In 1977 when I first met Walt Fleagle, who was to become my second husband, I only saw him drive a Toyota flatbed truck. After a few months, he brought Big Blue over for a proper introduction. Big Blue was Nassau blue, totally beautiful, and in tip-top shape outside, inside, and under the hood. Not being a car person, I didn’t realize it was one of the legendary, ’62 Chevy Impala, Super Sport, 409s. I had no idea it was so special. It had a 409 V-8 engine with dual quads, as well as being the 409 model of car. So, it was a 409-409, somewhat of a rarity. And it had a 4-speed with 3:36 Positraction, whatever that is. To me, it was special because It was beautiful, made Walt happy, and had a song named after it––“409” by the Beach Boys that came out in 1962. “My 409, she’s so fine!” If you’re old enough, it may ring a bell.
To Walt, this car was his dream come true––a fast and beautiful car. He loved fast cars and fast motorcycles. He ordered the car through a dealership in San Jose, California, exactly the way he wanted it. And he kept it as original as possible for the rest of his life—39 years. Photos of it in 1977 look the same as photos in the ‘90s or 2001 and even in 2012.
After we were married, we’d take it on trips. It was so roomy, I could cross my legs, while sitting in the passenger seat. And it was soooo smooth (even while purring at 80 mph). I could write reports on my first-grade students’ weekly folders, while driving to Lake Tahoe or the Wine Country for the weekend.
We were once pulled over in California on I-5 just so the CHP officer could look under the hood. He even took photos of the car and the engine.
We went to Oregon more than once on vacation and decided to move to Florence in 1980 and even bought some property. Building a house became a problem, so in 1984 we got serious and started looking for a house that was already built. After some searching, we found one that I liked that also had enough space beside it so Walt could add on another garage for Big Blue. And, yes, the garage was built before we moved up in 1985, which also meant replacing and relocating the septic tank.
When we actually made the move, Walt drove his Toyota flatbed with side rails up, providing a safe space for his two motorcycles—a Kawasaki street bike and a Rickman dirt bike. He loved those bikes almost as much as Big Blue. I drove my car, a white Plymouth Valiant that I got for very little because it was a credit union repo that had been in an accident and they wanted to get rid of it. It was very basic, nothing fancy. But it had a slant-six engine that, according to Walt, would run forever.
We had the furniture and everything else come up in a large moving van. And that included Big Blue. Yes, that big car was in there with the furniture. You pay by weight and Big Blue weighed 4,000+ pounds. I didn’t think it was such a hot idea and was against it, but Walt usually got his way when it came to Big Blue. So Big Blue traveled via moving van.
After the move, the Oregon license for Big Blue was 409-409, which I thought was very cool.
While I wallpapered and painted in the house and worked in the yard, Walt finished the garage. He put in insulation and paneling, used a special epoxy paint on the concrete floor, and built his own workbench and cabinets. He even put in speakers so he could play his vast collection of eight tracks. Remember those?
Then he took off the hood of Big Blue and had it suspended above the car from a big beam he had put into the design of the garage, while he took apart the engine. He totally rebuilt it, replacing parts as needed. He was totally in his element—his new garage with his special car. And there was room for both bikes too.
After all his work on Big Blue, we entered it in a car show in Florence and rode in the Rhody Parade during Rhody Days. Walt found that he enjoyed showing it off. So, between 1989 and 1996, we entered car shows throughout Oregon—Springfield, Roseburg, Waldport, Sheridan, and other places. Big Blue usually won awards and always attracted a crowd because it was often the only 409.
The car was beginning to become known, especially after an article came out about it in the May 1992 edition of Late Great Chevys magazine with eight photos. I wrote it and sent it in with photos a year or so before it was actually printed. Shortly after that, on our way to one of the car shows in Roseburg, we stopped along the way for gas. A car going by, slammed on its brakes, backed up, and turned into the station. The driver got out of his car, came up to ours, and asked Walt if it was Big Blue! We were both stunned. We saw him again at the car show.
Walt took excellent care of Big Blue, doing all the work on it himself. He enjoyed that car the entire time he had it. Even during his last years, when he became too weak to drive it. He had a friend who loved to drive it. So, they would go for long drives in it.
After Walt passed away in 2001, I had Tony of Tony’s Garage here in Florence, check it over. He replaced the battery, put air in the tires, and did anything else it needed. Then, I got it ready to put on eBay to sell. I also had done my research as to what it was worth. But before I actually listed it, a fellow car-show friend of ours, who had shown an interest in buying Big Blue ever since 1989, showed up.
After some dickering over price, I sold it to him in 2002, when the car turned 40, after seeing the special garage he would have for it. I knew he would give it a good home, and he did. He continued showing it in car shows, too. Walt would have been pleased. And from time to time he and his wife and Big Blue would come to visit.
A few years ago, he sold it to a fellow who lived in Santa Monica, California. That was where Walt had been born and grew up! Somehow that seemed fitting. The new owner called me and told me how thrilled he was with the car, and I sent him a detailed history of it.
Most 409s were raced to death, but Big Blue led a good life. I was looking at a photo of it the other day and realized that it turns 60 this year. As far as I know, it’s still going strong. It’s one of a kind!