Car of the Week: 1960 Chevrolet Impala

By Peter Birmingham

THE BEGINNING

In the summer of 1968, I received my driver’s license and went looking to buy my first car. My dad took me to the local car dealership and they had a few cars sitting out back that weren’t too expensive. There was a 1958 Ford Galaxie and a black four-door 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne. After sitting in both, I fell in love with the dash on the Biscayne, because the speedometer and gauges reminded me of a space ship. We made a deal and I had my first car, a 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne for $75.

The Biscayne had a straight six and a Powerglide transmission, and I think it got about 50 miles to the quart of oil, but it was all mine. The paint had a white film but the body was straight. The seats were gray with just a few small stains and rips. The first thing I did was buy some Turtle Wax to hand polished the whole car, and it came out great. Next thing was to paint the gray dashboard and door panels red. I bought some red-and-black seat covers and added a new radio. I was ready to do some cruising!

After a few months, I decided to change the engine to one that would not burn so much oil. I bought a 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne for $25 with a straight-six and a three-speed with overdrive transmission. My friend Randy and I did the engine and transmission swap out in the front yard using a big tree limb to hook our chain jack. We pulled the clutch pedal and associated brackets out of the ’59 and installed them in the ’60. Luckily, Randy’s dad had a welder and helped us move some of the bracketing. We put in a Hurst floor shifter and a local service station owner let us use his lift on a Saturday afternoon and we got the clutch and everything put together.

When we finished in stalling the new engine and transmission, we were all so happy we jumped in the car and drove it back to Randy’s house. Unfortunately, in our overjoyed moment, we forgot to put water in the radiator. When we pulled in the yard, we could smell the engine and when we opened the hood to find it smoking. We decided to let it sit overnight and cool down and in the morning, we added water and it ran just fine.

I loved that old car and remember the many good times that we had with it. But there comes a time in life when you have responsibilities and you have to reset your priorities. I traded the Biscayne in on a reliable four-door Rambler Classic to drive back and forth to college. Even though the Biscayne was gone, it lived on in my memory for 44 years.

Now that all my kids are grown and I have retired, I thought it would be fun to find another 1960 Chevy and fix it up. I searched the internet for months, and I even went and looked at a few, but they were not really what I was looking for. Returning from a trip to Door County, Wisconsin, my wife Pam and I stopped at the Iola Car Show and there it was, a black 1960 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe two-door hardtop. I made a deal with the owner and had it delivered.

CUSTOMIZING SHOP
My next step was to find a shop that could help me make the Impala safe and reliable to drive. My son turned me on to Fast Freddie’s Rod Shop in Eau Claire, Wis., about a half an hour from where I live. When you become a customer at Fast Freddie’s, they work closely with you to develop a plan for your vehicle that ensures your goals, objectives and budget are met. A big part of being into the car scene is the lifestyle that goes along with it. After a very enjoyable visit with Freddie, we came up with a game plan to get the Impala back on the road. The main emphasis would be on safety and reliability to make it a good cruising car.

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
The first step was to pull the engine and transmission, remove the steering system, brakes and exhaust. When the engine bay was cleared, a coat of chassis black was sprayed on it. A 2-inch drop spindle front disc brake kit from Eckler’s with an 8-inch booster, dual master cylinder and proportioning valve along with new brake lines were installed. New coil-over front springs from Viking and a power steering conversion kit from Speedway with a 500 Series power steering box was also installed. The rear drum brakes were in good condition so we only replaced the rear coil springs and the shock absorbers. We also replaced the gas tank and sending unit along with the gas lines running to the engine.

ENGINE & DRIVE TRAIN

When it came to powering the Impala, three options were discussed: a used LS engine and transmission; a 350 crate engine; or the existing 348 engine that was in the car. The decision was made to rebuild the original 348 engine, bored .40 over. Most of the internals came from Dr. 409 at Show Car Parts. Powerline Performance Machine Co. of Chippewa Falls, Wis., machined the block and heads and did all the assembly. During the overhaul, we discovered one of the heads was cracked so a used one was located in a nearby town. A complete valve job was done with stainless-steel valves and seats for use with unleaded gas. The oil filter was also updated to a spin-on type.
The 348 is fed through the stock intake by an Edelbrock Performer 600-cfm carburetor from Summit Racing. The ignition system was upgraded to a Pertronix Ignitor III and Flame Thrower ignition coil with a new distributor cap, wires and plugs. Powerline ran the engine on their Dyno and it produced 220 hp and 318 lbs.-ft. of torque. We filled the engine with Valvoline VR-1 10W30 racing oil.
After getting the engine back to the shop, the remainder of the accessories were installed. A 70-amp, one-wire alternator along with a new bracket, wiring harness and horn relay were installed. A new water pump, starter, power steering pump and fuel pump from the local Auto Parts Store were added. A rebuilt 700R4 three speed with overdrive transmission supplied by Midtown Transmissions of Eau Claire was connected to the engine.

The next step was to actually drop the engine and transmission into the car. New motor mounts were added along with a new bolt-in transmission cross member. A stainless-steel transmission shift arm connecting kit from Kugel Komponents and new speedometer gears connected up the transmission. The Northern Radiators four-pass unit keeps the engine cool while the silver valve covers make it look hot. The exhaust manifolds were blasted and resurfaced and connected to a stock dual exhaust system from Eckler’s.

INTERIOR


When it came to the interior, the upholstery was in great condition, the carpet was a little dirty, but with a little elbow grease, we got it looking good again. We pulled the seats and carpet and added Thermo-Coustic sound deadener material from Eastwood. While the carpet was up, we ran new wires for the gas gauge, rear speakers and antenna. An AM/FM radio from Classic Car Stereos was connected to dual 3-1/2-inch speakers front and rear. The under dash fuse block and wiring harness was replaced along with a new headlight switch. Matching red seat belts and a fire extinguisher were added for safety and, of course, you need fuzzy dice and a hula girl.

The trunk was repainted and also covered with sound deadener. Then a new GM waffle-pattern trunk mat was installed. New weather stripping was installed to help keep the trunk dry.

EXTERIOR

For now, we decided not to do much to the exterior. The paint is about 25-30 years old and is in OK condition with a few scratches and cracks. The body is solid, but there are a few hail dings here and there. To bring the existing paint job back to life, we rubbed the entire car down with a clay bar. Then we used a dual-action polisher on high speed with an orange pad and Kit’s High Performance Scratch & Swirl Remover. Then we switched to a white pad, lowered the speed a little and used Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound Color and Clarity Restorer. After that, we used a gray pad on a low speed with Meguiar’s World Class Carnauba Plus Premium Liquid Wax. It was quite an improvement!

We updated the headlights to halogens, installed new chrome wiper blades and a dummy rear antenna to balance it off. We also changed the parking and blinker lenses from white to amber for safety.

CRUiSIN:

Full-size Chevrolets of this period are known for excessive roll and oscillation, especially after crossing bumps. We replaced the rear coil springs with heavy-duty springs from Global West. These coil springs have been measured and tested to provide proper spring rates to eliminate the bobble and bounce, delivering a great ride with responsive handling.

To control the body roll, we added a Hellwig 1-inch-diameter high-performance 4140 chromoly solid-steel front sway bar. We also added a Hellwig 7/8-inch-diameter high-performance CNC mandrel-bent DOM rear steel sway bar.

My wife Pam and I love attending car shows and seeing the variety of classic cars on display. We especially enjoy meeting the people that drive these cars, always a good time. Now we can do just that with our own ’60 Chevy.

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