By on November 10, 2011

Summer, 1999: I’d managed to get the Impala into the 14s, barely, with a screamin’ 406-cubic-inch small-block under the hood, but I knew the car would do much better with more traction. Meanwhile, my desire to tell the car’s story coincided with a job move into the maelstrom of dot-com madness.
I’d enjoyed writing manuals for transit buses, but a lifer job in an office full of well-adjusted, wholesome coworkers wasn’t really right for me. Once I figured out that HR goons at wild-eyed dot-com boom startups in San Francisco’s Multimedia Gulch would kill puppies with pinking shears if that’s what it took to find tech writers to document their no-chance-in-ever-being-profitable software, I was able to more than double my salary overnight. Thanks, dead-broke-by-2002 investors! Even better, I’d gone from being the weirdo of the office, the one whose everyday conversations caused a lot of nervous laughs and edging away in the break room, to fitting right in. Above is a photo of my new cubicle in a hip SoMa building, the San Francisco office of mighty, global, founded-18-months-back Sux-M-Owt.com (name changed because the mysterious corporation that bought their assets would have Yakuza thugs break my kneecaps if I used the real one). Sux-M-Owt.com had offices in Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, Guangzhou, New York, and probably Nunavit, and their frenzy to steal all “the good employees” away from the competition (i.e., all the other doomed dot-coms) meant that our office full of code geeks and marketing pukes had all manner of employee-spoiling perks the likes of which The Man will never permit again. For example, the “break room” was something like an upscale convenience store with huge sliding-glass-door refrigerators full of every high-end snack and drink that Webvan could deliver, and if your optimum work efficiency depended on a steady supply of organic, squeezed-under-a-full-moon citron juice from the Holy Land, why, they’d get it for you. When the clock hit 12:01 PM, my boss would mix a round of margaritas for all of us in the MemoCranker™ 3.0 Development Team, using the blender that lived in the middle of her desk. Naturally, the MemoCranker™ folks did a lot of “team-building” at the foosball table.


My cube-mate was a pink-haired web designer who taught welding at an Oakland artists’ collective at night (later, after we all got laid off and plunged back into the torment of The Man’s harsh salt mines, she joined the Metal Maidens and won the Junkyard Mega Wars “Great Race”). It had only been a half-decade since I’d been a starving tropical-fish delivery driver, and now I found myself getting paid big bucks to work with genius freaks who cranked Renaldo and the Loaf at their desks and would gladly drop a boring discussion of the latest MemoCranker™ memory leak in order to debate over the merits of Bulgakov‘s work. This environment made me even more resolved to do something with the project that had consumed so much of my creative energy over the previous decade.
I really wanted to write the Impala’s story and sell it to a car magazine that could tolerate artsy gibberish, or maybe an art magazine that could tolerate grease-stained gearheadery, but first I decided to warm up with The Next Big Thing, according to late-1990s wisdom: a website about the car. It took about an hour for a couple of my coworkers to teach me sufficient HTML, after which I scanned a bunch of my Impala photos and got to work writing up the site on my ancient Centris 650 Mac.
It was all no-frills, hand-coded HTML with minimal formatting, made to load quickly for users on dial-up modems. I kept the “Anti-Restoring a 1965 Impala” site on my ISP’s 10MB of free web-hosting space; the tiny images were made so small as much for storage reasons as for download speed. For those of you who’d like to see the earlier version of the Impala Hell Project story, I’ve reconstituted it on MurileeMartin.com. In 1999— before Google made internet searches easy— it was tough to get your personal site noticed, but eventually I started getting emails from readers who’d found my story and enjoyed it. I wasn’t getting paid, but I was writing about cars!
While I refused to use the cheezy-ass marquee or blink tags in my site (and let’s not get into the even more horrible MIDI sound files that were so popular, circa 1999), I did add a cheezy-ass animated GIF. Hey, it was the 90s!
I felt that I’d be moving on to the next project soon, but there was still some unfinished business with the Impala: I needed to get it to run a 13-second quarter-mile. The engine had more than enough power, but there was no way to get the open differential in the car’s 3.31 12-bolt rear to put any power to the ground; launching at more than quarter-throttle simply blew away the right tire, I couldn’t get past about half throttle anywhere in first gear, and the first-second shift resulted in another space-saver-spare-on-ice-style, zero-grip nightmare. Clearly, I had to throw some money at the differential problem. I debated the pros and cons of finding a decent factory Positraction unit, but limited-slip differentials still allow a certain amount of right-tire spin. I’d already made the car fairly uncivilized with its cammed-up engine, so I decided to put a locker in the 12-bolt.
I settled on the Powertrax locker. I can’t recall how much I paid for it in ’99, but Summit sells the 12-bolt Lock-Right for $348.81 nowadays. It was a fairly simple installation (the Powertrax unit replaces the entire spider gear assembly, so you don’t have to futz with ring and pinion backlash adjustment), but it involved a lot of super-stinky 90-weight saturation. The difference between the one-legger and the locker was impressive as hell; the 406 still made so much power that launching was tricky (now instead of spinning one tire, it would spin both tires and get sideways), but I could pretty much stand on the gas once the car got rolling. It clicked and clanked when I drove around corners, and I dreaded the coming of the rainy season, but so what? Time to return to the dragstrip!
Even with 92-octane pump gas, I had to add octane booster to avoid pinging. I suspect that my compression-ratio calculations may have been off; I’d been shooting for 9.9:1, but the big power and tendency to detonate seemed to indicate that I’d gone higher. Here’s my convenient octane-boost bottle storage location.
Back at Test-N-Tune Day at Sacramento Raceway Park, I removed the spare tire, jack, and tools from the trunk, and handed the camera to my ’51 Chevy daily-driving friend, Anthony. If I managed a 13-second run, I wanted it documented.
Watching all the 13- and 14-second Mustangs and Chevelles making their passes, I suddenly realized that my trusty old daily driver might be able to keep up with the hairier muscle cars. A good feeling.

I’d decided I wasn’t going to give a damn about reaction times, because this was all about the car. All I cared about was launching the Impala as hard as it could manage, avoiding any guardrail-bashing, and keeping the revs below the 400-destroying 5,500 RPM limit.
Here we go! The car didn’t hook up very well, but it was orders of magnitude stickier than my last quarter-mile attempt. My ET? 13.983 seconds. Yes!
Getting into 13-second territory on my first try was somewhat anticlimactic, but the car still had plenty of power that wasn’t making it to the asphalt. How about 13.5 seconds? Hell, how about 12 seconds?
I tried and tried, using every trick I could think of to keep wheelspin to a minimum, but I couldn’t get the thing to really dig in at launch. I did, however, manage to do a bit better than 13.983…
A real-world 13.67-second quarter-mile run out of a four-door full-size Chevy with a low-buck small-block engine, which I think is pretty respectable.
That’s me on the right. 13.677 seconds at 100.735 MPH, and pay no mind to the Slow Loris-grade reaction time; this is about the car, not my (lack of) driving skills. I was about to see if I could talk some other racer with Chevy-bolt-pattern wheels into loaning me a pair of slicks for just one pass when a couple of angry Sacto Raceway tech guys stopped me on the return road. “Helmets are required for anything quicker than 14 seconds!” one shouted. “You don’t have a helmet! You’re outta here!” And that was the end of my Test-N-Tune Day fun. Next up: Agonizing reappraisal, serious photo session.

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17 • Part 18 • Part 19

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23 Comments on “1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 18: Back To the Dragstrip, Website 1999...”


  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Who won the Big Bootie contest?

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I got into the low 14s with my small block Fairlane mainly on the strength of traction. Big Daddy Don always said the race was won in the first 60 feet. If you subtract your Ioris reaction time the car ran a 13 flat time. Not bad for a hooptie.

    • 0 avatar
      240SX_KAT

      The clock doesn’t start running until the car moves about a foot past the staging lights at events like this.

      Man, you needed work on your 60ft times! Anything with a two as the first digit with both tires applying power is a poor showing. My launches on the 240sx with a worn out viscous LSD (1.5 wheel drive!) are in the 1.8-1.9 with street tires, good runs are 13.5-13.6 at 105 or so.
      I know it’s waaaay too late for advice, with street tires avoid the burn out box. Drive around the water and do a tiny spin to clean the tires, a second at most. Street tires don’t like the heat, they get slippery.

      I love this project, can’t wait to see how it ends.

      • 0 avatar

        I tried it without burnouts, which (I think) is how I got the 13.6. It was just so damn touchy trying to get all that weight rolling without blowing away the tires. What I really needed was stickier/wider tires, but I didn’t know then what I do now.

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    Great story and project. That thing looked really cool by the time you were done with it and also walked the walk! Wonder how many “got” your project, outside of those viewing it on the web? A true outsider project. I have to say, if I saw you driving down the street, I’d never suspect the narrative you present here. Purity through impurity?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Love it Amigo, you have inspired us all.

  • avatar
    tiredoldmechanic

    That’s an impressive performance for basically rolling in off the street and no slicks. You likely had enough power to get into the low 13s with slicks, maybe a little quicker with lower gearing.
    Gets expensive/obsessive in a hurry if you get hooked! Learning how to interpret timeslips is the first sign of addiction…..
    I’m hoping you still have the car and the opportunity to make a run now and then. I still miss it sometimes.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I’m on to you Murilee…The A-100 hasn’t received any press in a long time…that means by now it’s lowered on 14 inch true spokes, with a snazzy metalflake-the-size-of-small-dogs paint job, and groovy shag carpet.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    This is an awesome series, and a fascinating car. I hope this car eventually had a dignified end.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Slap a turbo on a 928 and get below 11 seconds.

    Impalas are garbage, they were never worth anything. Pathetic that anyone would waste 20 seconds on them beyond the crusher.

  • avatar

    !!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    13.67 is indeed respectful times for the times and what you had to go with.

    Today, many cars can go quicker than that for the “slower” cars, whilst the faster ones tended to do as quick as 5 sec’s, 0-60 times.

    A stock current Fiat 500, when properly launched can do in the range of mid 9 sec’s, the MINI cooper closer to upper 8 sec’s and they do this with a 4 banger.

    And I’m looking forward to reading more of this story as long as it lasts.

  • avatar
    Dynasty

    Reading your website made me giggle through just about every page.

    “This shot really shows off some of the customizing tricks in this super-cherry restoration.”

    Hillarious

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I’ve enjoyed reading this series. It reminds me of when I drove a friend’s big block Vega. That was fun most of the time, but twice it was scary as the car went into the wall. Once was a broken axle, and since it had a spool, it was instant left turn time. The other time, the top radiator hose split just as the tree came down due to the insane practice of the hose manufacturer’s putting staples in them. Nutty, to say the least. The car launched with about an 18″ wheelstand, and in the film of the launch, you can see the water and water pump lube streaming out from under the car. Once the right tire got under the right tire, the car got all out of shape and BLAM, I hit the wall. All in all though, I wish I was still driving a car that ran 9′s.

    My 2010 Challenger R/T has done a best of 13.34@105.xx. Launches are a huge problem, as it doesn’t have any kind of limited slip, so it has to be driven just right off the line, or the run is worthless. When it was stock, I would just punch it, and most of the time, if it had a full tank of gas, it would launch fairly well, and I ran a best of around 13.7. Once it got more miles on it, and I added an SRT airbox, a drop in AFE air filter, and a Solo catback, it lost all consistency, and actually, the average ETs went UP, but if I launch it right, it’s closer to 12′s than 13′s, and that makes me very happy. About 1/4 of the time, it spins the right tire excessively, or if it launches ok, it spins just as it’s about to shift into 2nd gear. Either thing happens, 14′s are the best I can hope for. It took quite a few passes to run that 13.34.

  • avatar

    In terms of dragstrip fun, it’s hard to beat an old Beetle with 80 or so horses. 15 seconds in a Beetle feels way more dangerous/exhilarating than 13 seconds in a big car.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    That hillbillymobile made a good run, very impressive.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Especially when you take into consideration that it had no traction to speak of.


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