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There’s More to this Stock-Looking 1961 Impala Sleeper than Meets the Eye

Resto-Twist: Brian Sayer’s 1961 Chevy Impala could be the ultimate sleeper

Chuck Vranas Apr 18, 2017 0 Comment(s)
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There’s always a point in time that can be considered a pivotal moment where a particular action gathers enough momentum to forever influence someone’s fate. In 1961, when Chevrolet was rolling some of its latest designs out to the public, the fine lines of their newly restyled Impala convertible caught the attention of Nicole Limbocker, who immediately became consumed with its allure. It was at this time that she visited a local dealership, Diver Chevrolet in Wilmington, Delaware, to check out the refreshed model up close. After driving one it was obvious that one of these new models would have to become a member of the family. It wasn’t long after till her dad purchased a special-ordered Cadillac Blue drop-top, complete with a vivid red interior powered by a 283-inch V-8 linked to a Powerglide trans for her.

We all know that satisfaction of getting into a car that we truly enjoy, regardless if it’s for a quick drive to the local coffee shop or planning out a road trip where you could easily put down 1,000 miles in the blink of an eye. Nicole and her Impala became a part of the local scene for decades. Through the decades of ownership the Impala put down over 80,000 miles with an endless stream of eager passengers wanting to experience the exhilaration of riding in a fullsize convertible. Imagine the excitement her nephew Brian Sayer of Clayton, Delaware, experienced when he heard that she was preparing to sell off the car. He came under the same spell that she had when first seeing the car in person in 1961 and without wasting any time a deal was made. In a flash the keys exchanged hands and he brought it home to the family shop to evaluate its future.

1961 Chevy Impala Front Headlights 2/23
1961 Chevy Impala Side 3/23

Brian himself was no stranger to being influenced by cool cars as well. Growing up on a farm, he would always have plenty of assignments to fulfill on a daily basis, earning his allowance while also continuing to expand his automotive knowledge. By the time he was 14, he and his friends took on the restoration project of a 1965 Ford Mustang, which acted as a springboard to bigger and better things. It was also a time when he discovered drag racing and the scent of nitromethane, which added a whole different level to his interests. Spending time with his friends at Cecil County Dragway in Rising Sun, Maryland, let him see firsthand just what could be accomplished on the quarter-mile when it came time to learning about performance. At 16, he was wheeling a 1970 Nova packed with a healthy V-8 and making the rounds in town and becoming a part of the local scene. Other cars soon followed, including a ’55 Chevy Bel Air and a ’68 Camaro SS convertible.

With the Impala now in his home shop it was obvious that it had seen plenty of enjoyment since being purchased and the years had clearly taken its toll. The car was deserving of a complete redo. Like anyone growing up with a particular automotive fascination, he started to rebuild the car countless times in the back of his mind with each revision evolving past the other. He laid all his cards on the table and finally decided to pay homage to the car’s history by visually restoring it back to its original glamour with the added bonus of a performance twist. There’s nothing like creating a wolf in sheep’s clothing to form the ultimate sleeper and for this he knew exactly the right team to take the project on.

1961 Chevy Impala Wheel 4/23

Having worked with Duane Snyder of D&S Fabricators in Kenton, Delaware, on prior projects it was easy to sit down with him and map out the path. The pair shared the same ideas for infusing cutting-edge power and handling into the mix while treating the body to a full teardown to bring it back to better-than-factory specs. Once the car was delivered to D&S, the team wasted no time in tearing it down to its bones. The original frame was blasted clean, prepped, and painted to bring it back to its original glory while a host of aftermarket parts upped the ante in the handling department. Out back, a Moser Engineering 9-inch rear was packed with matching 31-spline axles spinning 4.11:1 gears. It’s suspended in place by Hotchkis’ exclusive dual upper and lower trailing arms with matching Panhard bar and antiroll bars deftly matched to 2-inch drop coil springs from Hubbard’s Impala Parts combined with Nitro Drop 2 tube shocks from Bell Tech. For razor-sharp handling up front, tubular upper and lower control arms were combined with 2-inch drop spindles from Classic Performance Products along with coil springs from Hubbard’s Impala Parts and Nitro Drop 2 tube shocks from Bell Tech. When the need to slow the beast comes along the fluid moves through a Wilwood dual power master via stainless lines to Wilwood Engineering 11-inch drilled and vented discs and two-piston calipers anchored at each corner. To link it all to the street nothing says classic good looks better than a set of 17-inch vibrant red steelies from Coker Tire accented by caps ’n’ rings topped with BFGoodrich/Coker low-profile radials.

1961 Chevy Impala Engine Bay 5/23

Nothing can bring a sleeper to life better than a hot mill nailed to the framerails. Wanting to add plenty of punch to the match, Brian went straight to Chevrolet Performance to check out their amazing array of engine offerings. He settled on their LS376/480 high-performance LS-Series Gen IV small-block V-8 packed with a speed shop full of go-fast goods right out of the crate. Starting with a cast-aluminum block with six-bolt, cross-bolted main caps they fill it with a nodular iron crank linked to powdered metal connecting rods topped with hypereutectic aluminum pistons. An LS Hot Cam sets a heavy beat while aluminum L92-style rectangular port cylinder heads with “as-cast” 68cc chambers create plenty of power generating 10.7:1 compression and a factory EFI to deliver the fuel. Custom-fabricated valve covers from D&S add plenty of class while spark moves through an MSD unit to light the fire with spent gasses flowing through Hedman headers to a custom 3-inch stainless exhaust by Auto Everything of Middletown, Delaware, to Flowmaster mufflers. To move the goods, a warmed-over GM 4L70E trans links to a custom aluminum driveshaft from Associated Truck Parts of New Castle, Delaware.

When looking at a body that was minted well over 50 years ago you’d better have all hands on deck to take on the task of bringing it back to life. Knowing that the Impala had experienced a full life, a decision was made to strip it clean and have it acid dipped to reveal the ugly past. Once the shell was returned, the team mapped out a plan to bring it back to life starting with the full replacement of the floorpans, inner and outer rockers, and lower inner cowl sides. Since many of the structural bracing pieces are not offered in the aftermarket, Matt Hoberg CNC milled them for areas needing replacement. It was revealed that the car was in an accident at some point severely damaging the passenger-side quarter-panel above the belt line. Justin Snyder handformed a replacement panel from sheetmetal stock to bring the damaged area back to factory specs. Once all of the metal fabrication was completed the team, including Duane, Brandon and Justin Snyder along with Dave Strong, Kevin Mast, and P.J. Hoberg metal-finished the body while also setting all the gaps to bring it back to perfection. A decision was made by Brian to update the color with a dramatic Valspar Ming Blue pearl and the team laid down a lustrous coating to bring the car back to life.

1961 Chevy Impala Interior 6/23
1961 Chevy Impala Interior Steering Wheel 7/23
1961 Chevy Impala Gauges 8/23

One of the things that always gave the car an extra injection of personality was its vivid red factory interior. The factory dash was restored and filled with fresh dials from Classic Instruments to monitor the vitals while a restored factory steering wheel and column navigates the path and cool breezes from Vintage Air make the long trips a pleasure. Tunes flow from a head unit from RetroSound to Pioneer speakers while wiring from American Autowire brings it all together. Nothing adds comfort to the interior like a factory bench seat. Coco’s Custom Upholstery of Newark hit a home run re-covering the factory seating with luxurious replacement red and silver vinyl accented by matching plush red carpeting. To complete the look, the convertible top was refreshed with new black fabric complemented by a red boot cover. This is one great family heirloom that’s gotten a completely new lease on life thanks to a full restoration with a twist of cutting- edge performance, and we dig it!

Photography by the Author

1961 Chevy Impala Rear Side 9/23

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