1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 14: First Taste of the Quarter-Mile

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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1965 impala hell project part 14 first taste of the quarter mile

After I moved from San Francisco to Atlanta and then got a job writing Year One’s catalogs, rubbing elbows with all those drag-race-crazed Southern gearheads on the job meant that it wasn’t long before I took the Impala to the dragstrip.

Back in 1996, Year One advertised pretty heavily at nearby Atlanta Dragway, and so we often made “field trips” to the track. You know, for work. My coworkers drove some pretty quick machinery, with plenty of 12-second Detroit bombs and the occasional excessively boosted Omni GLHS. I refused to run the Impala down the quarter-mile the first couple of Test-n-Tune Day visits, because A) I’d never run a car at a dragstrip before and B) I knew the Impala would be humiliatingly slow. Instead, I drank Schlitz in the paddock and kibitzed as my coworkers readied their cars.

This was fun, of course, but the peer pressure continued to build.

Finally, my coworker Clint— who spent his spare time finding correctly-date-coded U-joint end caps for his numbers-matching, 383/4-speed Road Runner— picked up a Poly 318-powered early-60s Belvedere and brought it to the track. It completed the quarter-mile in a stately and dignified 21 seconds. I figured that my car, with its smog-headed, Quadrajet-and-headers-equipped 350, should be able to beat that time!

So, I got the car through the tech inspection and lined up. I was a little nervous, but I figured I’d escape the ruthless ball-busting of my peers as long as I didn’t redlight my first time out. Screw the reaction time, I figured.

With 3.31 gears and an open differential, I decided to skip the burnout completely. The car didn’t have enough power to do much more than chirp one tire at launch, anyway.

I had Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” on the cassette deck for this historic moment, because its combination of lines from Georgia native Flannery O’Connor’s second-best novel, drag racin’ imagery, and Gibby Haynes vocals seemed right for the occasion.

But, really, why settle for a rubber-burnin’ song with Gibby as a mere guest vocalist when you can hear him on a genuine, 200-proof Butthole Surfers track? Electriclarryland came out a few months after my first dragstrip visit, so I had to wait until a later dragstrip visit for this more appropriate musical accompaniment.

Dreading a redlight foul and resulting derision, I waited for the green light before I even thought about launching. Here we go!

The Impala is on the right. 17.278 seconds, which turned out to be pretty much right in line with the “low to mid 17s” prediction of my coworkers. The 1.201-second R/T is a bit on the, er, conservative side, but I’ve gotten a lot quicker since that time.

After more practice and some engine tuning, I was able to crack the 16-second barrier— just barely— on a later visit to the strip, but I knew that I’d need to add another hundred or so horsepower if I wanted the car to live up to the original art-car concept I’d had for it. Meanwhile, as the spring of 1996 became another hot Georgia summer, my girlfriend decided that she wasn’t happy at Emory, or in academia in general. While I enjoyed hanging out with my new Southern friends, I didn’t like the hyper-suburban-sprawl that lay at the heart of the Atlanta way of life (captured fairly accurately, a couple of years later, in Tom Wolfe’s A Man In Full), and so we decided to pack up the Impala and head back to California in late August.

As was the case with the trip from California a year earlier, the drive was hot and stressful and I didn’t shoot many photos. In fact, I shot a grand total of two photos on our journey, which took us on a southern route in order to visit relatives in Austin, Texas, along the way (and both photos were taken in New Mexico). Here’s an end-of-film-roll shot of our motel in middle-o-nowhere New Mexico.

And here’s a shot of the Impala in front of the UFO Museum in Roswell. The car ran perfectly, and we were back in San Francisco a few days after leaving Georgia. I knew that the Impala would be getting a power upgrade in the very near future, once I’d settled down and found a job. Next up: More bad influences, building the New Engine.

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

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

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2 of 20 comments
  • Clay Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60 had manual choke through 1987.Also, just started daily driving my 1992 Volvo 240 that I picked up in September and brought back to the road. Some fresh studded tires + RWD, bring on the snow!! Old Volvos make me smile
  • Lou_BC My son already has a Scout EV. Well, okay, RC....
  • The Oracle I was in WNY when this went down and it is likely a medical issue and/or some type of rolling domestic. That car was flat out with air bags deployed before it even left the ground. It was a spectacular wreck. The couple made a 7-minute stop at the Seneca Niagara Casino before the fiery launch, and something went terribly wrong in those 7 minutes.
  • Lorenzo A union in itself doesn't mean failure, collective bargaining would mean failure.
  • Ajla Why did pedestrian fatalities hit their nadir in 2009 and overall road fatalities hit their lowest since 1949 in 2011? Sedans were more popular back then but a lot of 300hp trucks and SUVs were on the road starting around 2000. And the sedans weren't getting smaller and slower either. The correlation between the the size and power of the fleet with more road deaths seems to be a more recent occurrence.