When Ron Oldfather set out to recapture a bit of his automotive youth, he had a wide range of choices to target: A ’48 Ford coupe like the one he bought as his first car in the ninth grade; a slick little ’51 Chevy 2-door; a ’55 Corvette with the 6-cylinder engine and three carbs; or the gorgeous ’34 Ford 3-window coupe he picked up for only $600.
But what he really wanted was another ’62 Chevy Impala hardtop.
"I got it in early ’62. It had a 409 with dual 4-barrels, a 4-speed and a 4:56 Posi rear end. I bought it at Gamble Chevrolet over in Haven so no one would know that I got it," Oldfather said.
"It was the high point of my life. I never got outrun in it until the Plymouth Hemis came out.”
So he started looking for a nice ’62 Impala with the big motor, but everything he found was either priced in the stratosphere or a beat-down rust bucket.
Finally, in 2010, he located a low-mileage (61,000 miles) Impala listed on the Internet in Portland, Ore.
"I really wanted the 409, but it had the 283 with the cheap Saginaw 4-speed in it," Oldfather said. He won the online bidding for it and had it shipped to Wichita.
"When it got here, I got underneath it and there was no rust anywhere and I thought, `Man, I got a deal,’ " he said.
But something had to be done about that seemingly undersized power train. His friend, Eric Sorenson, an aircraft mechanic at Benton, looked it over and suggested putting a crate motor in it.
“Before you know it, we took the body off the frame and one thing led to another," Oldfather recalled.
The main thing was the monster-sized 502 cubic inch Chevy crate motor ordered for the Impala. With a single 850 cfm Holley carb, it produces a true 502 horsepower and an even more impressive 580 foot-pounds of torque.
To handle that brute power, Oldfather took Sorenson’s advice and installed a heavy-duty Tremec 5-speed manual transmission. They installed a fresh two-piece drive shaft and a Mosier 9-inch Positraction rear end fitted with stout 4:11 gears.
There was some concern that the stock Chevy chassis, one of those X-frame units, could stand up to the amount of twisting it was likely to receive from all that torque. But Oldfather said the experts at Hotchkis Sport Suspension supplied the new suspension parts assured them the reworked chassis would handle it with no problems.
The frame was fully detailed while the body was off, with disc brakes and 2-inch dropped spindles giving it both a performance upgrade and an intimidating nose-down stance. Bill’s American Muffler installed a set of Flowmaster mufflers, with a pair of oversized electrically activated "dumps" installed in the wheel wells when additional sound is needed.
"Everything underneath it is brand new," Oldfather said.
Putting all that power to the pavement is a set of American Racing Salt Flats style wheels, 8-inch rims in the back mounting Mickey Thompson 9-inch wide 255/ 60R/ 15 street slicks, while narrower wheels up front carry 225/ 60R/ 15 BF Goodrich TA rubber.
The body was in overall good shape, carrying a jet black repaint of indeterminate age. Jeremy Edwards of Norris Collision in Goddard was enlisted to smooth out a couple of flaws and spot-paint the glossy black finish.
"I really like the body," said Oldfather, who noted how much the unusual aftermarket black vinyl top adds to the black paint scheme. He used a heat gun to remove red tape that had been added to the side spears of the car, in order to give it a cleaner look.
Inside, the Impala already had fresh black upholstery installed when Oldfather got the car, but he had Downey’s Auto Upholstery stretch a new black vinyl headliner and a matching rear package tray.
The dash is understated, with a trio of marine-style accessory gauges installed below the factory speedometer. A hefty tachometer with shift light is mounted atop the dash, with shifts coming at 5,800 rpm.
Oldfather’s wife, Connie, was surprised he didn’t add air conditioning to the car. But he didn’t want anything robbing power from that all-business engine and he figures you can always roll down the windows.
"I do have her blessing on this, though," he grinned.
His plans include an upgrade to electronic fuel injection.
"I can burn pump gas in it, but it loads up. I put about two gallons of 100 octane aviation gas in it and it makes this car run sweet," he said.
He hopes to run the Impala at Kansas International Dragway later this year. It is on display at the Starbird-Devlin car show at Century II, although Oldfather says, "I didn’t build it to win trophies. I built it to go fast and to rip around town."
So how is that working out?
"I get all bubbly and goosey every time I get in it. This one would outrun the other one hands-down, any day," Oldfather said.