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L.A. Face With An Oakland Booty

Jim McIlvaine Feb 22, 2005

It seems that only the petite ladies get attention when it comes to cars. There are songs written about a "Little Red Corvette" and "Mustang Sally," but what song was ever written about the 1991-96 B-bodies? Perhaps the only song that does justice to the more generously proportioned Impala SS is "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot.

If you're not familiar with this little ditty, Sir Mix spends a few minutes extolling the virtues of a full female figure. Lines like "I want 'em real thick and juicy" and "you can do side bends or sit-ups, but please don't lose that butt" are his way of saying that big is beautiful--and the Impy SS is GM's way. The LT1-powered Impalas certainly had the looks and the power synonymous with American muscle cars--just with a little more junk in the trunk.

Phillip Villa's '96 Impala is no exception, adding another couple hundred pounds of meaty hardware to the already prodigious Impy's 4,300 pound curb weight. When asked why Villa wouldn't instead purchase an F-body or similarly lighter car to blast down the 1320 Phil responded, "I ask myself the same question sometimes.""Things would certainly be easier with something lighter, but I like the Impala.

When I first saw it I fell in love with its low, wide stance, and with the dark colors it looked so sinister. It has been a great car to drive on the weekends as well as to and from the track. It is comfortable, it rides nice, and still has air conditioning and all the seats." With all the creature comforts still intact Phil's SS weighs in at nearly 4,500 pounds, yet is now making enough power to break his previous best ET of nearly 11 flat.

Carrying the "healthy" sized theme to the engine compartment, Phil employs a blown 398 cubic inch LT1. Nelson Racing Engines converted the LT1 to a four bolt main with billet splays and bored the cylinders to .040 over. The beefy forged bottom end includes a Callies Racemaster 3.875 crank, Eagle H-Beam 5.7-inch rods, and custom JE blower pistons, all of which are internally balanced. When mated to a Comp Cams bumpstick measuring .603/.609 inches of lift, 236*/244* duration at .050 and 114 LSA, the iron block is well suited to handling plenty of boost. A set of AFR 210cc aluminum heads seal the deal, ported by Combination Motorsports to 2.08 intake and 1.625 exhaust and maintaining a boost-friendly 9 to 1 compression ratio. Comp Cams 1.6 ratio roller rockers, and sturdy Smith Brothers one piece chrome moly pushrods were called to duty, as they seem to be the only thing capable of holding up to the boost.

Resembling the industrial size hairdryer from Spaceballs, a monstrous Procharger F1-R pushes up to 2,000cfm through the ported LT4 manifold supplying ample boost to all 398 cubes. Originally outfitted with an ATI P600 pumping 10 psi, Phil went 11.88 despite the blower's difficulties keeping up with the large displacement. With the new blower churning out 19 pounds at only half its capacity, going 11.05 at 125.84 mph was easy as stall, stab and shift. That setup has also pegged the Impala at 623 horsepower and 654 foot-pounds of torque at the wheels. However, intake temperatures at the time were averaging between 230 and 260 degrees indicating that the Spearco air to air intercooler was quite insufficient at matching the F1-R's capacity. As with most large blower and race-only applications, Phil will soon be switching to an air to water intercooler from Spearco and a Griffin heat exchanger. With more tuning, a smaller pulley and the new intercooler on the way the magic number will be somewhere near 700 at both ends, which should be enough for Phil to cruise into 10-second territory and then some.

To keep up with the massive boost and enlarged displacement, a serious fuel and engine management system upgrade was in order. First a custom fuel cell was designed to fit in the stock location and use the stock filler. Next a -10AN feed line and -8AN return line were run from the fuel cell and connected to an Aeromotive A1000 fuel pump rated at 600 lbs./hr with a voltage regulator, in-line fuel cooler and an Aeromotive Boost Reference fuel pressure regulator. This extensive fuel system ensures that the Lucas 83-pound injectors mounted in the ported LT4 manifold will have all the 104 octane race gas they need. An MSD 6BTM and stock Optispark utilize AutoLite 104 plugs to ignite the massive quantities of fuel. A FAST Bank to Bank system oversees all engine action, utilizing a wideband oxygen sensor to help regulate air-fuel ratio and ignition timing. After the fuel has been converted to energy it exits via a set of 1 7/8-inch long tube quad (four into one) headers made by Dan Ferraro of Clear Image Automotive. The three-inch collectors meet an equally large Dr. Gas X-Pipe, bidding its farewell through a pair of Spin Tech Pro-Street mufflers.

To combat the hellacious power, the stock 4L60E was traded for a stout Bowtie Overdrives 4L80E made to handle up to 1,000 horses. A Precision Industries Vigilante 3800-stall lock-up converter and 4.10 gears enable 1.61 sixty-foot times. Meanwhile a Yenko 3.5-inch aluminum driveshaft connects to the stock 8.5-inch 10-bolt rear, outfitted with an Eaton posi differential and 28-spline Superior axles to ensure no projectile parts at launch.

Also playing a crucial role in those low sixty-foot times are Mickey Thompson ET Streets with robust 13.5-inch girths, requiring the frame to be narrowed and boxed over the axle. QA1 12-way adjustable shocks at all four corners help transfer weight and plant the rear tires while a Moroso airbag is used in the right rear to prevent excess squat on launch. Metco lower control arms with Instant Center Brackets lower the pivot angle and enable the violent hit to the tires. Eibach Sport lowering springs are used at all four corners to maintain the Impala's sinister, low-slung look.

Despite his knuckle dragging, drag racing roots, Phil pays great attention to the appearance of his Impala, which attracted him to the car in the first place. Adding a 2-inch cowl hood from Glas-Tek and smooth bumpers from Street Trends, no stone was left unturned. Frequenting the car show and collector's scene, he has taken home trophies in 10 out of 11 events proving that you can be both big and beautiful.

Going big seems to be what Phillip Villa is all about, working as a school bus mechanic in Castaic, California and owning one of the biggest, baddest LT1 Impalas you will ever see. From its leviathan hardware to its robust dimensions, his beautiful baby definitely has back.


Five point harnesses from G-Force Racing Gear, Autometer gauges and a custom five point rollcage from Tri-C Engineering of Valencia, CA are some of the only additions to the fully appointed leather interior.

The Dark Cherry Metallic paint and tinted windows are both slimming and sinister. Don't you love dichotomy? Kind of like a 4,500-pound race car measuring 214.1 (length)-77.5 (width)-54.7 (height), you can be sure "red beans and rice didn't miss her."

It is easy to see why Phil wins so many car shows--all of the polished metal plumbing for the Procharger, the painted LT4 intake, the mirror-like battery cover, the color coordinated fuel line fittings and the Impala SS valve covers.

The colossal F1-R will soon be outfitted with a smaller pulley to boost psi from 19 to 24. An air to water aftercooler is also on the way to help lower the alarmingly high intake temperatures.

In case you are wondering why the undercarriage is so immaculate remember that this is a show car too, which is why Phil had the frame undercoating stripped and clear coated. Another aspect not often seen on a race car is a stock location fuel cell, which even utilizes the stock filler. An Aeromotive A1000 fuel pump with a voltage regulator and inline fuel cooler helps keep up with the Impy's large appetite.

Weld Draglites are perhaps the only attempt at saving weight on the hefty Impy, measuring only 15x5.5 in the front and 15x10 in the rear.

The controls for line lock, fuel pump, fans and CO2 spray are stowed neatly in the ashtray. They can easily be tucked away for everyday driving, so the directors of Knight Rider won't know they were stolen from the set.

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