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1963 Chevy Impala - Gettin' Around

This '63 Impala Has Truly Been There And Done That, From Street Racing To Construction Work, And Glen Sweinhart Has Followed It Nearly The Whole Way.

Thomas J. Lyman Mar 1, 2008
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The story of this particular '63 takes us back to the days of sneaking people in trunks to get into the drive-in theater; late-night, deserted-road street races (not the crazed, death-defying stuff attempted by today's youth); and a time when cars were a way of life-not a means to an end but an end in themselves. Furthermore, when people think back to this golden age of big-bodied cars like the Impala, everyone instantly starts shouting "409" like the big-block was a common occurrence. That's simply not the case. Far more small-block-equipped machines roamed the streets in the early '60s, and a four-speed/327 Impala was tough to beat back then.

Glen Sweinhart first came across this '63 in 1966, when a friend of his purchased the vehicle. The Impala was missing a front end and engine, and was close to being a write-off by an insurance company. Glen's friend convinced the insurance company that the car was repairable, especially armed with the fact that his father owned a body shop. Two years later the car was sold again, to another buddy of Glen's, as he continued to follow the car around his circle of compatriots in the world of hot rods. In 1974 yet another acquaintance purchased the Impala, who used it as a construction vehicle. "The car has a huge trunk, so big that my friend was able to carry around his tools to start his construction business," Glen remembers.

Finally, in 1991, after keeping tabs on the Impala for 25 years, Glen's opportunity to purchase it came around, and he paid his construction buddy $2,500 for it. The Impala still retained many of the original parts from the '60s-it even still rode on the mags added back in '66. Glen let the car sit for about 10 years while he gathered OEM parts and trim pieces, plotting each move to bring the Impala back while keeping it true to the way he remembered these cars from the '60s.

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To get the engine back into full song, Glen took the original 327 to Gary Hammaker of Hammaker Automotive in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Gary massaged an extra four cubic inches out of the block with a .030 overbore, and cleaned up the original iron heads. Glen retained the stock crankshaft but added Scat connecting rods for improved durability on the bottom end. Keith Black 10:1 compression pistons were thrown into the cylinders, and Glen went with a Comp Cams Extreme Energy camshaft (.477/268 intake, .480/280 exhaust, at 0.050).

Riding atop the 331's rotating assembly is a vintage Edelbrock C3BX intake manifold mated to a Holley 3310 750-cfm carburetor. On the exhaust side, the mill pushes spent gasses out through a set of Hedman 1 5/8-inch headers and a homemade stainless exhaust system. A set of Stainless Works 2 1/4-inch glasspacks cap off the setup. True to its roots, the exhaust system has a set of drag-style exhaust cutouts. The small-block makes about 375 hp at 5,000 rpm, not too bad when you consider much of the technology that went into the 331 is more than 40 years old. All those ponies meet the pavement through a Muncie M20 four-speed built by Jody's Transmissions in Reading, Pennsylvania. The Impala rolls on Team 3 wheels, 15x6 front and 15x7 rear. Cooper rubber wraps the front wheels, 205/75/15, with BFGoodrich rubber in the rear, size 235/70/15.

The suspension has been meticulously recreated with all-stock-type parts, but not before each original piece was individually sandblasted and painted. The interior was recreated with OEM-type everything from CARS Inc., with each piece installed by Glen. The exterior is a brilliant white from DuPont, a pristine example of paint and bodywork done right. To that end, according to Glen, the most difficult aspect of the recreation was finding a quarter-panel-about halfway through the build, Glen found the piece from the rust-free quarter section of an Impala in Oklahoma.

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Ironically, Glen says his most memorable experience with the Impala occurred before he owned it. "[It was] when my buddy owned the car in 1966 and I beat him in a drag race with my '64 Nova," he says.

And now the car is pretty much just as it was in 1966, when Glen first saw it. The six-year build was an "off and on" affair for Glen, but he seems to have gotten it just right, as the Impala is not only appealing to the eye, but also on the ears when Glen hits the loud pedal.



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