1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 16: Another Heart Transplant

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

After painstakingly building a medium-hot 406-cubic-inch small-block engine to replace the Impala’s very tired 350 (motivated by the car’s lackluster quarter-mile performance), 1998 became 1999. Finally the New Engine was ready for swapping.

The old 350, which I’d bought as a long-block from a cheap rebuild shop in L.A., had served me well, but its power output probably wasn’t much over 150 horses and it was starting to smoke under heavy throttle.

While the car was getting a power upgrade, I had some other plans for it. The Pontiac Rally wheels, which I’d had in place since my 1991 Generation X couch-surfing expeditions, would be replaced by something more in line with my original artistic vision for the car.

There was no way the worn-out Turbo-Hydramatic 350 transmission I’d installed in 1990 would survive more than a couple of pedal-to-metal beatings behind the new engine (it was slipping pretty badly on the second-third shift), so out it came.

I know how to swap transmissions, but there be monsters inside them— I don’t have the faintest idea how to go about messing with the deep innards of an automatic transmission, and I wasn’t about to start learning at this point. I thought about buying a TH350 rebuilt with drag racing in mind, but the price tag on such a transmission was sort of a budget-nuker. Instead, I went to Pick Your Part on Half Price Day and bought several maybe-recently-rebuilt-looking TH350s from six-cylinder Novas for $40 apiece. That way, I figured, I could just keep blowing up transmissions and swapping in “new” ones as needed. Hey, a transmission swap in a 60s GM B Body takes about 20 minutes, even at my slow wrenching pace.

I picked up a B&M Shift Improver Kit and installed it in the first of my junkyard transmissions, choosing the “Stage 2” U-joint-bustin’ options.

I had a patriotic Lydia Lunch portrait watching over this process. If you’re going to have a pinup, do it right!

I’d installed an Addco sway bar in the front a couple years earlier, thanks to my Year One employee discount. I’d bought a rear bar at the same time, but installation required drilling honkin’ big holes in the rear control arms and I didn’t get around to doing that job until it was time for the new engine to be installed. I figured the rear bar would help limit wheel-lifting tire spin when launching at the drag strip, plus make it easier to spin out when getting on the throttle in turns.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photograph the process of mounting a rear sway bar on my Impala, so you’ll just have to imagine the sight of a 1/2″ drill bit chewing through big-ass control arms.

I removed the carburetor, disconnected the headers, tied the power-steering pump out of the way, and all the other little jobs you do when pulling an engine. Hook up the chain, start lifting!

More than eight years of service from this engine, but it was time to go.

As was not the case with the rear swaybar installation, I felt the need to document the hell out of this moment. I shot the 350 extraction from many angles.

Including the view from behind the wheel.

Out! And my long-suffering parents (whose back yard I’d commandeered for this project when my own driveway on the other side of The Island That Rust Forgot proved too small) experienced a flashback to my high-school years, when all manner of horrible, parts-shedding hoopties and associated components lowered their property values. Yes, the 350 sat there for a few months prior to me finding a buyer, I’m not very proud to say.

I painted the 406 flat black, after an old racer told me that it helped with engine cooling. Actually, I did it because it looked cool.

By the late 1990s, my income had risen to the point where I was no longer forced by poverty to swill terrible piss-yellow beer while working on cars… but here’s a can of Pabst on the fender. I must have been raiding my dad’s beer stash that day; his Minnesota-ized tastes die hard.

Installed! The whole swap took just a couple of hours, an experience that Those Kids These Days with their finger-bustingly-tight Civic engine compartments will never know.

I pored over the J.C. Whitney hood scoop selection, thinking I’d rig up a seriously redneck-looking cold-air-induction system, but finally settled on the much more functional grille-mounted-ducting solution. I grabbed another air cleaner at the junkyard, grafted its snout onto the existing air cleaner, and ran dryer ducting to home-heating vents on either side of the radiator. Unfortunately, the left-side duct interfered with one of the Fiat X1/9 scoops I’d installed in ’93, so I had to remove the scoop.

I figured that this setup should be good for force-feeding a good supply of cold outside air into the Quadrajet (which I’d pulled from a ’70 Eldorado with a 500, on the assumption that the jetting for a 500 ought to be about right for a cammed-up 406). I’d also modified the HEI distributor with high-performance advance weights.

For cooling, I added a fan clutch to the factory engine-driven fan and retained the BMW 7 Series fan I’d been using for auxiliary cooling since the early 1990s.

The BMW E23’s electric radiator fan is by far the best pusher-style unit you can find in the junkyard. It forces a typhoon of air through the radiator (caveat: it also draws ridiculous power— 15 amps, if I recall correctly— so you can’t run it with the headlights at the same time if you’ve got a small alternator). I used a pair of these fans a decade later, when attempting to rig up a rear-radiator setup in a V8-ized Volvo 240 race car).

My long-term plan was to see if the car could stay cool on junkyard electric fans alone (dispensing with the horsepower-sucking engine-driven fan) so I also purchased a W114 Mercedes-Benz fan.

Yes, it ran. Oh, did it run! Next episode: Glorious return to the drag strip!

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




















Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Moparman426W Moparman426W on Oct 30, 2011

    Scarey, not to sound mean or anything, but why would you want to make a car look like that? I wouldn't even be seen in that car, and I'm a bit of a redneck.

  • Yeahbeer Yeahbeer on Nov 04, 2011

    Can't wait to see it at the strip!

  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.
  • 1995_SC Can you still get some of the tax credits under the new program?
  • Analoggrotto HyundaiGenesisKia saw this coming a long time ago and are poised for hybrid and plug-in hybrid segment leadership:[list=1][*] The most extensive range of hybrids[/*][*]Highest hybrid sales proportion over any other model [/*][*]Best YouTube reviews [/*][*]Highest number of consumer reports best picks [/*][*]Class leading ATPs among all hybrid vehicles and PHEVs enjoy segment bearing eATPs[/*][/list=1]While some brands like Toyota have invested and wasted untold fortunes into full range electric lineups HyundaiKiaGenesis has taken the right approach here.
  • EBFlex The answer is yes. Anyone that says no is just….. wrong.But the government doesn’t want people to have that much freedom and the politicians aren’t making money off PHEVs or HEVs. So they will be stifled.
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