several years earlier when the city forced him to auction off his collection of Chevys. “He said, ‘Tell Denny it went to Denver to become a lowrider!’” Marv couldn’t remember the buyer’s name. “I kind of forgot about it,” Denny said. “I was so close, and it slipped away.”
A year later, Denny was working in Wyoming and received a call. “Denny, this is Marv in Granby,” said the voice on the other end. “When are you going to get this old green Impala out of here?” “Marv that isn’t funny,” Denny replied, to which Marv responded, “The old girl is sitting here waiting for you!”
It seems the person who’d bought the Impala took it to Denver and began to disassemble it before losing steam on the project. The city eventually towed it as an abandoned vehicle. They ran a title search and found it still registered to Marv; the title had never been transferred. “Knowing I was looking for the car, he went down and paid the hostage fee and brought her home,” Denny said.
As a side note, Marv Heemeyer was a bit of a disgruntled eccentric who had a longstanding dispute with the city of Granby and several other residents and businesses. In 2004, he turned a bulldozer into an armored vehicle and went on a rampage in Granby, destroying buildings and businesses before taking his own life. You may remember hearing about him.
That vision waited another few years before Denny started in earnest on the project, bolstered by finding a ’63 Impala SS parts car. Finding an engine was another matter. “You don’t just buy a 409 anywhere,” Denny said. He narrowly missed a deal on a complete rebuilt ’63 409 at a friend’s machine shop but was ultimately able to track down another and have it built by Precision Engines with a Comp cam, Pertronix ignition, and dual four-barrel carbs. He backed it with a four-speed for several years, but recently upgraded to a Tremec five speed.
During the restoration, Denny met another area enthusiast who remembered the car. “He said that car sat in his neighbor’s pasture for 15 years!” Denny said. “Now how small is this world?” The man later called Denny with a list of the five people who had owned the car between 1967, when Denny had sold it, and 1972 – the last year it was licensed. “I have talked to everyone that owned the car,” Denny said.
The car’s frame-off restoration lasted seven years. “I got pretty good on eBay and hitting swap meets,” Denny said. Though he did much of the work himself, he turned to Cooper Auto Body to apply the Laurel Green finish. The reproduction upholstery came from Ciadella, and there’s now Vintage Air to keep the cabin cool. Denny is quick to give credit to his wife, Cheryl, “who put up with my dream of finding and restoring my first car.”
The Impala was fired up for the first time in the spring of 2012. “What a great feeling to finally see her completed!” Denny said. It even won an award – the first of many – on its first outing to the Goodguys Colorado Nationals that June.
“Since then we’ve had a lot of fun with her,” Denny said. “The best thing is she came home. It’s been fun recalling some of the old memories of the ’60s and cruising in her. I know one thing – she isn’t going anywhere this time!”