When Buddy Holly recorded “Not Fade Away” in 1957 as the “B” side to another hit, he probably never knew how iconic this song would become. Ranked at number 107 in the Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, legend has it this is one of the last songs Holly ever played before his death in a plane crash. The opening lyrics say the writer’s love is bigger than a Cadillac, but we’d bet that’s any less than the affection Robert O’Neill has spilled on this 17.5-foot-long Impala SS—so it, too, won’t fade away.
“In the late ’90s the local Friday night spot was in Bellmore, Long Island, where there were hundreds of cars gathered back then,” O’Neill reminisced. “I was always a Corvette guy, but I’d always noticed this white Impala SS. I used to tell my buddies that was a cool car, but they would tell me I was nuts. It had most of the original paint on it along with a flat hood, and the original interior was in good condition. It was a real sleeper, and I liked it.”
In September of 2000, O’Neill found that the car was for sale, and waited patiently at the local gathering until all the hubbub around the car had died down so he could talk to the owner. He went up to him, asked what time he’d be waking up the next morning, and, to the owner’s surprise, said he would see him then to buy the car.
“Now, that was about 10:30 on a Friday night, and I had to call my wife and tell her I was going to purchase another car,” O’Neill said, smiling as he continued his story. “It didn’t go over well the last time I came home with a car, but she said ‘yes.’ So, Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m., my brother and I show up. The owner took me for a little ride, talked about the car, and I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He said he’d get the car ready with all the parts that would go with it, and arrange for us to pick it up later, but that was not going to happen. I wasn’t leaving without the car, so we helped him until I was the the third owner of this ’64 Impala SS. My wife and kids heard me comin’ home before they saw me coming down the block!”
With the car being about 30 inches longer than a Corvette, the new Impala SS would barely fit into the garage. So, O’Neill was very limited on what he could do to it for the first year or two. With an excuse to build a new garage in hand, he completed that project before he turned his full attention on his classic Chevy. Talk about making the most of a situation.
“Bobby and John of T&W Welding & Fabrication in Deer Park, New York, fabricated a chrome-moly roll cage that is almost undetectable, with exception to the two rear bars,” O’Neill said about the structure of the car. “It’s a 10-point NHRA-certified sportsman cage for cars running 8.50 and slower. Those guys tucked the front bars to the A-pillars and sunk it in the dash, while all the other bars are in the right spots to give it sleeper look while providing safety. The cage was then painted body color except for the lower bars that were painted (aqua) carpet color.”
Nick and Chris from Montana Brothers Race Cars in Port Jefferson, New York, installed a narrowed 9-inch housing with back and front bracing along with a Strange nodular iron Detroit Locker center section, which contains 35-spline axles and 4.88:1 cryogenically treated gears to withstand the duties of daily driving.
The rear suspension is comprised of an adjustable upper cross member with two adjustable upper control arms with 4130 rod ends that work with a braced lower perch and boxed lower arms to maintain factory look. To help fine tune the chassis, Afco model 3875 single adjustable shocks were used to help adjust the compression and rebound characteristics as needed at different tracks. All rear suspension work was done within the factory wheelwells, which contain American Racing Torq Thrust D 1-piece aluminum wheels wrapped with Mickey Thompson 29.5x10 DOT-approved tires.
Up front, the suspension was beefed up with Global West A-arms and lightweight aluminum QA1 Stocker Star shocks. Wilwood disc brakes with big 11.75-inch rotors are mounted on stock GM spindles, while stock GM drum-style brakes are used on the rear.
Former NHRA Pro Stock racer James Antonette of JA Performance in Lynbrook, New York, and B&B Machine Shop in Oceanside collaborated on the 434-inch small-block. Providing a foundation for the engine assembly is a Chevrolet Performance Sportsman block with four-bolt nodular mains, which cradle a Crower 4340 crank. Crower billet connecting rods push the J&E 12.3:1 compression pistons up towards the 67cc combustion chamber in the Brodix 23-degree Track 1 heads. A Comp Cams roller stick orchestrates the valvetrain. Topping the short-block is a Chevrolet Performance Parts 10051102 competition intake manifold. Backing up the engine is a G-Force five-speed tranny with a 10.5-inch McLeod clutch and pressure plate that’s enveloped by a Lakewood scatter shield. Directing spent exhaust gases out of the engine is a set of Kook’s headers, which connects to a custom-made 3-inch stainless steel exhaust.
I sort of entered no man's land when I purchased the ACCEL DFI Gen 7 package
Rather than using traditional carburetion for fuel delivery, O’Neill opted for a throttle body fuel injection system that’s controlled by an ACCEL/DFI Gen 7 speed density ECU box. A billet ACCEL throttle body with standard 4150 mounting flange bolts directly to the wet flow GM intake and flows an impressive 1,550 cfm. A ram air box kit with screened inlet in place of two of the headlights provides plenty of air volume and velocity. Fuel delivery to the injectors is ably handled by a Weldon 1100-A flow-through electric fuel pump with -10 inlets and outlets. Sitting between the throttle body and intake manifold is the spray plate for a NOS Big Shot single stage plate nitrous system, which can provide up to 350 hp of additional fun when activated.
“I sort of entered no man’s land when I purchased the ACCEL DFI Gen 7 package,” O’Neill remarked. “When I got it from someone who thought they knew how to program the system, I was misinformed, but I wasn’t going to take the easy way out and put a carburetor back on. After many attempts, I found Job Spetter, Jr. He had the car running in five minutes. The fuel injection was doing what it was supposed to do, but it needed more air. So, I went to Glen Briglio of B & B Machine to modify the intake manifold so I could take the injectors out of the throttle body. He welded in injector bungs for each cylinder and aimed the 55 lb/hr injectors at the intake valves to spray the fuel where it needs to go.”
A trip to the chassis dyno showed that this combination produces almost 600 hp and 526 lb-ft of torque at the rear tires running on engine alone. Turning on the juice provides a jump up to 834 hp at just 5,700 rpm, with a butt-kicking 777 lb-ft at 5,600. That translates to a best quarter-mile e.t. of 10.53 seconds at 129 mph on engine alone and a 10.12 at 140-plus mph with the spray turned on. Not bad for a big two-ton car on DOT tires with pump gas!
With all of the music that this car’s engine provides, O’Neill didn’t see any need for a stereo, but he did call on Classic Industries to supply the door panels and carpeting. Auto Meter Sport Comp gauges, a modified Long shifter and a Stroud harness/net shows that this car knows drag racing. On the outside, the body remains stocks except for a VFN Fiberglass hood. Action Powercoating in Farmingdale, New York, beautified all of the chrome and trim work.
Thanks to the help and understanding of his wife Lisa, and daughters, Brittany, Jennifer and Victoria (and countless others), this car stands out despite a crowded field of other machines from that era. It captures and revives the memories of old times that need but a spark to flame once again—and not fade away!