A chance encounter in the Southeast led us in the direction of an extremely rare Chevy, one with an interesting history and a two-decade absence from the radar of car collectors.
The year 1961 is when the Super Stock class of drag racing came of age. NHRA shifted the rules to include 12 separate classes of Stockers, and increased media attention, brought on by the surging popularity of the sport, made Super Stock racing the perfect venue for manufacturers to showcase their cars. A total of 456 Super Sport Impalas were sold in 1961, with the factory adding performance dampers and springs, power steering and brakes, a passenger-side grab bar, and a tachometer as part of the initial Super Sport package.
Also in 1961, Chevy made the revered 409 V-8 available in all models (not just Impalas, which is a common misconception), mostly for the NASCAR teams of the era. By the end of the year, the 360 horsepower 409 had a big brother: the dual quad, bigger-valve 409 horsepower monster. When combined with the SS package in the Impala or standard (non-SS) bench seat Impala (or even the stripped down Bel Air and Biscayne), these powerhouses (over 15,000 in all) made for a formidable foe at quarter-mile drag strips across the country.
In late-1962, Chevrolet upped the ante and built 18 (according to NHRA news clippings of the day) "lightweight" 409 Super Sport Impalas. Each was assembled with aluminum front fenders and wheelwells, and an aluminum hood. Lore has it that these Super Sport '62s were built to compete with the aluminum front-end Pontiacs. Soon, some of these stock dual carb 409 engines received the mythical Z-11 engine upgrades (aluminum two piece, super hi-rise intake manifold for the 409's Carter AFB carbs, a hotter mechanical lifter camshaft with matching valve springs and a pair of 730 cylinder heads with raised, rectangular intake ports (similar to later Mark II and IV big-block ports). Of the 18 Super Sport lightweights, only two are known to still exist, the Zintsmaster Chevrolet 409 Impala seen here and Dick Harrell's black SS with red interior. The Zintsmaster car is the most original, factory-built lightweight that coast-to-coast experts of the marque know about. This white SS with red interior was shipped to the Zintsmaster Chevrolet dealership in Kokomo, Indiana.
While the story of the '63 Z-11 427/409 Lightweights is fairly well known, most people are unfamiliar with the fact that there were any produced in '62. What is known is that the '62s all rolled off the Flint, Michigan assembly line late in the 1962 model year. Our feature subject was born on July 31. The aluminum body components lightened the cars by approximately 120-130 lbs. The Impalas ran and were competitive in the B/FX class.
Other lucky racers installed the aluminum bits on the lighter Bel Air sport coupe, and ran in the A/FX category against 421 Pontiac Tempests and didn't fair as well. Confusing the issue some is that the factory offered a handful of sets of the aluminum parts to racers so some cars competed with them that weren't factory-built. Also, racers like Dave Strickler would run with the aluminum parts at some races (in the FX class) and with steel body panels at others (in S/S).
From the factory, the Zintmaster beast cost just $3600.25, with all the added go-fast components, including a T10 four-speed manual box, a Posi rear, metallic brakes, and of course the dual-quad Turbo-Fire 409. Driver Dave Mason, whose name is still painted on the door, took this car to the 1962 Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park where it ran low 12s at 115 mph. Shortly after that, the car was placed in private storage and disappeared for over 20 years.
By just looking at the vehicle from an exterior vantage, there is no way to distinguish the "lightweight" nature of the car. Even upon a close inspection of the still-intact window sticker, there is no mention of anything "experimental," or "aluminum."
Only a look under the hood reveals the paper-thin aluminum bits-they almost feel carbon-fiberish when tapped on.
The car is now owned by Jon Been of Atlanta, and still looks as if it just rolled off the showroom floor. In its present trim, the Impala makes about 500 hp, with S&S headers and a Z-11 camshaft that were probably done sometime after the car was pulled out of storage in 1988.
"I've always been a fan of the early-'60s Impalas," Been says. "There's just something about them that clicks with me."
He also owns a '63 Impala SS convertible, in absolutely magnificent condition. We had the chance to fire the Zintsmaster up and take it on some, albeit slow, runs through the parking lot behind Been's place of business. With no mufflers, our ears rattled like a tambourine inside the peerless garage where the Impala is kept. The 409 powerplant sounds just as sweet as it must have during the heyday of its S/S racing.
"It's just amazing I could find this car," Been says. "It's damn awesome."