Chevy bubbletop starts plenty of conversations

Jon and Rilla Lemon's silver over yellow bubbletop Chevy is a bit of an argument starter. From the front, it appears to be a '62 model, but from the fenders back, it is a '61 Impala. Whatever you call it, it is a street-driven beauty.
Jon and Rilla Lemon's silver over yellow bubbletop Chevy is a bit of an argument starter. From the front, it appears to be a '62 model, but from the fenders back, it is a '61 Impala. Whatever you call it, it is a street-driven beauty. The Wichita Eagle

Jon and Rilla Lemon’s beautiful two-tone bubbletop Chevy is a rolling contradiction in terms. It’s a car that can fool you if you’re not really tuned in.

"Sometimes, I feel like I need a black-and-white striped shirt and a referee’s whistle so I can settle the arguments," Jon says, laughing.

The most obvious issue involves just what year the car really is. From the front, it appears to be a ’62 Biscayne; from the rear, it looks like a ’61 Impala. And it is both.

"I tell people it’s a ’61 1/2," said Lemon.

Then there’s that 5-speed shifter and a clutch pedal, although the car has an automatic transmission. Lemon hopes someday to make the 5-speed manual a reality, but for now, he has fun asking people if they’ve ever felt a smoother clutch in their lives. (The pedal is held in place by a carburetor spring, so it is really easy to depress.)

Lemon found the car, a 1961 Impala Sport Coupe with the sought-after thin rear roof pillars and bubble-shaped rear glass, in 2001.

"It was in the front yard of a farm in Andover. The guy who had it had all the good cars inside a barn. They left the bubbletop sit out front from 1982 to 2001," he said. "It was just discarded."

The car had some serious rust issues. "The front end was gone rusted beyond belief," he said. But he still wanted it.

He had been driving a yellow 1961 Chevy 2-door sedan when he met his wife. "She did like the car before she liked me," Lemon confessed. He ended up owning two other ’61s over the years and drag raced two of them.

After Lemon made the deal on the bubbletop, he and his buddies, Larry Hoffman, Ron Dunagan, Larry Peterson, Wendel Lundstet, Jim Burdette and Duane Wickham, set about doing a complete frame-off restoration.

But the rotisserie he planned to use was tied up in another project, so he and his crew went to Plan B.

"We took the body off the car. We rolled this thing over on a mattress in Mulvane and I brought the frame home to build it here," he said.

Wickham repaired the rusted-out floor boards and rocker panels, installed a flat-panel firewall and did the needed body work, including shaved door handles and windshield wipers.

"I just happened to have a ’62 Biscayne front clip sitting around, so we decided to use that," Lemon said.

The fenders, hood, grille and bumper bolted right on, he said.

The original 283 V-8 engine and Powerglide transmission were scrapped in favor of something a little newer and more reliable.

"It has a ’94 LT1 motor out of a sheriff’s detective’s car," Lemon said.

The fuel injected 350 engine produces 295 horsepower, which is delivered to the rear end via a 4L60E transmission.

Aside from a set of Corvette pulleys, the engine remains basically stock. Exhaust is handled by a set of pipes and Flowmaster mufflers crafted by Kevin Kaiser of American Muffler.

The chassis was set up using a set of 2-inch lowered spindles, chopped ’62 coils and a Speedway Motors front disc brake kit. In the rear, ’62 Impala coil springs were relieved of two coils, with air lift bags installed to level the car when it’s loaded.

Thanks to the X-frame chassis, Lemon was able to fit really big wheels and tires on his bubbletop without clearance problems. A set of 245 by 45 by 20 Nittos mounted on 20-inch American Racing Torq Thrust wheels are found on the back, while Cragar wheels up front carry 235 by 45 by 17 Nittos.

Rilla Lemon got to choose both the wheels and the paint color for the bubbletop. Not surprisingly, she opted for a 1964 Chevy Goldwood Yellow color for the body, with the roof painted a House of Color basecoat metallic silver. The finish work on the paint job was handled by Classics Auto Works of Sedgwick.

Inside, Jon Lemon decided he wanted to keep ’61 Chevy style upholstery on the seats, but use the ’62 Chevy door panel design. Dale Bybee accommodated him, using gray vinyl and charcoal-colored leather inserts for a super-clean look.

The dash got a custom aluminum insert filled with Auto Meter Pro Comp gauges. A 14-inch Billet Specialties steering wheel with a half-leather wrap was bolted to an ididit tilt steering column. A Fischer air conditioning unit was installed under the passenger-side kickup of the dash.

"I built it to go down the road," says Lemon, who has logged 16,000 miles on the bubbletop since it was completed in 2005, including several lengthy road trips to Good Guys regional car shows.

Just to be on the safe side, he keeps a technical manual detailing all the differences between 1961 and 1962 Chevies in the trunk, to settle any disputes that arise over the car’s unusual heritage.

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