By on September 29, 2011

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 #111, 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

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20 Comments on “1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 14: First Taste of the Quarter-Mile...”

  • avatar

    I’ve seen worse run at the strip, turning in 23 second times. Great Video

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    Great series, enjoyable reading!
    But the suspense that keeps it going: How’s it GONNA DIE?
    Tune in next time…

  • avatar

    I bet this car is still in his garage

  • avatar

    That’s a pretty slick Monte Carlo Aerocoupe in the third paddock photo.

  • avatar

    I once dialed in a 30-sec 1/4 mile time.

    I was driving a bone-stock, stick-shift, Mercedes 240D. The fuel pump timing must have been a bit off, I ran a 31.332.

    With gobs of thick, black smoke :)

  • avatar

    Jesus Built my Hotrod – what a tune to drive fast too. I remember listening to exactly the same piece of music whilst going sideways around the country lanes near my parents house in my woefully aged and underpowered Ford (Mercur XR4) Sierra (rallying is more my thing than drag racing).
    There must be something about songs with ‘Jesus’ in the title, as ‘Hard on for Jesus’ by the Dandy Warhols is also a very good driving tune.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I’ll add “Kooler than Jesus” by My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult to that list. Much slower in tempo but a solid, steady beat to it.

    • 0 avatar

      The US spec Merkur XR4ti were not underpowered…terrible leather and plastics yes. Tail happy semi trailing arm rear end and durable turbo power combined with zero resale carved out a small rabid cult following.

  • avatar

    I’ve been enjoying this series. My first car was a ’65 Impala 4 door hardtop. It didn’t make the statement this one does, but the faded metallic orchid paint stood out in it’s own way. The best thing about the car was the factory 396/325 hp engine which clicked off consistent 16.80s. Used to annoy the hell out of the competition at the the Sunday afternoon bracket races when I took home the 50 bucks at the end of the day, which happened more than once. Good times….

  • avatar

    I love this series and have always loved the look of those 65’s. Sadly they were a one year design, as was the ’64 Dodge full sized wagons (330, 440 and 770) series that had the very same clip as the Polara/Polara 500, which also had that design for exactly 1 year.

    As for your paddock photos of the Impala, between that Monty and the CRX, your car looked positively bad ass in comparison (and it is bad ass!). :-)

    As for your times, not bad for a pedestrian 350 w/ turbohydromatic 400 3spd auto.

    Lovin’ this series greatly.

  • avatar

    Gee, I’m on a hotel computer in Phoenix as I check in on vacation, but I can’t pass this up!

    I ran my 1972 Nova (250, stick) at St. Louis International one evening back in 1974 and turned in a quite respectable miserable time of something like 22 seconds! Oh well, I had to do it. Once.

    My Hampton Inn near the airport is considerably better than that place you stayed in!

    This is and has been an amazing series. How many more chapters?

    I’ll be back over the weekend, hope I’m not missing too much. Goodnight, now.

  • avatar

    Back in the middle 70’s, there was an Olds that ran 22.87-22.90 every single time, driven by a guy in his 60’s. He was almost unbeatable if he didn’t screw up on the tree, and he almost never did. I was running a ’74 Roadrunner, stuck in the low 15.20s, and it seemed like every time I got past the first round, there was the Olds, and I was doomed. It got to the point that I was trying to cut a perfect light, anything to beat him, and I did it once, I cut a .500 light to his .550, and I still missed catching him by inches. I finally spent money to buy some headers and did some tuning, and I broke into the 14’s and got away from racing him because I moved into the 14.00-14.99 bracket out of the 15.00 and up one he was in. That guy won cases of oil every week for years. I wouldn’t be shocked if he still had some left, if he’s still alive.

    • 0 avatar

      Reminds me of a story my uncle tells… He had a ’69 Skylark that he drag raced in the ’70s. He had that car for YEARS, I remember riding in it. Bone stock 350 2-bbl. His brother-in-law also raced, he had a Mustang. The brother-in-law was forever throwing parts at his car and screwing it up… you know, the bigger carb HAS to make me faster, that kind of thing. He spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars basically screwing his car up and never really getting it dialed or being successful at the strip. Meanwhile, my uncle showed up at the track each week with a handful of parts like carb jets and distributor advance springs and weights and a couple of screwdrivers, and won his class on a fairly regular basis.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        In the late 1990s I worked with a gentleman who used to tell stories about his dad and uncle who would often race down the country road infront of the house he grew up in. His Dad always bought Chevys/Pontiacs and his uncle always bought Caddillacs (this was the late 1960s). His uncle was never content with his Caddys and always tried to tinker with them, messed with the timing, carb jetting, ect. His dad would simply keep his cars as finely tunned as possible. Several times a year his Dad would challenge his uncle to a race and always win. My friend told me he later in life realized that his father was actually listening for his brother comming down the road and would determine when the Caddillacs were running poorly because of some “tweak” that had been made. He only challenged his brother to a race because he knew he could win.

  • avatar

    The SBC 350 was not introduced until ’67. The ‘pala probably has a 283 or 327 and powerglide 2 sp tranny.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah that is what it left the factory with years before it got to this glorious point in its life. Check back on the previous installments of this series to see the fun that was had making it a 350/350 powered hoopty.

  • avatar

    Having owned a ’65 Impala, I’m impressed that could be made into a much better road car with (mostly) parts from the same era. It leads me to believe GM engineers could build solid platforms, and with fewer price limitations, excellent vehicles. It makes me wonder if the Cimarron, left to the engineers, might have been made into decent competition for the BMW 3-series of the time.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    So Murilee, how bad were you jonesin’ for cruise control on that trip back to NorCal?

  • avatar

    I can’t believe that run slip. You were making some pretty good time.

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