By on November 5, 2009

CC 21 006 800

Hybrids are big in Eugene, but some are just plain huge. The Prius is the official new car here, having dethroned Subaru. But here’s a hybrid of a different color: instead of a marriage of two drive systems, it’s a cross between two brands, the engine of one transplanted into another. Back in the day, when these were popular, the goal was speed, not better mileage. And the resulting names of these cross-species hybrids were more colorful than Prius or Insight: Fordillac, Studillac, Fordick, Fordolet. Well, here’s a new one: a Chevmobile.

Olds 455 Lift up this Impala’s half-acre slab of hood, and where you might expect to encounter the ubiquitous small block, or perhaps a rat motor, sits an Olds 455. There’s nothing to give that surprise away, from the outside, so fortunately its owner came out to show off his beastly mongrel. Wait a minute; looking at the pictures now, I see that the badge next to the front side-marker light that normally announces the engine size to the inquiring world is missing. Did he take it off purposely, to arouse suspicion, or to not mislead the unwary; or did this car start life as a fairly rare six-cylinder Impala hardtop coupe, one of a few thousand built that year?

Lost in surprise and admiration of that clean Olds big-block, I forgot to ask him what exactly inspired this cross-divisional heart transplant. It’s not like big-block Chevys are hard to come by. Whatever; I love it. And it’s so utterly antithetical; Chevy engines have been the overwhelming choice of engine transplants into other makes since the first small block coughed to life in 1955.

This car brings back a flood of memories wasting hours at the drug store poring over various hot rod magazines in the sixties. Engine transplants are as old as the Model T, and kids are still dropping Integra VVT engines into Civics; but I’d say the golden age was the fifties and sixties. By that, I mean the randomness of the transplants. By the seventies, the Chevy V8 was such a dominant and universal tranplantee, it got rather predictable and boring. But previously, anything went anywhere, as long as the new engine made more power, and a stout oak tree, a chain, and a come-along were handy.

CC 21 010 800There are two main eras to indulge our engine-swapping nostalgia with: pre and post OHV V8. Just to clarify, we’re talking about cross-brand swapping; dropping Ford’s flathead V8 into old Ford rails is a different category; let’s call that “updating”: expedient and cheap, but not as original or creative. In the pre-OHV V8 era, I’m thinking particularly of the Chevy and GMC sixes, and the Buick straight eight.

The Ford V8 is a legend, and we’ll find one to honor here, but the flathead design had serious intrinsic faults. That drove quite a few to plumb the performance possibilities of the OHV GM units. Contrary to the myth of the Ford being the ubiquitous hot rod engine in the forties and fifties, there was a strong Chevy stove-bolt and Jimmy contingent. A full range of after-market speed parts were available, and with their intrinsically superior breathing and thermodynamics, they put in a strong showing at the drags and Bonneville.

The big Jimmy sixes, with 270 and 302 cubic inches, were brutes, and with modified cylinder heads and five carbs like this example, they flew, as in right past a flathead Ford. And the big, long Buick straight eight had a powerful presence too, both visual and aural. Check out this one with four SU carbs! That’s from the days when not every rail had a blown Chrysler hemi in it. The rat rod scene is doing its part to revive the use of oddball engines; old sixes and straight eights are in demand again.

CC 21 013 800When the Caddy V8 appeared in 1949, it might as well have been the second coming. Two visionaries, Bill Frick and Phil Walters, quickly made a business case out of it by dropping brand-new 331 Caddy engines into the light Ford sedans for a thousand bucks. The resulting hybrid was dubbed Fordillac, and made quite a sensation. “Uncle Tom” McCahill loved it, and it caught the eye of Briggs Cunningham.

Cunningham would have taken one to race at LeMans, but the rules wouldn’t allow it. But he did hire Frick and Walters to run his Caddy racing program, which we covered in our story of the hot-rod ’50 Caddy. And when the super-low ’53 Studebaker Starlight coupe appeared, Frick and Walters were on it in a flash, creating the legendary Studillac. Here is a review by McCahill of this 125 mph coupe that could outrun pretty much anything on both sides of the Atlantic at the time.

Lest I get accused again of slighting the Olds Rocket V8, it too was popular from its arrival six months after the Caddy. But obviously, plucking new engines from the assembly line was not cheap. But as soon as they started showing up in junkyards, shade-tree transplantists were all over them. And until the Chevy V8 started filtering down, big Caddy, Olds, nail-head Buicks, and Chrysler hemis were the implants of choice.

CC 21 008 800All this distraction about hybrids, and I haven’t even started on the ’68 Impala itself. I’ve got a ’70 Impala story planned for down the road that will stay focused on the car itself, I promise. The ’68 marked the end of the fastback, and the beginning of the post-283 era. The standard V8 was now the 307, for one year only. Of course, during this golden era, just about every engine in Chevy’s vast arsenal was optional, right up to the 425hp 427 (7 liter) big block. The sleeper of the bunch was a 3500lb Biscayne two-door, with the hot 425/427.

But then this Chevmobile’s motor looks pretty warm too: Edelbrock intake supporting a big four-barrel, tube headers, probably a hot cam. And it makes nice music, when I hear it from time to time on the streets near the campus, mixing it up with all the other silent hybrids.

More New Curbside Classics Here

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

28 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1968 Chevmobile Impala...”


  • avatar
    KeithBates

    Having owner a ’67 Impala SS with a 396/4 speed/12 bolt I can
    honestly say I should never have sold it. But there in is the rub,
    My toy is a ’73 Capri, the savior of Mercury in the early 70s. A 302
    and 5 speed is far more entertaining with 300hp than the old Impala.
    For one, it weighs 2460lbs, with a full tank of fuel, the Impala weighed
    close to 3700lbs without the driver, and had about the same power…

    The old Chevys were barges, they looked good and ran well for their time,
    but were the equivalent of livingrooms on wheels…

  • avatar

    My one and only Impala story: I can recall flying into Denver’s Stapleton airport in the late 60s and riding out the still under construction I-70/US6 towards the then-new ski areas for a family vacation. I was a wee lad of mid-single digits and was ensconced in the cold embrace of the slick vinyl back seat of the metallic green rental Impala. We drove right into a blizzard. Cars and trucks were spinning and sliding left and right, some of them right off the road. Both my mom & sister were wailing that we were going to die that night on Loveland Pass. I just stared at the stylized running deer-like creature emblazoned in the cheesy interior trim and trusted that my father knew what he was doing. How that nose-heavy crap-mobile stayed on the road is a mystery to this day, especially when I realized later in life that my Texas-born father has near ZERO winter driving skills (15 years or so later he nearly killed the two of us in another rental car in a blizzard on Vail Pass! … a story for another time.) But somehow we made it.

  • avatar
    detlef

    That’s from the days when not every rail had a blown Chrysler hemi in it. The rat rod scene is doing its part to revive the use of oddball engines; old sixes and straight eights are in demand again.

    Behold, the glorious sound of a blown Packard eight.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    The rat rod scene is doing its part to revive the use of oddball engines; old sixes and straight eights are in demand again.

    I’m never quite sure whether or not to admire rat rodders and their creations. I like the aesthetic, but sometimes they remind me of the guys who put on civil war uniforms and re-enact battles. I tend to think of rat rodders as historic hot rod re-enactors.

    IMO, the true spirit of rodding is better expressed by the kids who are dropping Integra engines into Civics.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    My older brother’s first new car was a 67 Impala 2 dr ht with a 327 4 barrel-my older sister pulled a hit and run on it in less than half an hour.

    He was pretty wild and because he was a cop he figured out the paint code was from a brown 64 Polara in about 2 seconds.

    It was a great looking car even with a Darlington stripe.

  • avatar
    impala

    As my handle will attest, Imapalas, in particular the ’65 & ’66, have a special place in my consciousness. My dad worked for GM in the 60′s and owned both a ’65 & ’66. I grew up riding in the ’66 (4 Door with Inline 6). The thing that always amazes me is the rear deck of the car was so wide, I could lie down and sleep on it during long trips when I was a kid!

    If GM every hits its stride again, I would love to see them build a Camry/Accord fighting modern Impala with the style and panache of the ’66.

    Thanks for the ’68 Impala, Paul!

  • avatar
    Stingray

    That car is WIN for 2 reasons:

    1) The fastback style. I dig those A-Bodies. Ah, almost forgot, the fucsia color LOL.

    2) The 455. And I spot a Quadrajet or Edelbrock carb down that filter.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    Chuck, that is an amazing story as I grew up in a ’72 Impala in Denver, and they were not very good in the winter snow. My dad had a Suburban for that!

    Dad also had a ’66 Impala. I don’t remember it as he traded it in for the newer one, which my brother and I use to ride around in the back seat without seat belts! “Oh save the children!” Those cars were like tanks, tho’. I remember my mom backing into an MG which she almost totaled, and the Impala had some yellow paint on the bumper.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    If you ever see one, don’t forget to do a write-up about the hybrid Pontiac Oldsmobuick.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Paul….is that a early 60′s Olds I spy in the left background, behind the tree?

    Two CC’s in one shot. Awesome.

  • avatar
    210delray

    That’s a 1963 Buick full-size (likely a LeSabre) in the background.

  • avatar
    tigeraid

    The fastback Impalas are among the most beautiful cars America ever produced. Even if this one has ugly wheels and fuscia.

    This is a surprising engine swap, but I like it, especially the vintage triangular Edelbrock air cleaner.

    And DUAL remote oil filters–I love it!

  • avatar
    jacksonbart

    Not a great color but that is a great looking car.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Ah, the memories. Back then GM knew what it was doing. Sort of. My ’68 Impala arrived with or soon developed a half-dozen glitches, the worst of which was the self-removing paint. A nice cruiser, though, and handsome.

    Big cars of that era are enormous by today’s standards. Look at that l-o-n-g rear overhang. Yet the cars came with bumper jacks! You had to elevate the back bumper about three feet to get the rear tires off the ground.

  • avatar
    dingram01

    Geez, if you’re gonna double up your oil filters, it would make sense NOT to use the world’s worst oil filter. Fram? You gotta be kidding me.

    But maybe something’s lost on me anyway about these old American cars. I’ve always been partial to cars that are able to, you know, steer and stop.

  • avatar
    poltergeist

    Stingray:

    The full size GM cars were B-bodies.

    The A-body was the midsize Chevelle, LeMans, Cutless etc.

  • avatar

    @ Mark McGinnis

    It’s a ’63 Buick

  • avatar
    shiney2

    Hey KeithBates!

    I also had a ‘67 Impala SS! mine was a convertible 396/auto. Loved that car. It was all but impossible not to hoon your way everywhere given the barge like handling, massive power, and the poor traction. Fun! Fun! Fun! The huge long pipes sounded soooooo deep and good. One of the best sounding cars I have ever been around.

    Sadly some high school girl in her grandmothers 90s Buick Roadmaster Wagon raced out of a parking lot into traffic, punching the Impala so hard that it was completely totaled. A sad day :-(

  • avatar
    obbop

    Last day of high school.

    Local farm kid had “cherried out” his Impala. Four-speed. 2-door. New all-black paint and fancy wheels.

    Believe it was a ’68 or ’69. It had a 427 in it. Unsure if it was an OEM engine.

    Never raced, it was a cruiser.

    Until that last day of high school as us seniors were milling about.

    The graduating farm kid was slowly idling by in front of the school in that beautiful Impala.

    Us 3 seniors shouted… “Get it on,” and he did, flooring it on the deserted street (at the moment) in the small placid California farm town.

    The immense roar was overwhelming and the car hunkered down and dug in and proceeded in a forward direction at what seemed to be an incredible velocity.

    Briefly.

    An enormous clang and crunch then sudden lack of forward velocity was followed by an extremely rapid vertical rise of the car’s rear.

    “WOW!!!!!!!” we ‘wowed’ at the sight.

    Reaching an apex with the driver staring down at the pavement below gravity’s law pulled the rear back to the planet’s surface.

    THUD… bounce bounce bounce.

    Rushing over to the now immobile car we checked the driver.

    Shocked and startled but unharmed.

    Youth is pliable and malleable.

    Looking under the car the front of the drive shaft was nestled within the short valley it created as it dug into the pavement briefly until forward motion was stopped and the forward momentum converted to upward movement.

    Since the owner did not race the car, with that last-day-of-school an emotional momentary response to the day’s joy, he apparently never felt a need for one of those drive shaft safety thingies to prevent such an incident.

    The only observers we were aware of were us four graduates….classes were underway but us 4 were “ditching class” and a huge front lawn separated the school buildings from the street.

    Topped off with communal tokes after pushing the car backwards to sit next to the curb, we stood to the side giddy with glee, shock, the thrill of the event and the soothing effects of the brown bud (fine fare for the early 70s, ‘lumbo from afar) The driver was a child of semi-wealth so the car was made whole later.

    His momentary loss turned out to be the meringue upon the pie of a thoroughly groovy day.

    In the “mind’s eye” I can still see the driver looking down at a steep angle, arm’s outstretched to keep him upright in the steeply down-slanting seat, then slowly returning downward to the normal horizontal position.

    YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Wasn’t the ’68 the last year for the fastback Impala? Seems like they went to the formal roofline for the hardtops in 1969.

    I recently read somewhere that before the bonehead president of Chrysler (Newburg?) decided at the last minute to redesign the 1962 line into those abominations, the original 1962 fullsize Plymouths and Dodges designs looked remarkably like the 1965 Chevrolet Impala fastback. One can’t help but wonder how differently things might have been if the 1962 Dodges and Plymouths had actually came out looking like the beautiful Impala three years before it was released.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    obbop, YEAH indeed!

  • avatar
    probert

    It could be that this was the engine the guy found and it seemed like a good idea, but there are other reasons it may have been chosen.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but, the 425/455 old engine was very well engineered. It had a lot of alloy to keep the weight down, had a higher compression ratio, and was lower profile than the other big blocks.

    Because of this it was also used in racing boats. And, of course, in the magnificent Toronado.

  • avatar
    probert

    I meant to say “Olds engine” not “old engine” but the edit thing wasn’t working for me.

  • avatar

    A minor point is that the Olds 455 is lighter than a Chevy Rat motor by around 75 pounds. Not enough to sway anybody one way or the other, but not a bad thing, certainly.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    @ poltergeist

    True. I made a mistake.

  • avatar
    mculbert

    Anyone know why the Oldsmobile V8s sounded so good?

    Growing up in the 70s I knew from a very early age that the Olds V8s sounded different than anything else. They still sounded like a V8 but they were somehow unique.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    A couple of points:

    1968 was the last year for the fastback full-size Chevy and the first year that the Impala got the Caprice’s formal roofline. It was an optional model called “Impala Custom”. The 1969 Impala continued with the formal “Custom” but also had a semi-fastback that replaced the full fast back from ’68. It was also continued into 1970.

    The Olds engine is a very durable engine because the block contained a high nickel content, much more so than a Chevy. Nevertheless, a Chevy rat motor, which weighs about 700 lbs. with iron heads, is going to make a lot more horsepower, primarily as a result of its staggered valve cylinder head design. The 1968 Olds 455 (new that year) had horsepower in the 370 range and perhaps 380 with the W-30 option for the 442 model. The base Chevrolet 427 (L36) in 1968 was 385 horsepower while the special order L72 was 425 horsepower. About 500 full-size ’68 Chevies received the L72. I’ve only seen one with my own eyes and it was a matching number Biscayne.

    I’m not sure why the Olds had the sound that it did as mculbert references but they did sound substantial in stock form. Olds preferred a more “modular” design where bore and stroke closely approximate one another; Chevrolet always pushed for a more oversquare design where the bore is somewhat larger than the stroke. I doubt that had anything to do with the sound. It was probably related more to compression chamber design and exhaust system design; again no similarity between an Olds 425-455 and a Chevy 396-427-454.

  • avatar
    Lug Nuts

    Up until a few years ago, I owned a 65 Impala SS show car. Great to look at, but ride and handling were horrid (literally the living room on wheels as mentioned above). Rebuilding the entire suspension from scratch with modern upgrades made little difference. There’s not much you can do to improve handling on a gigantic car weighing almost two tons. I finally saw the light, sold it, and bought a certain unibodied pony car of the same vintage. Zero regrets and finally respectable handling.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • J & J Sutherland, Canada
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India