Art Car to Daily Driver to Drag Racer: 10 Years of My 1965 Impala Hell Project
I put in four years and thousands of posts at Jalopnik, writing about most of my formative cars… but never once did I write the story of the car that served me longest, gave me the most miles, endured the most engine swaps, and generally laid claim to a bigger piece of my heart than all the rest of my motley lifetime fleet combined: a 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan, built at the long-defunct South Gate Assembly Plant in Los Angeles, equipped with a 283/Powerglide drivetrain, and painted Artesian Turquoise. Today, at last, the story begins.
I bought it with tax-refund money during my senior year of college, with the idea that it would serve as my canvas for a high-concept mixed-media performance/installation art project (don’t worry, my version of an art car isn’t a ’79 New Yorker with plastic army men hot-glued all over it). This it did, helping pry loose a degree from the Regents of the University of California, and then it— totally unexpectedly— won me over and became a more-or-less bulletproof daily driver that put 100,000 miles under its wheels during the following decade. It moved me and all my possessions across the country and back, earned me the nickname “Mad Max” from my coworkers at Year One, survived the rigors of living on the streets of San Francisco, and accepted parts from hundreds of junkyard donors. By the end, it sported a three-dimensional patina that would make the most inked-up Billetproof hipster swoon with envy, and it was knocking off mid-13s at the strip with a low-buck small-block. It’s going to take a while to relate the entire story, so check in after this weekend’s LeMons race (part of the six-races-in-seven-weeks 24 Hours of LeMons Springtime Death March) to get the next installment.
Next: The Purchase.
1965 Impala Hell Project Roundup
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- Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down. https://academic.oup.com/dh/article-abstract/42/4/548/5063004
- Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
- Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro processors...in today's vehicles?
- Ravenuer The Long Island Expressway.
- Kwik_Shift A nice stretch of fairly remote road that would be great for test driving a car's potential, rally style, is Flinton Road off of Highway 41 in Ontario. Twists/turns/dips/rises. Just hope a deer doesn't jump out at you. Also Highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Great scenery with lots of hills.
One of my best friends at the top of my street had one of these - a 2 door sedan. His dad bought it as an extra car for the family, as most of the kids still at home (3) were about to reach driving age - my friend already had, and this car was a Biscayne. As stripper as a stripper could get! Mist green with a kind of matching interior - the seat coverings were even printed with a tuck-and-roll pattern! Looked pretty convincing more than 6 feet away, too. 283 cu. in., powerglide. Thing was, that car almost literally flew! We had lots of fun blowing the doors off just about anything we came up against that wasn't a factory hot rod! To add to that, my buddy put a shift kit and it raced even better. Lots of people dismiss the powerglides, but this one was special. It did have an AM radio, which was really important in those days (1969)! A real sleeper.
Can I get that first picture desktop wallpaper-sized???