Building a car by yourself takes dedication, determination, a fair amount of stubbornness, and a lot of patience. There always seems to be more than one unexpected thing, a more urgent and higher priority demand in life, or not enough money and too many parts still needed.
Back in 2001, Todd Hann was looking for a new project. He'd owned a few Pro Street–themed trucks in the past, but with a wife and kids, it was tough to enjoy a three-seat vehicle. So it was time for something with a back seat. Todd's requirements for the new project were: 1. It had to be a Chevy. 2. It was going to have a Pro Street theme. 3. The only choice for power was a blown big-block. 4. It had to have a back seat. 5. It couldn't be a commonplace Bow Tie, like a Tri-Five, Camaro, or Chevelle.
By chance, Todd ran into his friend Jerry, who bought a Chevelle Todd built years ago. He told Jerry what he was after, and as luck would have it, Jerry had gotten into '61-'63 Chevys, and had a complete and running '61 he was looking to part with.
"At the time I wasn't sure what a '61 Impala even looked like," Todd said. "So I went to check it out. What Jerry didn't say was it needed more than half of everything replaced, repaired, rechromed, or painted."
Despite its condition, the car met all of his requirements, so the sum of $800 changed hands, and Todd hauled his new project home. His family was a bit skeptical at first. His two kids even said they wouldn't ride in "that!"
He spent the first year planning out the build in his head, deciding on wheels, stance, engine, trans, and the whole thing when it was done. Trips were made to Carlisle flea markets, he flipped through catalogs and looked at and picked up parts wherever he found them. As disassembly of the '61 started, the car got even uglier. As Todd told us, "When you get down on the project, don't fear, just order more parts!"
With things stripped down, it was time to order the frame and rear. For a chassis, Todd called the experts at Art Morrison Enterprises for a 3x2 full boxed frame with four-link rear suspension and a Strange 9-inch axle, tubular front control arms, rack-and-pinion steering, and coilovers at all four corners. For stopping power, Wilwood brakes were hung behind the Center Line Convo Pro wheels, 15x5 front, 15x14 rear, with fat Mickey Thompson Sportsman rubber on the rear wheels, 33x21.5.
When you get down on the project, don't fear, just order more parts!
As the body was repaired of rust and other damage, it was also modified to accept the new chassis and Pro Street theme. The whole floor was cut out, then the body was lowered over the chassis to see how it looked. A test-fit was done of the engine/trans combo (the first of many test-fits), and the 'cage installation begun. Then it was time for a break to save up more money and look for more parts.
By the third and fourth year, the body was coming together with quarter-panel patches, floorpans, wheeltubs, a trunk floor, and mods for the fuel cell. The parachutes were mounted and a rust-free Arizona front clip was won off eBay, complete with core support and inner fenders. By this point, the car was a rolling shell.
It sat again as more parts were sourced, and car cash was diverted to the college fund for Todd's oldest child. Late-model front buckets were found to replace the factory bench, and all the measuring and mods were figured out to keep the stock rear seat and make it work with the massive wheeltubs.
At year six, the car was disassembled once again, so the rollcage and other parts could be sent out for powdercoating and reassembly. Then the project was mothballed once again while an addition to Todd's house was constructed. By the end of that, the project stood at year eight.
The 461 Rat was assembled by Todd with factory rectangular port iron heads and a Comp Cams roller valvetrain. Added to the top was a BDS lower intake with an 8-71 blower, and a pair of Holley 750-cfm carbs. Behind that was a TH400 with a Gear Vendors overdrive unit. The combo was set in place, and with the body complete, it was time for priming, blocking, more priming, more blocking, and finally paint.
"Big cars plus black paint equals a lot of sanding and blocking. I hated the car for about eight weeks of block sanding," Todd recalled. "After I was done, everything fit perfectly—doors, trunk, fenders, hood, etc. That also meant it was time to take it all apart again and head for the paint booth."
Scott Reich got the job of laying down the gloss black paint on all those painstakingly blocked and sanded panels, his artisan work highlighting the excellent job done by he and Todd to prep all the car's panels. As Todd put it, in a three-day, no-sleep weekend, the entire car was painted. After some buffing, it was time for the car's final reassembly.
By this time, the project was knocking on the door of year 10. It all went together fast, the fun level ramping up as Todd saw the light at the end of the tunnel. On a spring day in May, 2011, the last piece was installed, and the Impala was ready for its first voyage, the Ocean City, Maryland, car cruise weekend.
"Now that it's finished, it's easy to say it's worth it. There were days, even years, I wasn't sure who was going to win, me or the car," Todd said. "I think I did."
Looking at these pictures, we'd be hard pressed not to agree.