Dream Realized – Hard Work and Good Deal-Making Landed Mike Menniti in the Driver’s Seat of this ’59 Impala
In the world of hot rodding, 39-year-old Mike Menniti is a bit of a young guy. Also in the world of hot rodding, the desired rarity and sleek lines of a red-and-white ’59 Impala have elevated it in popularity and made it not-so-simple to attain. Let’s face it, if you see a nicely restored ’59 pull up, you’d be a little surprised to see a 39-year-old dude pop out. These are the chariots of the elders, if you will.
Mike Menniti wanted one.
Knowing his dream car was out of reach, he simply started with what he could afford and put in the effort. In time he’d find several old cars, improve their condition while enjoying them, and then sell them at a profit. “Over the years I’ve always tried to make the car pay for itself,” he said. “Each time I made a profit I bought a nicer car and worked my way up.”
The one thing he was able to save big money on was shop labor. With the asset of a home garage and mechanical ability, he was able to do much of the work himself. More importantly, with an eye for style and details he was able to build cars that other people wanted.
When this ’59 Impala came up for sale on the San Jose Craigslist, Mike was just finishing up a convertible ’49 Chevy. It had been a frame-off adventure that he’d bought at about the 80-percent stage, but the results were worth the labors. With the listed price of the ’59 somewhat within his range, he sold the ’49 and used the funds for the Impala.
The red-and-white sport coupe had been offered for sale several times in the past, usually with a lofty price. Knowing this, he contacted the owner and made a fair, real-world offer for the car, considering its condition. The guy agreed over the phone and Mike truck-and-trailered the hour-long journey from Brentwood to look it over. The buying process took several hours, as the owner was fairly attached to the Chevy, but he was a younger guy with a couple of others, and the car’s mechanical maintenance had been neglected. In short, it needed some work.
The car had been restored two decades ago and was a nice restoration at that. The original engine had been rebuilt into a peppy little 283 that ran well. So far, so good. Upgrades include a pair of coveted double-hump heads from one of 1962’s finest 327s, original ram’s horn manifolds with glasspacks, and a four-barrel under a vintage air cleaner. A “vintagely hot-rodded” ’59 Impala is always a good thing because it’s timeless.
Mike had to spend a few days under the hood “neatifying” the wiring and plumbing. Attention was paid to hose and cable routing, factory-looking paint in lieu of bling, and original parts like the single-pot master cylinder and washer bottle. New wiring was neatly laid about the engine bay and on the engine.
The transmission had too tight of a torque converter for the engine and drivability suffered greatly. The TH350 was pulled and rebuilt with a proper shift kit and a more user-friendly 2,300rpm stall converter. Another mechanical problem was the rear axle; it had run completely out of fluid and burned up. Mike had to get another one. There was also a frozen bearing that was slowly burning its way through a front spindle.
The car did come with functional air bags, but the install needed a little refining. It’s now on an AVS kit with 1/2-inch air lines and Slam Specialties bags. With a thorough rebuild of the original factory braking system the car was road safe one again.
Outside, the 19-year-old paint job was showing its age. It had been dinged and chipped through the years but was in otherwise decent shape because they had used quality materials during the restoration. Mike was able to spot in minor repairs using touch-up paint, and then hired a detail guy who chemically cut and buffed the car. He used no sandpaper. He spent five long days polishing every surface to perfection so well that it’s hard to believe the difference. The paint looks new. With a polish of the chrome and fresh Coker 5.60s for the original 14-inch wheels, it was good to go.
The interiors of the 1958 and ’59 Chevy cars seem to hold up extremely well due to their quality construction. It’s not a surprise that the tri-color front and rear seats are original to the car. Mike simply had to make a minor hand-sewn repair to the insert to keep it intact. New restoration-quality carpets replaced the worn ones, and a full stereo system was added with a hidden head unit. Since these photos were taken, he’s detailed out the trunk with a subwoofer cabinet, new air tanks for the suspension, and upholstery.
With the car down low and the music up high, Mike is cruising in a car like the old guys did at his age. And like those old guys, he earned it. Mike says his love of cars came from his father, who recently passed away. He was an avid car guy and had a tremendous impact on Mike’s passion for cars. We know he would be proud of how this Impala turned out, and especially proud of it being featured in this magazine.
Photos by John Drummond