It was full-size muscle or bust in the early 1960s, with the Impala, Biscayne, and Bel Air leaving the competition in a trail of tire smoke. These cars were muscle before the midsize and ponycar days and embraced 409, 396, and 427 cubic inch big-block horsepower.
Today, the LS series of motors makes comparable (or more) oomph to the W-motor and Turbo-Jets in a lighter and much more efficient package. Melding the classic lines of the '61 Impala with the modern magic of a 405hp LS6 crate engine, Todd Nelson's "Crocodile Rock" two-door hardtop bridges the generation gap through style and sophistication.
The LS6 sits fittingly in the engine bay of the Impala like it should have been there in the first place, replacing the more subdued factory 283ci small-block. Street and Performance in Mena, Arkansas, accessorized the powerplant from intake to exhaust with its chrome air cleaner, alternator, serpentine belt drive system, and coated headers.
The LS-6 nameplate was first used by Chevrolet in 1970 on its magnificent 454CI/450hp Chevelle, and it added the Corvette to the list in 1971 (by then 425 horsepower). The name was reestablished for high-performance Vettes beginning in 2000. The Z06 badge demands respect both on the street and strip with stump-pulling torque, and a horsepower curve that looks more like a horizontal line than a curve. Backing the Z06 is a GM 4L60E overdrive transmission, the original (now shortened) driveshaft, and a 10-bolt limited-slip rearend.
For adjustability and performance, Todd went to Air Ride Technologies and installed its air system for full-size Chevrolet vehicles. He installed Shockwave airbags up front and CoolRide bags in the back, allowing a change in ride height at the push of a button. Along with FatMan two-inch drop spindles up front and KYB adjustable shocks, total drop up front reaches a maximum of six inches. Out back, Air Ride CoolRide air bags and adjustable shocks allow for the same six-inch drop and can literally set this Impala on the concrete.
Four-wheel disc brakes from Aerospace Engineering provide stopping power via 12-inch rotors and dual-piston calipers. Todd installed three-piece Asanti wheels on all four corners (20x8.5 front/22x9.5 back) wrapped in Dunlop Sport Maxx tires (245/35r20 front, 265/35r22 back). With a mix of chrome and black powdercoat in a five-spoke design, the custom Asanti AF-144 wheels parallel the theme of this hot rod to a tee and fit the wheel well perfectly.
"Instead of going with the traditional billet wheel route, which I love, I decided on the three-piece Asantis, which were custom made. I like the aggressive look of the wheels and am glad I made the decision to get them," Todd says.
The interior of this Impala is dolled up with the perfect combination of leather, suede, and alligator accents. "We ordered five full hides of black leather and one gator skin from Kamali Leather in New York," says Todd. That's right...alligator accents that will surely feel right at home in Land-O-Lakes, Florida, where Todd resides. The stock seats and door panels were retained and recovered with black leather and 'gator. The custom console is made completely of fiberglass. Also employed is the Auto Meter Carbon Fiber gauge cluster and a Budnik steering wheel.
A mix of paint and body professionals had their hands in the exterior artwork applied to this Impala from Doug, Jeff, and Bob Peterson, to Chris Cruz Artistry in Deland, Florida. The car was completely stripped to bare metal, and the painstaking task of resurrection began. From priming to blocking, sanding, and back again, multitudes of sandpaper grits were used to create a perfect base for the Prowler Orange Pearl metallic paint from DuPont. "The Petersons applied the final coat of clear over the graphics only to be blocked three more times. First with 600, then 1,000, then 1,500 grit before the final rub," Todd said.
Taking more than six years to complete, Todd and friends tightened the last bolt as they loaded the Chevy up for our photo shoot. Asked if he would change anything on the car, he simple said the Impala turned out flawlessly. This full-size dream machine has an LS6 for a soul and classic lines from the days of yesteryear. Does it get any better?