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1960 Chevy Impala - The Coolest Impala In Town

Real-Life Happy Days

Tony Kelly Aug 1, 2002

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, Cerny, and Roth nearby, but this side of the drive-in was always open for car shoots. Watching the photo sessions of great cars, 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 car did have the very rare 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; 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 three-speed column 280 hp (348ci with Tri-power and hydraulic cam). 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 did have Posi-traction though, so it had been ordered right. It was very civilized to drive, but I started getting the itch to race. Most high-performance '60 Impalas were equipped with the solid-lifter cam motors that ranged from the 315hp to the 350hp version released towards the end of the model year. These cars raced in the Super Stock class, but my 280hp motor put me in "A" Stock. Contrary to my first impression, "A" Stock was at least as competitive as Super Stock.

Musclecars of the mid-'60s 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 installing red taillight lenses where the clear back-up light lens was (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 for street-driven cars. I did have fuzzy dice and a mirror warmer from my girlfriend though.

My identical twin, Steve, had a white '60 Impala that he bought in September of 1959. That car is the one pictured next to the '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 has evolved into the company producing SUPER CHEVY. That little town of Compton had a lot going for it a few years ago.



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