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1966 Chevrolet Impala - Dangerous Drop Top

Johnny Lopez’s 1966 convertible doesn’t just rule the road. It dominates anything on top of it

Patrick Hill Sep 24, 2013
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The end result you see before you is far from being how this particular Impala build started out. Its owner, Johnny Lopez, originally wanted to build a lightweight fullsize, devoid of its convertible top, side glass, and any other unnecessary weight. Power would come from a powerhouse of a big-block, and the suspension would give the Impala the ability to harness that horsepower and perform like a car half its size.


But such a vehicle wouldn't be very passenger friendly, and would only able to be driven on the nicest of days with no risk of rain or other foul weather. And Johnny suddenly found himself wanting to drive the car more and enjoy it with his wife and kids. So, the plan changed.

Instead of a true roadster, the '66 would have a soft top, side glass, and full interior. The fire breathing, petrol hungry big-block and corner-carving suspension would remain though. So would all the custom body mods Brent Jarvis and his crew at Performance Restorations were crafting into the Impala's metal shell. All trim and emblems were removed, their holes welded up and smoothed into the surrounding bodywork. The only things left in place were the door handles and lock mechanisms.

The starting point was a plain-Jane 1966 convertible that was bought and shipped to the shop for building. Since Johnny is from California, Brent and his staff figured they'd be getting a typical rust free California car to start with. But what arrived at their doorstep was a cancer-ridden rust bucket, that in Brent's words they nearly rebodied once all the infected sheetmetal was cut out and replaced with solid steel. While all this was going on, the mechanicals and suspension were going together.

The engine is build around a Dart tall-deck block machined with a 4.600-inch bore and matched to a 4.750-stroke crank, for a displacement of 623 ci. Dart 335 CNC aluminum cylinder heads sit on top, while an Erson hydraulic roller cam with 0.657/0.657-inch lift actuates the valvetrain. Induction starts with an Offenhauser dual carb intake, machined to fit the tall deck block, with a pair of Quick Fuel Technologies 750 cfm carbs on top of that. On the dyno, the big-inch Rat pumped out 801 hp at 5,800 rpm, and 733 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. The whole thing was put together by Coil Racing engines in McHenry, Illinois.

Sending all that torque to the rear is a Tremec TKO600 five-speed manual, with a Zoom clutch. Speaking of the rear, it's a special unit built by Strange Engineering. It was the first one built by Strange for B-body Chevys, and served as the prototype for the current production unit. It has street friendly 3.55 gears, and a Strange Tru-Trac differential.

For the suspension, Global West was sourced for almost everything needed to get the big body Impala to handle like its Chevelle siblings. Up front, Global's tubular upper control arms and caster rods are paired with the stock lower control arms, and QA1 adjustable coilovers. In the back, two-inch drop springs are used with QA1 adjustable shocks, and the stock control arms were fully boxed for extra stiffness. The steering is handled by a GM/Delphi 600 fast ratio power box, and the brakes are SSBC 14-inch slotted rotors with six-piston calipers. The rear rotors handle two different calipers, with a smaller set serving as the emergency brake. Everything is mounted to the stock frame, which Performance Restorations fully boxed in on the C-channel, and smoothed out all factory seam welds.

The body, now devoid of all its trim and emblems, was massaged into one of the straightest '66's you'll ever see. The Stinger-style hood was handmade at the shop in fiberglass, the headlights were recessed and concealed, then a handcrafted billet grille installed to finish off the car's face. In back, Caprice taillights were installed to match up with the new custom front grille. The color is a custom PPG Pearl mix, and the accent strip on top of the fender lines was hand painted. Finishing off the outside is a set of Wheel Pros rollers, 19x9.5 front, 20x10.5 rear, wrapped in Michelin Pilot rubber.

After several days of shakedown runs and checks to shake out any bugs and make sure the Impala was at its best, the keys were handed over to Johnny, and the fun really began.



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