Rescue & Restore

A Classic Rebuild Of A '56 Imperial

By Marcell Bailey

Marcell Bailey didn’t just restore a classic 1956 Imperial, she saved it. “My husband was going to junk it because he wanted its 354 HEMI motor to build a rat rod,” she explained. “It was a straight, clean car that just needed a lot of love. I said, ‘Why don’t we fix this car for me to drive?’”

Marcell and her husband, Jimmy Bailey, are members of The Victors Car Club in Victoria, Texas and while the couple have several classic vehicles (’29 Model A Sedan, ’59 International Metro Van, ’51 Ford Businessman Couple and a ’64 Ford Fairland, to name a few), Marcell didn’t drive one that met the group’s age criteria of ’63 and older for a classic. So when a friend decided to sell the ’56 Imperial, she jumped at the chance to rebuild it.

“I’ve helped with rebuilds before, but this is the first one I’ve ever been this hands-on with,” she said.

Rebuilds and restores is mainly her husband’s hobby, but Marcell knows her way around a vehicle. Her family has been in the auto recycling business since 1972. She is a partner at C & D Auto Parts in Victoria, Texas and Deluxe Auto Parts in Corpus Christi, Texas ( C & D Auto Parts sits on 20 acres and specializes in late-modelinventory, 2005 - newer. Jimmy also works for at the businesses. They have been married for 32 years, just about as long as Marcell has been working in the auto recycling industry.

Marcell first tackled cleaning the car. It had sat under a pecan tree for seven years and was full of dirt, sap and leaves. She gave it a bath and spent two days detailing the interior. She spent the next four to five days sanding off the surface rust. Her and Jimmy stripped off all of the chrome and stainless steel and sent it to Chrome City in Houston to get it redone.

The ’56 Imperials was completely repainted, including the door jams. Marcell chose the original Cloud White and added a Desert Rose to the lower half of the vehicle and the roof, which is the same original color of the interior. She replaced the seats, headliner and carpet and after new tires and wheels and glass, the vehicle was nearly done.

The ’56 Imperial is an outstanding showpiece. It has been featured in magazines and on The Victors Car Club Facebook page. The Bailey’s have also taken it to car shows, like the Lonestar Round Up in Austin, Texas, where it gets a lot of attention from both attendees and her family.

“My 9-year-old grandson loves my pink car,” she laughed. “He always wants to ride in it instead of my husband’s Model A. He tells my husband, ‘We see lots of cars like yours poppa, but not like hers.’” 

Marcell said she spent about $30,000 to restore it. Some of that was just the expense of finding parts for the rare classic vehicle. The Imperial was Chrysler’s luxury brand. It was built from ’55 - ’75 and reintroduced from ’81 - ’83. Since the vehicle is unique, Marcell had to do a lot of legwork to find parts. “It’s a lot of getting online, going to eBay, and calling yards to you know to find parts,” she explained. “I also checked with Imperial clubs.”

Being in the auto recycling industry, Marcell knew finding the parts she needed would just depend on finding a source. She found some recycled chrome pieces and a recycled fuel tank. She had some pieces rebuilt too, which works well for the mechanical pieces, since they’ve all been sitting somewhere since 1956. The seats and headliner were made from New Old Stock (NOS) material.

Marcell and Jimmy love to stop at classic yards when they travel to shows. She said there are some great yards in New Mexico where - because of the low humidity - the vehicles don’t have a lot of rust. “I can spend two hours just walking about the yard shopping for cars,” she laughed.

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