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1960 Chevy Impala - The Coolest Impala In Town

Real-Life Happy Days.

Why is this the "coolest Impala in town" and how do I know? Because it was mine, that's why. Just look at that 20-year-old showing off his collection of drag race trophies, including some rare Lions Drag Strip mementos. I still have the trophies but the Impala is, sadly, long-gone.

For those familiar with the background of many car magazine feature photos of the '50s and '60s, you might recognize the location of this shot as the famous Compton Drive-In Theater. Since I lived about 200 feet from this spot, I was privileged to watch photo shoots by staffers from Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Rod & Custom, and numerous other magazines as I grew up. Not only were the shops of Barris, Jeffries, Gaylord, Cerney's and Roth nearby, but this side of the drive-in was always open for car shoots. Watching the photo sessions I always wondered if I could grow up to do that someday. I still haven't grown up but I do get to take pictures of cars for magazines. The drive-in is gone now, but no one would go there anyway these days without a SWAT team.

Don't hold this against me fellow Chevy lovers, but I really didn't want this car. I was forced to trade-in a '57 Thunderbird I only possessed for about a month because I couldn't find anyone willing to insure me in a "sports car." The Bird did have the factory dual four-barrel carbs, but it still wasn't a sports car. Obviously insurance companies had never analyzed Thunderbirds fully. By the way, I had a '57 210 Del Ray before the Bird so I am a Chevy guy. Anyway, I could buy a brand-new Impala for about the same price as the T-Bird and the irony is that the Impala could, and did, blow the doors off any T-Bird, or any other Ford for that matter, and I proceeded to do just that.

It was late in the model year so the only car the dealer could locate with a stick-shift was a 3-speed column shift/280 horsepower (348 c.i. with tri-power and hydraulic cam) car. I took it. The color was Horizon Blue and the options were limited to radio (AM only, of course), heater, whitewall tires, and full-disc hubcaps. It also had Positraction, so it had been ordered right.

It was very civilized to drive but I started getting the itch to race. Most high-performance 1960 Impalas were equipped with the solid-lifter cam motors that ranged from 315- to the 350-hp version released towards the end of the model year. These cars raced in the "Super Stock" class, but my 280 hp motor put me in "A" Stock. Contrary to my first impression, "A" stock was at least as competitive as "Super Stock."

Muscle cars of the mid-1960s often came from the factory ready to race. Cars of the vintage of my Impala, however, needed some tweaking to their ignition and carbs to live up to the advertisements. Drag race rules for "stockers" were strict then so all parts had to be factory. After the right amount of "tweaking" though, and the substitution of a "four-on-the-floor" for my "three-on-the-tree," the Impala was turning elapsed times in the high-14 second bracket at almost 100 mph. Not bad for street tires! As a matter of fact, it wasn't unusual to blow off 409s on the street regularly. Even the 409s had to be super-tuned to realize their potential.

The only custom touches I was able to afford were red taillight lenses where the clear back-up light lenses were (thus giving three red lenses on each side) and the chrome-reversed wheels. This was "state-of-the-art" at the time since custom wheel manufacturers weren't mass producing yet for street-driven cars. I did have fuzzy dice and a "mirror warmer" from my girlfriend, too.

My identical twin brother Steve had a white '60 Impala that he bought in September of 1959. Believe it or not, he still has the Monroney (you do know what that is, right?) that came on the car. That $3,555 price seems outrageous, especially the $204.55 for the 348 engine, and he still had to pay an extra $21.55 to get Tri-Power and a cam to generate 335 horsepower. That car is the one pictured behind the legendary '32 roadster, which belonged to Tom McMullen, a fellow member of the Long Beach Pacers Car Club in the early '60s. McMullen went on to found his own publishing company, which as purchased and merged with others into the company that produces Super Chevy magazine today.

Happy days, indeed.

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