1961 Chevy Impala SS - When The Impala SS Was Truly Special

Tommy Nolen's '61 SS Is One-of 453.

Doug Marion Apr 4, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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Over the last 33 years, this writer has personally reviewed, touched and admired at least a few hundred thousand neat Chevys. Of them, only a handful were true '61 Impala Super Sports. Few enthusiasts today even remember that Chevrolet produced an Impala SS in '61. Offered in the spring of that year, only 453 Impala Super Sports were built. To order a Super Sport, a Chevrolet dealership had to order a whole bunch of different mandatory options, including a high-performance W-engine with a minimum of 305 hp. We estimate today that no more than 5- to 10-percent of the original 453 remain. That's roughly 22 to 45 cars worldwide.

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Perhaps the very best example is this fully documented, two-owner SS owned and restored by Virginia's Tommy Nolen-himself a lifelong Chevy man.

This story begins in early '61 when Chester, Virginia's Goyne Chevrolet special ordered this vehicle. They checked off the long list of necessary options on the factory order sheet. Their engine selection was the Super Sport's base powerplant, a 305hp 348 with Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor. They also ordered a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed transmission and a Positraction differential with a 3.70:1 axle ratio. Even the one-inch wide whitewall tires were another of the official Super Sport options which had to be ordered.

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Soon after the car was delivered to the dealership in April '61, Petersburg, Virginia's Victor Hicks, a Korean War Air Force veteran-in his late 20s and a machinist by trade-stopped in with his '58 Chevy Impala sport coupe to inspect the new white '61 Super Sport sitting proudly on Goyne Chevrolet's showroom floor. For many years a fighter jet engine specialist, Hicks knew cool when he saw it. Finally, on May 26, a deal was struck and he had himself one of the neatest and (ultimately) most uncommon performance big Chevys ever created.

He and his '61 immediately became inseparable. He dated his girlfriend (soon-to-be-wife) Betty Lou in it. Because the '61 SS had an engine and exhaust tone like no other, Mrs. Hicks told us recently that she could always hear her husband coming from as far away as a few blocks. Back then she drove a '61 Galaxie, which was disposed of soon after their marriage. The Super Sport was now their official family car. After many years of trouble-free service and eons of fun, it was retired. Yes, a zillion people asked to buy it, but no, it was never for sale. Still a part of their family, it sat quietly in solitude resting in their barn.

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Living in nearby Chester, Tommy Nolen had spent 30 years digging all of the great performance cars Chevrolet was known for. But the one Bow Tie Nolen always yearned for was a '61 Impala SS. His multi-decade search ended one day in '96 when he got a tip that such a car was still owned by its original owner and just 15 miles away. Nolen immediately drove to the location (the Hicks' residence) and knocked on their front door. After introducing himself to Victor Hicks, he asked, "Do you have a 1961 Impala Super Sport?" Hicks replied, "Yes, we do but it's not for sale."

"I had always planned to re-paint it and fix it up," Hicks told Super Chevy recently. As is often the case, however, that day never came. And Nolen was not about to just walk away. A friendship ensued. Soon, Nolen showed the Hicks family his personal '61 Chevy that he had recently restored to perfection.

We should mention here that Betty Lou loved the '61 Super Sport, and over a period of many years probably used it even more than her husband. For years, she drove it daily to and from her job. Finally, together, they decided that if they were going to sell their beloved Super Sport, it had to go to someone who would restore it and love it like they did.

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