There is an old debate among car guys about the advantages of buying versus building. Some say that you can’t be a true enthusiast unless you build your own ride. If you have the time, tools, talent, and temperament it’s certainly a great way to add another vehicle to your collection. If anything ever goes wrong you will be the perfect one to fix the problem. On the other hand, if all your tools fit in a kitchen drawer and your workspace is a spot out front at the curb, buying a completed vehicle might be the more appropriate choice. You can tell when you’re 50 feet away whether the style is right for you and a testdrive will answer the rest of the questions. Rather than waiting the months or years involved in a custom build, you could be enjoying your new ride that afternoon. And finally, old-timers will tell you with the wink that it’s probably cheaper to buy rather than build when you factor in the time involved creating your latest dream machine.
Keenan Babylon from St. Augustine, Florida, is familiar with both scenarios, having built and bought several cars over the years. Keenan works for General Electric, building equipment for high-performance jet engines and enjoying high-performance automotive engines as well. He grew up in an automotive-oriented family and established his enthusiast credentials at the ripe old age of 15 when he purchased a 1939 Ford Panel out of a farmer’s field. Automobiles have been a lifelong passion and he currently has six cars in his collection. This beautiful 1958 Chevy is his latest and he almost didn’t get it! It first appeared on a specialty car lot in St. Augustine as a project vehicle that the former owner could not complete. Keenan saw it soon after it arrived and it made a great first impression, especially since it had no interior and he could see the car’s solid sheetmetal. It was almost love at first sight, although the “sight” stretched over a period of about six months before a local craftsman completed the interior. Keenan smiles when he says “I couldn’t get the car out of my head. Each time I saw it, the pull kept getting stronger.” But, the Impala almost slipped away except for a chance discovery on the dealer’s website that showed the car, not only complete with a new custom interior but also on its way to a Mecum auction. Not wasting any time, Keenan drove his ’67 shortbed Chevy pickup to the dealership hoping to make a trade, since he didn’t have enough garage space for one more car. After a brief discussion, the beautifully modified ’58, already with a number assigned, was taken off the auction list and went home with Keenan.
The ’58 is a unique year, sometimes overshadowed by the popular ’57 and the “bat-wing” ’59, another reason why Keenan was drawn to the car. It’s not one you see every day. In researching the car’s history, he learned from the buildsheet and conversations with the dealer that it was a California car that made its way to the Northeast where the customizing began. The owner was unable to complete the car and it came to St. Augustine thanks to Lee Slaughter, owner of the unique car lot in St. Augustine who oversaw the completion of the car. Local craftsman Nick Carey, owner of Nick of Time Upholstery in Palm Coast, Florida, was responsible for the original-style interior. The dash, steering column, and Chevrolet wheel had already been painted body color with a brushed aluminum insert surrounding the gauges. Nick redid the bench up front and the rear seat with a custom armrest, trimming them in gold vinyl with tri-colored inserts as a stylish touch. He stitched custom door panels with contrasting shades that flow smoothly into the rear quarters and finished the job with a muted shade of gold carpeting. A black rubber mat covers the trunk floor.
Under the hood, the ’58 Impala has a 409 V-8 that came from a later ’62, completely rebuilt by the automotive technicians at Alderman Automotive Machine in New Castle, Delaware. Bored 0.040 over and fitted with a re-ground 396 crank, shot-peened connecting rods, and fly-cut stroker pistons, the engine uses a Comp cam to activate the valves in the NASCAR heads. Free breathing and a healthy fuel flow begins with dual-quad 650-cfm Edelbrock carbs on the top end while HEI ignition lights the fire. Doug Thorley Ceramic Coated Tri-Y headers dump spent gasses into a pair of Flowmaster mufflers, giving the car a thoroughly enjoyable performance rumble. A TCI Sutomotive Streetfighter 700-R4 transmission with a TCI cooler wrangles the 550+ horsepower, sending it to a 3.73 rearend. The rejuvenated Impala rolls on US Mags wheels, 18s up front and 20s in the rear with Hercules Raptis rubber.
Since the lines of the ’58 were what attracted to Keenan in the first place, he was glad to see that the external changes were subtle. Body mods include shaving the Chevrolet “V” on the hood and trunk along with the chrome, four-prong “pitchforks” on the sides along with the crescent-shaped chrome pieces on the lower portions of the rear fenders. The car was sprayed a beautiful shade of Pearl Green by the team in Delaware. The completed car is a joy to drive and Keenan is proud that he was able to add it to his collection.