A Classic Love Story: Local finds classic car that brought his parents together
“Can anyone really fall in love in seven days?” Rick Payton questioned when asked whether his parents, who married just one week after meeting, loved each other at the time. He sat in one of the red-and-chrome booths at his restaurant as he spoke, near the 1958 Chevrolet Impala he credits with their 45-year marriage and his existence.
“I think they liked each other a lot. I think they learned to love each other.” –Rick Payton
Rick, a classic car collector and owner of the Classic Garage restaurant in Eau Claire, loves old cars for their artful designs and for their stories. He has owned several hundred vehicles over his lifetime, and now keeps a small collection of old Cadillacs. It took a particularly special history for a Chevy to make the cut.
Rick’s mother, Linda (Kinder) Payton, was at Leonard’s Drive-in Restaurant in Bedford, Indiana in 1965 when her ride drew Ed Payton’s attention. He commented on the Impala’s color: a luminous shade called “Sienna Gold,” and they were off to the races. The pair went for a cruise together that day, and again on Sunday, then on Monday. On Wednesday, Ed proposed to her, and on Saturday, May 8, the two were married. Two days later Ed, an Air Force man, returned to Vietnam.
“I think they liked each other a whole lot,” Rick said. “I think they learned to love each other.”
The arrangement suited them both. Linda moved into his house and lived by herself, working two jobs to save for their future. Ed received more pay and had someone to write letters to while he was at war. They got to know each other after he returned from the war, and shared their lives until Ed passed away in 2010.
Rick never saw the car that brought his parents together; they traded it for a Ford Fairlane GTA in 1966, before he was born. But he heard story after story about the classic from his parents, aunts, uncles, and friends of the family. His obsession grew over the years, and when his mother died in March 2017, nostalgia overcame him and he decided it was time to add a 1958 Chevy Impala to his collection.
Help was close at hand for Rick. He reached out to the connections he had made over years of collecting and showing classic cars, and friends kept an eye out during their travels. The local newspaper in Bedford wrote a story about the car, as did Old Cars Weekly magazine.
On Sept. 11, his mother’s birthday, in 2017, Rick found a 1958 Impala 348, and bought it to restore. But things got better just a few months later. He was in Germany for Christmas when a friend called to inform him there was an all-original Impala – same year, same color – for sale outside of New York City. The owner had set the price high, but Rick’s friend assured him this was the vehicle.
“I called him, and I said ‘Hey look, I know you’re asking a lot for this car, but let’s get real,’ ” Rick said.
“ ‘What are you really going to sell the car for?’ And the number that he said he would take was the highest number I was willing to pay.” Rick guessed that since neither of them was happy with the price, it must be a fair deal.
Rick bought the Impala sight-unseen in December, and it arrived in Eau Claire in February. The only time he’s driven it was from his driveway to its current home: on display at the Classic Garage, 2111 Third St., under a painting of Linda based on a photo of her with the car in 1963. The twin of his mother’s car already has a few “battle scars,” from its lifetime. Rick walked around to the front right bumper and gestured at a scratch in the bronze paint. He imagines the driver must have been in a hurry on a trip to the grocery store and bumped into a shopping cart.
He can’t wait for spring, when he’ll take it out on the road. The one Rick is restoring will be a “trailer queen,” he says, carried from show to show, but he believes the best thing he can do with the original is drive it with his family, perhaps taking a trip back to Bedford, where the story began more than 50 years ago.