When Dale Herron spotted a rare 1961 Chevy Impala 2-door sedan with the “pancake roof” in a local body shop, it was an instant flashback for him.
“I had a ’61 Biscayne 2-door out in California. It was my hot rod back then,” he said.
He was checking up on a ’34 Ford pickup he was building for his wife, Jeanne, about 10 years ago when the Impala caught his eye.
“The guy said look under the hood and I was like ‘oh, my god, it’s a 409.’ And then he said this car can be bought, a couple were fighting over it.” He found out what they had paid for it and offered $500 more than that to solve their problem.
“He said, ‘Let me think about it’ and she said ‘that car is sold,’ ” Herron remembers with a smile. The Impala was originally white over silver, but Herron wanted something more reminiscent of the jet black Biscayne flat-roof he had cruised around in back in California.
So he finally settled on a Sherwin Williams Dark Metallic Charcoal for both the top and bottom, with a 50th anniversary Corvette blood red panel in the side trim. The Impala stayed in the paint shop until it was finished and was finally delivered to his home shop on his 60th birthday.
“It was kind of a ‘Happy Birthday to Me.’ My brother and all my buddies were there to help me celebrate.”
It turns out the Impala had been cruising the streets of Wichita during the years when Herron was making his living building engines in California.
“A lot of guys saw this car tearing up and down Douglas,” Herron said. Even so, there’s an air of mystery that surrounds the Impala sedan.
“There were not many built in the sedan body. A lot of guys look at it and say, how did you get that (roof) to hang over the back window like that?”
They think the only two-door Impalas in 1961 were hardtops, not sedans. He tells them the Impala came from the factory that way.
And he’s straightforward when he tells them it was not originally a 408 V-8. It most likely came off the assembly line with a 283 V-8 and Powerglide automatic transmission, he says. But that raises another question.
“Why would somebody take a 409 out of a virtually new 1963 and put it in a 1961 car?” he muses. He figures it must have involved a donor car with heavy rear end damage. The engine block is clearly a 1963 issue, he says.
The red cloth interior is basically stock, with a bench seat and the factory two-spoke steering wheel. A Sunpro tachometer and Vintage Air air conditioning have been added to the instrument panel and a Hurst shifter changes gears in the 200R4 automatic overdrive transmission.
The 340-horsepower engine features a Jerry Wilson cam, cast iron exhaust manifolds and an Edelbrock carburetor atop a factory intake manifold. At his wife’s request, the Flowmaster mufflers have been replaced with quieter Turbo mufflers for highway cruising, made easier with a 3.08 Eaton Positraction rear gear.
Herron went through several sets of wheels before he settled on the current gray-spoked American Racing Torque Thrust mags, which recapture the look of his Biscayne. A set of milled flat aluminum center caps crafted by a friend complete the look, along with BF Goodrich radial TA tires, 235/60R15’s in front and 255/60R15’s at the rear.
It also has power disc brakes and power steering.
“I just brought it up to date … so it’s comfortable to drive,” Herron says. The car has made treks to Kingman, Ariz., and Poplar, N.C., for one-day car shows. And it recently broke down in perhaps the worst place possible in America: Death Valley.
But after some fancy maneuvering, the Impala came back to Wichita, where Herron replaced a faulty piston and put it back on the road.
“It runs better now than it did before,” he said. “When I first saw this car … all of a sudden, I was still looking across the same dash board, across the same hood … it’s all the same, it really takes me back,” he says.
And he has no qualms about making more long road treks in it.
“I ain’t afraid to drive it,” he says. “We plan to fill the grille with bugs as often as possible.”
Mike Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org