Wineka column: After 50 years, the Bradys’ 1961 Impala is as classic as their marriage
SALISBURY — This 1961 Chevrolet Impala is a thing of beauty.
The six taillights. The huge trunk. The monstrous steering wheel. The wide bench seats in front and back. And, of course, it has the lines of a classic car, synonymous with the days of drive-ins and cruising downtowns.
Fifty years ago April 21, on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Union Lutheran Church, Jim and Elizabeth Brady drove away in this same Impala, decorated with streamers and shaving cream.
They had just married, and Jim steered the car south toward a week of honeymooning in Florida. The Impala was up to the trip. Among other places, they drove on the beach at Daytona and stopped at the beautiful Cypress Gardens before pointing the car back north.
The Bradys could hardly have known it then, but the Impala would stay with them for the next half century, symbolizing a marriage classically built and seemingly better with every year.
You can try and offer money to Jim Brady for the Impala, but he won’t take it. There’s too much sentimental value attached to the car now.
He still drives it at least once a week, and the Bradys’ three grandchildren sometimes plead for rides in the car. Because the Impala doesn’t have seatbelts, Jim loads everybody in near the garage and they bump slowly along the perimeter of their property off Stokes Ferry Road.
“The air-conditioning is all four windows (down),” Elizabeth explains, “and he loves that.”
Jim Brady still has the bill of sale for the Impala.
He bought the car Aug. 28, 1961, from Raney Motor Co. in Salisbury. He paid $2,800 and drove it home.
“This was my first new car,” Jim says.
At the time, Brady was only 20, but he already was barbering. He had saved some of his own money, and his father loaned him the rest, which he paid back over time.
“I was cutting hair for a dollar a head back then,” he recalls.
Except for routine care and replacement parts you would expect over 50 years, the car is pretty much all original. The seat inserts were replaced, but the brown/beige interior is the same as when he and Elizabeth headed for their Florida honeymoon in 1963.
The Impala also has been repainted once.
Brady has logged just 160,000 miles on it — an average of 3,200 miles a year, if you’re counting.
“It’s been a great car — if I had just bought two or three of them,” Brady says.
The valve covers have never come off the V-8 engine, Brady says. He likes to show the Raney Motor Co. key chain he still has from the day he bought the car.
And don’t overlook the Raney Motor ice scraper.
Technically, Jim and Elizabeth Brady owe their first meeting to the car and a mutual friend who introduced the couple to each other in downtown Salisbury.
It was back when young kids with cars cruised up and down Main Street for fun. “I stopped to talk with her, and everything went from there,” Jim says. “We rode around awhile.”
They met Sept. 15, 1961, less than a month after Jim bought the Impala.
“I didn’t know if she wanted to go with me or the car,” Jim says.
Their courtship would last about a year-and-a-half. They found it interesting how they had grown up only four miles apart from each other, yet had never met until that day in Salisbury.
Jim says he drove by Elizabeth’s homeplace on Stokes Ferry Road for years without knowing who lived there.
Elizabeth graduated from Granite Quarry High School in 1959 — the last senior class at Granite Quarry before consolidation. Jim belonged to the first graduating class from East Rowan High in 1960.
Working as a hairdresser, Elizabeth liked everything about Jim, but one thing kept nagging her.
“I said, ‘He seems like a good person, but, my goodness, he’s a barber,’” Elizabeth laughs.
Any reservations soon dissipated, and the couple built a great life together with Jim’s 51-year career as a barber at its foundation.
The Bradys’ first residence was a mobile home on Elizabeth’s family’s property, but in 1967, they built the house they live in today with the help of Jim’s father and grandfather.
“Our lives together have been based on faith, hope and love,” Elizabeth says of her marriage. “We knew we were meant for each other, and we took our vows very seriously.”
The couple raised two boys, Eric and Brad, who work together today at Thrivent Financial. The couple did a lot of things with the boys — church youth activities, baseball, tennis, Boy Scouts, East Rowan High boosters and band.
When the boys married, Elizabeth says, their wives didn’t become daughters-in-law to the Bradys, they became “daughters-in-love.”
Jim Brady started out at two different barber shops before establishing his own Brady’s Barber Shop at 1300 and 1500 W. Innes St. for 22 years.
He later moved to Harviel’s on Green Street, then worked with Mike Earnhardt at Southgate before retiring.
Elizabeth Brady’s volunteer involvement at Granite Quarry Elementary School, which included a stint as PTA president, led her to working 15 years in early childhood education for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
“I loved it,” she says.
Elizabeth became known for “Brady Time,” a portion of the day she set aside to allow every student to excel at things such as art, music, crafts and reading.
Elizabeth Brady later became involved as a volunteer and community resource specialist with Thrivent Financial, a fraternal benefit company.
She helped with writing the first grant toward a Habitat for Humanity house and had roles with many other charitable events and organizations.
Together, the Bradys have always been active at Union Lutheran Church.
As with any marriage, the Bradys had to face tough times together.
The toughest may have been Jim’s two successful fights against cancer. That last battle seven years ago, which involved chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and wound therapy, knocked Jim down for a time.
“I was pretty beat up,” he says.
But his strong recovery after six weeks of going daily to Davis Hospital in Statesville for hyperbaric therapy was somewhat of a miracle. It makes celebrating their 50th anniversary this year that much more special, Elizabeth says.
With Jim retired now, the Bradys are able to do one of their favorite things — travel. Over the years, Jim guesses, they’ve been to 38 or 39 different states and Nova Scotia.
At home, they spend plenty of time looking after grandchildren and delight in seeing their own children as parents.
“Watching your children raise their children — Jim and I just look at each other and smile,” Elizabeth says.
Maybe this life — with 50 years of blessings — was meant to happen, no matter what car Jim drove.
But when the Bradys officially celebrate their 50th anniversary Sunday, they plan to drive to the gathering in the Impala. Of course, they do.
A classic for a classic.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or firstname.lastname@example.org.