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One Bad Hombre

A son’s tribute to his late father

Al Rogers - November 14, 2013 10:00 AM

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During the production build of a 1968 Impala SS427 custom coupe, General Motors employee Charles Knoll learned it was being built for his immediate supervisor at the Flint, Michigan, Fisher Body assembly plant.

He caught up with the rolling chassis in process and was pleasantly surprised by the Matador Red paint with white pearl interior. That Impala made an everlasting impression.

About a year later, the supervisor was getting a 1969 car. He offered to sell the 1968 Impala to Charles Knoll. After tossing it around for a short time, Knoll decided to go ahead and purchase it as the family cruiser. The Impala’s SS427 engine and performance package seemed like a little too much muscle for the purpose, but the $1,000 asking price made up for the mismatch. Charles also knew the car left the factory with more than a dozen options and the supervisor had kept it in like-new condition. It was a purchase opportunity he could not pass up.

In the years that followed, the Knoll family could be spotted in the Flint, Michigan, area during trips to the grocery store, gas station and outings to local events. Charles Knoll kept the Impala garaged and the only time it came out of the garage was for a purpose. It received meticulous care from day one, serving as the family car until 1979 when a newer model General Motors product found its way to the Knoll residence. In nine years of ownership, the Impala became part of the family, so Charles decided to keep it as a fair weather Sunday driver.

Over the years, Charles had owned several cars and never had an engine problem. He changed the motor oil every 2,000 miles. The 1968 Impala was treated to the same proven 2,000-mile oil change process. It racked up more than 130,000 miles (65 oil changes) from 1970 to 1993. During the 23-year period, it received a new water and fuel pump.

While the car was part of the household, Charles and Mary Knoll raised five children. Their youngest son, Chris, had a special affection for the 1968 Impala SS427. His keen eye and appreciation for the American muscle car was noticed by his father. Charles wanted to keep the Impala in the family for generations to come. In his heart, he knew Chris would be the right person to care for the family heirloom.

Chris took ownership of the 1968 Impala in 1995. It sat in storage until 2000 when it was brought out for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. The Impala went back into storage and remained under wraps for eight additional years.

In 1975, Chris had picked up garage time by helping his father add steel plates to reinforce the frame of the Impala. The front fender wheel well area had succumbed to rust. It was common to see this condition on cars from the Midwest. The 1968 Impala wasn’t exempt from it because it had been driven in the winter on occasion.

Chris had purchased a rust-free frame from Florida with the thought of one day using it as a foundation for a total frame-off restoration. When he took ownership of the Impala, he thought about getting the car restored to a level equal to or better than the day his father brought it home. His father’s decision to keep the Impala had made an impression on Chris. He knew it was going to be around and part of the Knoll family for years to come.

Chris recalls he was eight or nine years old when his father pulled into the driveway with the new car. Being awestruck, the son looked over every inch of the car. The car lacked the usual large profound “Impala” emblems he’d learned to look for on prior models. It wasn’t until years later while serving in the military he discovered the family’s Chevy was an iconic Chevrolet SS427 custom coupe.

For many years, Chris envisioned his Chevy fully restored. In 2008, things started to come together when his daughter Chloe graduated from high school. From the time she was born, he had been saving for her college education. With careful planning, his daughter was ready to move on with the next stage of her life and education.

It was time for Chris to move on with the next stage of his life by having the one-time family cruiser professionally restored. Charles Knoll had passed away in 2002. Chris realized the car had been an important part of the family and had meant a great deal to his father. His mission to see it fully restored was in tribute to Charles.

During the 2007 Frankenmuth, Michigan, Autofest, he noticed a stunning 1969 Camaro. He asked the owner who did the work. He was told it had been done by Run Rite Classics in Houghton Lake, Michigan.

Chris contacted them about restoring his Impala. In February 2008, the car arrived at the shop. For 13 months, Run Rite Classics worked their magic to create an award-winning show car while retaining the 427 engine and drivetrain. During the restoration the team at Run Rite Classics gave it the name “Bad Hombre”.

The 1968 Impala SS427 custom coupe debuted at the 2009 Detroit Autorama, earning a Best in Class award. It kept earning awards at several top car shows. The Impala’s attention to detail gets it noticed and one look under the hood at the big-block 427 engine makes you feel as if you’re stargazing. It is truly One Bad Hombre.

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