Junkyard Find: 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air

As most of you know, I have some history with the 1965 full-sized Chevrolet. Back in 1990, when I bought mine, these cars were still very common in high-turnover wrecking yards; this was the result of high production (in fact, more 1965 full-sized Chevrolets were built than any other single year/model of American car in history) and low scrap value. Today, however, shredders that turn scrap cars into quick cash (I recommend this book to anyone curious about the recent technological advances in the scrap-metal field) mean that beat-up old Detroit heaps that aren’t worth restoring get funneled right into The Crusher‘s voracious maw. I find the occasional 60s full-size Chevy in wrecking yards these days, but 25 years ago they were as common as are Chrysler LHs today. That makes today’s find, a rust-and-Bondo-nightmare ’65 Bel Air coupe, even more special.

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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.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 20: The End

More than a month has passed since Part 19 of the Impala Hell Project series, partly because I’ve been getting sliced up by sadistic doctors and flying on Elvis-grade prescription goofballs but mostly because the final chapter has been so difficult to write. Here goes!

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 19: The Road Not Taken, Final Photo Session

After getting the car to run 13s in the quarter-mile with the new engine, I found myself— at age 33— in a sort of “what am I doing with my life?” period of agonizing reappraisal. Ten years of the Impala Hell Project absorbing most of my creative horsepower, and what had I really accomplished with all that work?

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 18: Back To the Dragstrip, Website 1999

Summer, 1999: I’d managed to get the Impala into the 14s, barely, with a screamin’ 406-cubic-inch small-block under the hood, but I knew the car would do much better with more traction. Meanwhile, my desire to tell the car’s story coincided with a job move into the maelstrom of dot-com madness.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 17: Crash Diet, Frying Tires at the Dragstrip

After dropping the hopped-up 406 small-block I’d built from scratch in place of the worn-out 350 I’d swapped in 1990, I was geared up to take the car to the dragstrip and see if I could better the high-16-second ETs I’d managed in Atlanta; an important part of this process involved stripping a lot of unnecessary weight out of the car. At the same time (early 1999) I was reevaluating the Impala Hell Project’s role in my life, and thinking about how I might best realize my original vision for the car which had gone from art project to daily driver.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 16: Another Heart Transplant

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.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 15: No Replacement For Displacement!

Before packing up the Impala and leaving Georgia in the fall of 1996, I took the car to Atlanta Dragway and ran some semi-disappointing low-17-second quarter-mile passes. Back in California, I resolved to make some improvements to the car’s running gear. After 15 years as a cheapskate, junkyard-centric gearhead, I was finally willing to spend substantial cash for new aftermarket performance parts. The main question was: what kind of engine would I build?

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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.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 13: Mad Max At the Confederate Mount Rushmore

After I hauled all my stuff 2,500 miles in the Impala and settled in Georgia, it was time for me to go job-hunting. After a few boring office-temp jobs, I spotted an ad that got my attention: Copywriter needed to write catalogs for large auto-parts company. Must know classic American cars. Within minutes of showing up for my interview at Year One, I had my first full-time writing job… and a nickname inspired by my car: Mad Max.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 12: Next Stop, Atlanta!

After the Nixon-head-hood-ornamented Impala’s pilgrimage to the birthplace of Richard Nixon in the spring of 1994, I left Oakland and moved across the Bay to an apartment on Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, home of the best burritos in the world. Little did I know that it wouldn’t be long before I’d be packing all my possessions into the Impala and blasting 2,500 miles to the southeast.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 11: Son of Orange County

In Part 10, the Hell Project Impala got Fiat scoops on the hood and hit the I-5 trail again. By late 1993, the car looked more or less the way I’d planned when I started the project and had become a surprisingly good daily driver (thanks to more modern brakes and a reliable, HEI-equipped 350 engine). I still planned to do some suspension and horsepower upgrades, once the early 1990s recession relaxed its grip enough for me to land a decent-paying job, but the setup I had was fulfilling my driving needs very well. Then, in the spring of ’94, Richard Nixon died, and I decided to take the Nixon-hood-ornamented car down to his birthplace and mingle with the mourners.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 10: Fiat Hood Scoops, Endless Ribbon of Asphalt

Last week, the Impala roared into 1992 with more refinements and spun quite a few digits on its Buick odometer. Late in ’92, with Bill Clinton packing up his Astroturf-enhanced El Camino and heading for the White House and the days getting shorter, I decided to celebrate my escape from the looming menace of an academic career by tricking out the Impala’s hood with some Fiat X1/9-sourced scoops… and getting back to Interstate 5, where I belonged.

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 9: Fastening Shoulder Belts, Bailing From Academia
Introduction • Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5 • Part 6 • Part 7 • Part 8 • Part 9 • Part 10Once the Impala had been modified sufficiently to function as a 1992-grade daily driver, the long-term project of converting it into an art car that drew upon the Holy Trinity of American Car Archetypes (drive-by-shooting ghetto hooptie, official vehicle, redneck street racer) took on less urgency; I planned to “finish the work of art,” whatever that meant, but along the way I’d created an excellent road car. And when you have an excellent road car, you have no choice but to hit the road.
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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 8: Refinements, Meeting Christo's Umbrellas
IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • Part 8 • Part 9Part 10
In the last Impala Hell Project episode, the now-disc-brake-equipped Chevy and I hit Interstate 5 for some Generation X-style road tripping. Through late 1991 I continued my process of junkyard upgrades, and the car racked up some serious highway miles.
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  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.