If there is one Chevy that really stands out on Australian streets, it has to be Chic Henry's big, blue '62 Impala SS.
As the promotional vehicle for the Australian Street Machine Summernats, Henry's Impala is the first Chevy many young enthusiasts ever saw--probably because it has been painted life-size on buses, splashed across billboards, emblazoned on T-shirts, and regularly seen in full-throttle flight by millions of Australian television viewers.
Henry is not the Impala's first Aussie owner. The big, blue '62 has passed through a few hands since it was shipped to Australia in the early '70s.
Chic first saw the car running at a drag meet in the Queensland capital, Brisbane, in 1973, and was immediately attracted to the strong character of the early '60s musclecar. At that time the Impala was a genuine four-speed, twin-four, 409-powered car, but when it reappeared for sale at the back of a Brisbane panel shop a few years and few owners later, the four-speed and the 409 had been replaced with a sad 307 and a slack Powerglide.
Chic bought the big, blue coupe for $1,200. Like most young men he was happy just to drive his new Chevy for the first six months. But it wasn't long before he had to stamp some of himself on his Impala, and he began the car's first full-body-off rebuild.
Chic found some serious rust in the Impala's sills. In fact, it was so bad that the big, two-door body was sagging on the chassis. He repaired the body and began work on the Impala's powertrain.
In those days of low gas prices, manufacturers just kept adding cubic inches to make their cars more powerful. Quarter-mile times tumbled as high-octane hot rodders like Chic Henry pushed their cars to new limits. On a '70s drag strip, bigger meant faster, and nostalgia was not a factor, which is why Chic didn't consider the 409 option when he fitted his Impala with a hot 482 big-block with 14:1 compression and enough mumbo to lift the front wheels 4 inches off the deck at the drag strip.
This much power was always going to challenge the Impala's drivetrain. When a friend was forced to tone down his Impala's performance after losing his driver's license for doing illegal burnouts, he offered Chic the heavy-duty Torque Flite from his car. Chic knew the gearbox would do the job because it had originally come out of the "LA Dart" wheel-stander brought to Australia for some demonstration shows by "Wild Bill Shrewsbury."
Chic mounted the Torque Flite's push button change on a stork protruding from the center console. At the time, it seemed like a temporary option, but it has survived two complete rebuilds and become one of the signature modifications to Chic's big, blue Impala.
Chic hit the streets and the drag strips with his rebuilt Impala but soon ran into driveline problems. He strengthened the Impala's driveshaft center bearing, fitted a 9-inch with billet axles from a '59 tank Fairlane, placed a pair of Impala front springs in the rear to give the car more of a drag racing attitude, and fabricated a Watts linkage for the rearend which holds the car flatter under power and in corners.
With all that power now getting onto the street, the 482 didn't last long. A high-compression engine coupled with Chic's lead foot and tires that couldn't hook up, caused some serious over-revving, dropped valves, and ultimately the engine's destruction.
All that happened 20 years ago. Big-blocks have come and gone, and times have changed for Chic and his Impala. Today the 50-something car show promoter has a young family, a big business, and a lot on his plate. The big, blue Impala is probably best described as a weekly driver, sharing the duties with a '73 Camaro, a custom Harley, and a Chrysler Voyager.
Drag strips and high-compression big-blocks were not a consideration when Chic recently rebuilt the Impala. He freshened the paint with a coat of PPG's Lancia Dark Blue and pearl accents, sharpened the steering with a new Ford power steering box, and improved the big car's stopping power with a set of disks and a booster up front.
Under the bonnet, the Impala is running a "healthy" 454 with a bullet-proof bottom end, a "reasonable" hydraulic cam, an 800-cfm double-pumper, and an MSD ignition. The power gets to the street through the Torque Flite and a 4:11 Detroit locker.
Chic says the complete package makes for a car that is easy to drive on the street, but he adds that when you do give the big Impala a run for the money, it can show drivers of fancier modern sports cars a clear rear view of an Impala SS speeding off into the distance .... which is just what you would expect the from Australia's signature '62.