By on July 3, 2011

In the last episode of the Impala Hell Project story, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 made me choose a small-block engine instead of the big-block I’d originally planned as a worn-out 283 replacement. I was still running the factory single exhaust and two-speed Powerglide transmission at that point, so some more upgrades were in order.

With my new college degree in hand, I figured I’d drive 430 miles north to the parents’ place on The Island That Rust Forgot and crash there until I landed a high-paying job and scraped up enough cash for a nice apartment in San Francisco. Sadly, the early 1990s recession (while laughably mild by Great Recession standards) meant that fresh college grads in California were getting laughed right out of job interviews. My parents weren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of all their unemployed University of California-graduate offspring coming back to the nest, but what really bummed them out was the prospect of the fleet of wretched hoopties that tended to accumulate around their once-dignified Victorian when I lived there. They’d managed to dispose of my ’58 crypto-Baja Bug, which I’d unwisely left behind when I went down south for college, but I could acquire beaters much faster than they could get rid of them.

Making matters worse for them, but better for me, my sister’s boyfriend Chunky (of “Oh Lord, Stuck In The Lodi Volvo Again” fame) was staying in a brain-shaped trailer in the back yard, and he already owned several terrible Detroit heaps. “Let’s drop a Turbo 350 in that thing!” he suggested. I agreed. In fact, I agreed so wholeheartedly that we pulled the old Powerglide before I’d even obtained a replacement.

The amount of property-value devaluation caused by the two of us was so devastating that we made a comic strip entitled “Econoline Hi-Jinks With Phil & Phil,” showing what we imagined to be the neighbors’ perception of the scene in the Martin household’s back yard. Someday, “Econoline Hi-Jinks” will be a full-length animated feature film. Someday.

I thought about getting a junkyard TH350, but Chunky had a transmission-shop-employed friend who could get me an alleged recent rebuild for cheap— one of those “customer wrecked the car and gave it to the shop” deals. Sounds good to me!

The Powerglide ended up in the driveway, right next to the not-so-drivable ’71/’72/’73/’75 Firebird/Camaro that ended up being sold at a huge profit to some sailors at the Navy base on the other side of the island (home to Bob Lutz and Richard Nixon at various stages of their respective military careers). As I recall, the forgotten Powerglide then sat in my long-suffering mom’s rose bushes for another 10 years after that; eventually, she found it while weeding and demanded that I come over immediately and make it go away, forever. Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be gearheads! Actually, my mother grew up in a racing household and had come to accept the sight of busted-ass car parts as normal.

Meanwhile, I was feverishly mixing-and-matching various Quadrajet components, in an effort to make the 350 run just right; I’d swapped in a junkyard HEI ignition as soon as I could find one at U-Pull-It (because points ignitions suck), and I figured I should be able to get the fuel-delivery system working well enough to make the car purr. Eventually I came to accept that any functioning Q-Jet should just be left alone.

Swap-meet headers for small-block Chevy engines are ridiculously cheap, and most of them will fit the full-size Chevy. Here I am installing a $25 pair of Hedmans.

Time to install the new transmission! I videotaped the TH350 installation, but I no longer have a version with the original sound. Instead, here’s a Murilee Arraiac music video, featuring the 1989 Japanese-college-radio hit (and by “hit” I mean “a couple of Japanese college DJs played it at 4:00 AM and sent me bewildering postcards about the experience”) “Hajoi Hotai.” It’s sort of like a transmission swap in a 24 Hours of LeMons paddock, only with more beer and less panic.

Once the transmission (but not mufflers) was installed , we couldn’t wait to test it out. We’d fabricated some brackets to make the Powerglide column-shift linkage work with the TH350, and there was no telling whether the thing would actually go into gear (the shift indicator marks didn’t line up once the shifter went past R, so from that point forward I had to count the number of detent clicks to determine what gear I was in).

Reluctantly, I decided that open headers would attract too much attention from the APD, and so I got some muffler pipe, clamps, hangers, and junkyard mufflers. No tailpipes— it sounds better if you dump the exhaust right in front of the rear axle! While I had the car up on jackstands, I replaced the sagging rear springs with some very affordable JC Whitney “heavy duty” replacements.

It drove very well and sounded even better. As an added bonus, the 3-speed transmission and free-flowing exhaust improved my fuel economy from about 12 MPG overall to 15 or so (any owner of a 60s-vintage full-size Detroit car who claims 20+ miles per gallon with a carburetor is being somewhat less than truthful). Not bad for a great big carbureted boat. Next up, a new instrument panel and 20-pound pull-out stereo.

1965 Impala Hell Project Roundup

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23 Comments on “1965 Impala Hell Project Part 5: Three Speeds, Two Exhaust Pipes...”

  • avatar

    Mr Martin, please do yourself and TTAC a favor: THROW AWAY those yellow split-tube jack stands pronto. 38+ years of turning wrenches professionally, I’ve seen a few “unfortunate incidents” related to those stands, specifically the term, SPLIT TUBE.
    Quadra-jets work well, are relatively simple in operation, but the 2 main problems I’ve seen with them are: Stripped float bowl threads at the fuel inlet where the small filter housing screws in and leaking casting plugs in the float bowl just over the throttle body. Tomco–dont know if they are still in business–used to make repair kits for those 2 issues.
    (I just realized how old I am remembering all those carbs I dealt with back in the day…)

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      My E-Quadrajet needed to be disassembled and rebuilt every 50,000 miles. I can understand why some guys call them “quadrajunk.”

    • 0 avatar

      I have real jack stands now. Also S-K tools instead of no-name Taiwanese stuff. Amazing what a couple of decades of middle-class income can do for your safety level.

      • 0 avatar

        I was told early on to never trust any jack or jackstand. An uncle once told me for safety, God invented concrete blocks. I had a Pep Boys split tube that gave way under my ’63 Chrysler Newport. Fortunately, two concrete blocks and 4x6s I used as shims saved me from the rear axle. I’d tell people how I was saved from 2-1/2 tons of Detroit iron, but later learned that tuna boat weighed only 3700 lbs, less than a current Taurus.

  • avatar

    I think I had a pair of those jack stands back in the 1990’s when I was still doing most of my wrenching on an ’83 Honda Civic hatchback.

    But when my Mom became a widow in 1998, the house went on the market a few months later and those, the ramps and such went to my best friends for storage and use when I needed to change the oil.

    Don’t know where they are now though, that was 13 years ago now and they’ve since moved, not once but twice.

    As for this series, I’m loving how it’s going so far. Keep it up!

  • avatar

    @ Terry:

    Did you RTFA at all? This work, and these photos, are from the 70s. We didn’t have Harbor Freight, and it’s cheap Chinese goodies. You could buy split-tube jack stands for around $20, or good, Made in America jack stands for $100. I’m pretty sure Murilee doesn’t have those jack stands.

    • 0 avatar

      Technically, I think you meant, the 90’s Muralee specifically says, the year 1990 and the first Gulf War.

      In skimming back through this article, I noted 2 types of jack stands, in the first video are the yellow split tube versions. The ones in the second video were the much better cast ones, and it was those that I had purchased, and not at Harbor Freight though.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, I find the idea that Murilee is still using those jack stands in the 1990 video entirely believable. :)

    • 0 avatar

      Those photos are from late 1990.

  • avatar

    Yep, read it, maybe the time frame didnt register once I saw those yellow POSs.
    Ya see…when I was 17 yrs old–42 years ago, I went out and bought a 2 pairs of USA Walker(now Lincoln) 2-ton stands,and a 1&1/4ton Walker floor jack. Still all work as new, and they’ve seen shop duty for years on end.
    I’m not rich, never have been(I do OK), bugt when my personal safety is involved, I dont scrimp the $$ just to get a job done.
    But hey–that’s just ME…lol

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    3 speeds, 2 pipes, 4 doors… Imapala 324? (Sorry couldn’t resist a little trolling…)

    I’m always amazed when reading the car tests from the 60s how long GM hung onto the powerglide as the base transmission unit. Why buy the base engine when the base trans would take away any fuel efficency benefit you might gain from the smaller V8 or I6?

  • avatar

    Imnot sure stripped down cars are bsd for property values. My neighbour is also my landlord and hes never minded two dismantled Hillmans in my yard he thinks its a bonus. When his shiny new Japanese cars wont start he calls me his camry is raining from behind the water pump at present and hes already booke space in my carport.

  • avatar

    You made my day with this installment, just the kind of quality reading I was craving.

    Tell us more about “the not-so-drivable ’71/’72/’73/’75 Firebird/Camaro”

  • avatar

    Thanks. I look forward to this series and always enjoy it.

    RE: Powerglide transmissions. Everyone wants to malign them, and they were inefficient but they were also bulletproof, tough, extremely durable, easy to repair, proven, thoroughly tested, well developed, hard to hurt, relatively inexpensive, etc., etc., etc. Drag racers still use them today.

    I’ll bet some TTAC reader knows how to find out how many were ever produced.

    • 0 avatar

      Plus Jim Hall’s Chaparrals had a modest amount of success with Powerglide transmission, perhaps with covert support from Chevrolet…

    • 0 avatar

      Would agree with your thought about the Powerglide. They were an anachronism because of their two-speed gearset but they were durable and reliable if not the best at performance. They were primarily the province of Chevrolet and were used behind the 396 engine up into ’68.

      Same goes for Quadrajets. I’ve lost count of how many I have rebuilt over the years (did one as recently as last Spring); never had a problem with one working or getting it to work properly. People who don’t know what they are doing with them always complain the most about them.

  • avatar

    I love the oil-stained driveway. Don’t really see those anymore where I’m living, but where I grew up every driveway had a permanent marking. As far as junkers laying around, I grew up with two brothers and we had to fight over driveway space depending on what repair work was deemed most critical. I’m sure the neighbors luved us. And I recall more than several test drives, sans mufflers. Yep, atracks the po-po real nicely.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Our family car was a 1963 Chevy Biscayne with a 3-on-a-tree manual tranny and the “blue flame” six. On a drive from DC to Colorado, the car would get 20 mpg at 65 mph.

    That car always ran quite lean. When the engine was not fully warmed up, it would buck pretty nicely unless the engine was spinning pretty fast. Had a Rochester 1-bbl. if memory serves.

  • avatar

    DAMN IT…That’s what I get for doing stuff over the long weekend…how the hell did i miss intallment #5?!

    I would think it would be cool to have neighbors like you people…

    You will find the three speed from my truck resting comfortable in a nice corner of the backyard of my parent’s crib….and on the patio you will see parts of the ’83 S10 T-5 that I didn’t use, chilaxing on top of a set of fat meats that will someday be under my truck.

  • avatar

    Another great Impala write. I enjoy every part more and more. Can’t wait for your next installment.

    If there is anything else you need please let me know.

  • avatar

    The turbo 350 may have had three speeds, but that was the only thing it had going over the glide. A stock powerglide was more stout than a beefed turbo 350. The glide is still very common in higher classes of drag racing today. In fact in some classes the glide is the only trans allowed. Since factory cores have been drying up over the past decade or two due to them being used up by drag racers you can now virtually build a brand new glide from aftermarket pieces.
    The turbo 350 would be a little more fuel efficient in city driving, due to the fact that the lower first gear would require less throttle opening to get the car underway. However highway mileage would be about the same, they both have a direct top gear ratio.
    @rapol35, while the q-jet had many faults, I agree that they were easy to make work. I also agree that many problems people had with them were due to the fact that they did not know what they were doing.
    About a year or so back we had a guy in here that had no idea how a carb works. He claimed that his 305 chevy got 30mpg because the secondaries were stuck shut!

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