Deane Wilson and his wife, Robin, put about 40,000 miles on their 1961 Chevy Impala resto-mod this year, as well as accomplishing something that apparently no one has done before: driving to and entering every one of the 18 nationwide Goodguys hot rod and custom car shows held during 2019.
While Wilson credits his obsession to an attack of “mental illness,” and some might liken it to groupies following after Grateful Dead concerts, he believes that their journey strikes to the heart of the collector car hobby, that he built the car himself, drove it on extended road trips and showed it around the country to appreciative fellow gearheads.
And besides that, it has been loads of fun.
“I’ve enjoyed every day and every mile,” Wilson said, standing next to his Chevy at the final Goodguys show of the year at WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I love driving it, seeing the scenery, talking to people along the way. This is what the hobby is to me.”
The car itself is a Chevy classic, a ’61 2-door “bubbletop” coupe, so called because of the tall, wraparound windshield and expansive rear glass that give the car something of a Jetson’s look. It’s a beauty in spite of Wilson driving it nearly 129,000 miles, he said, since he completed the restoration.
In resto-mod style, the body was kept original, though now with a coat of gleaming Le Mans Blue paint as used on the ’69 Camaro, and standing on a set of 20-inch chrome wheels. Under the hood is a modern LS1 350cid V8, and the suspension, steering and brakes have been upgraded.
Goodguys has honored Wilson for his dedication, presenting him with a new racing suit that he displayed in Scottsdale on the hood of his car. According to Steve Bunker, associated editor of the Goodguys Gazette newsletter, the Wilsons are the first ones to drive their special custom car to every show in one season since they’ve gone nationwide, “At least as far as we know.”
In Scottsdale, the Chevy fit in well among the colorful array of hand-built cars and trucks, ranging from classic street rods and creative customs to the more original-looking resto-mods that have been growing in popularity among drivers and collectors.
Wilson’s car was parked with other cars and trucks that are driven regularly, a class that Goodguys names after its credo, “Ya gotta drive ‘em.”
He displayed the car with a board on which he pasted all 18 entry passes to the Goodguys shows he entered. On each pass are notations as the distance to each show as well as the cumulative distance during the course of the year. On the last Scottsdale ticket, he wrote his mileage as 39,284, although they had yet to drive home to Grass Valley, California, northeast of Sacramento.
They started driving in March from their home to Fort Worth, Texas, a distance of 1,834 miles, according to Wilson’s board, for the first show of 2019. From there, it was over to Scottsdale for the spring show. Then back west to Pleasanton, California, following by a not-too-far run to Del Mar.
The odyssey went cross country to North Carolina, and then to Nashville and back to Pleasanton. Then Iowa, Ohio, 2 shows in Washington, and then from there all the way to York, Pennsylvania, a trek of 2,443 miles.
After that, another coast-to-coast trip back to Pleasanton, followed by Colorado, Texas, Kentucky, again to Pleasanton and, finally, Scottsdale.
“I really don’t mind driving the distances, especially,” the 71-year-old Wilson said. “My wife and I have set it up where we will stop along the way going from one show to the next for sightseeing. We’ve been to Canada, we’ve been to the East Coast, Charleston, the Biltmore museum, the house on the waterfall built by Frank Lloyd Wright.”
Wilson said the Chevy was built for both drivability and an emphasis on comfort, partly to convince Robin to undertake the 9-month trip with him.
“I really built it down to get her to go with me,” he said. “We made the creature comforts, cupholders, excellent air conditioning, heated and cooled seats in there from a Cadillac. And of course, power steering and power brakes and all the other whistles and bells.”
Instead of having a rumbling exhaust, the V8 has quiet mufflers so “we can talk while we’re driving,” he added.
He acknowledges that having a wife willing to take part in such an endeavor has been very beneficial.
“Everybody says I’m real lucky and all that jazz. I know I am,” he said. “She enjoys the camaraderie and the connection, that side of it. If the ride’s comfortable enough, she’s an avid reader and just takes her Kindle out.”
Wilson said that when he started messing around with car customization, he took the usual route of trying to build something to show and win awards. Success came early as his first effort, a 1969 Pontiac station wagon, won the best-in-class award at a major car show.
“It was driveway built, garage built,” he recalled. “I asked the judge, ‘you sure you have the right car?’ ”
But Wilson soon realized he wanted something more from the hobby.
“The whole thing of building something that really looked pretty and nice, going for the awards, was not as satisfying as I thought it was going to be,” he said.
“The road tours and the cruising, I literally fell in love with it,” he said.
Still, he noted, there are those who question why he would pass up building up a car to win a major Goodguys’ award in favor of driving the distance.
“Guys say to me, you could have a Builder’s Choice award for all the money you’ve spent driving around to different shows,” Wilson said. “But then I wouldn’t have gotten to drive around to different shows. Going to the shows, and meeting people along the way, that’s the fun of it.
“It’s not that different than someone sailing their sailboat around the world. It’s the same thing. It just happens that I’m going to car shows.”
Goodguy’s rod and custom shows for 2020 start March 13 in Fort Worth, with 17 more to follow through November. No word yet as whether the Wilsons will again hit them all.