Ten Years In the Life of My Greatest Car: The 1965 Chevy Impala Hell Project!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
ten years in the life of my greatest car the 1965 chevy impala hell project

Since it took me so many months to scan the hundreds of 35mm, 126, 110, and Super 8 negatives and slides that went into the telling of the 1965 Impala Hell Project Story (tip for time-travelers: if you’re going to document a project like this, wait until digital photography becomes cheap and easy), I figure it makes sense to put together a single roundup page with links to all 20 parts in the series. For those of you unfamiliar with this series, it tells the story of a 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan that I bought in 1990 and spent a decade daily-driving and modifying into, among other things, an art car and a 13-second drag racer. Here’s your portal to each chapter.


1. So It Begins.

1990: My high-concept performance/installation art piece takes the form of a full-hooptie, 25-year-old Impala sedan.

2. The Modifications Begin

1990: Fat tires, de-chromification, de-trimization.

3. Lowering Property Values

1990: Where art becomes The Realtor Man’s Nightmare.

4. Saddam Chooses My New Engine

1990: Forced to ditch my plan for a 454-cubic-inch big-block swap by Saddam’s gas-price-jacking invasion of Kuwait, I replace the tired 283 with a 350 small-block.

5. Three Speeds, Two Exhaust Pipes

1990: The Powerglide gets replaced by a TH350, while a homebuilt dual-exhaust system increases the volume.

6. Gauges! Switches! Buttons!

1991: The factory dash gets ripped out and replaced by a handbuilt Space Shuttle-style instrument panel.

7. Disc Brakes In, Couch-Surfing Expedition Enabled

1991: The brakes from a 1970 Impala add stopping power, an HEI distributor enhances reliability, so I take off on a month-long couch-surfing trip up and down the state of California, culminating in a road trip to the first Lollapalooza Festival.

8. Refinements, Meeting Christo’s Umbrellas

A heater and new springs makes the car much more daily-drivable, and so I visit Christo’s pedestrian-killing umbrella art installation in Southern California.

9. Fastening Shoulder Belts, Bailing From Academia

1992: Three-point seat belts added, I drive the Impala to grad school.

10. Fiat Hood Scoops, Endless Ribbon of Asphalt

1992: Fiat X1/9 hood scoops add menace, zero function. North-to-South California road trips continue.

11. Son of Orange County

1993-1994: Generation X ennui, pilgrimage to the birthplace of Richard Nixon upon learning of his demise.

12. Next Stop, Atlanta!

1994-1995: Packing up, moving from San Francisco to Atlanta.

13. Mad Max At the Confederate Mount Rushmore

1995: Writing for Year One, getting a new nickname.

14. First Taste of the Quarter-Mile

1995-1996: Running 16s at the dragstrip.

15. No Replacement For Displacement!

1996-1998: Back to California, building a healthy 406.

16. Another Heart Transplant

The new engine goes in.

17. Crash Diet, Frying Tires At the Dragstrip

1999: New engine installed, interior gutted, one-legger differential becomes limiting factor.

18. Back To the Dragstrip, Website 1999

1999: Locker differential leads to 13.67 run at Sacramento Dragway.

19. The Road Not Taken, Final Photo Session

1999: Thinking I might write about the car someday, I shoot some nice portraits at the ex-Alameda Naval Air Station.

20. The End

2000: Time to let go.
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2 of 3 comments
  • -Nate -Nate on Jul 29, 2013

    Saved to my Car Stories File. -Nate

  • Murilee Martin Murilee Martin on Jul 30, 2013

    I need to get back to scanning some more of my old photos. And, yeah, writing about my current projects. Right now the A100 is up on jack stands in the garage with the transmission out, the '41 Plymouth is a bare frame with Lexus suspension thinking about getting attached, the B18C1 engine is sitting next to the A100 while I get around to readying the Civic for the swap, and the 20R Sprite got sold six months ago.

  • MaintenanceCosts This class of car competes hard with Chargers/Challengers and modded diesel pickups for the douchey-driving crown.
  • 28-Cars-Later Corey - I think I am going to issue a fatwa demanding a cool kids car meetup in July somewhere in the Ohio region.
  • Master Baiter Might as well light 50 $100 bills on fire.
  • Mike1041 At $300K per copy they may secure as much as 2 or 3 deposits of $1,000
  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!