BACK IN TIME Edition 64

1961 Chevrolet Impala

Article by Karl Eriksen

View the build process at

The Chevy Impala was named by GM after the African Antelope. Richard Irwin has always had a passion for cars since an early age. He already has quite a few in his collection. He had been looking for a bubble top for about two years, but because they are so scarce here, he began looking farther afield using Craigslist and eBay. Richard says he knows of only four or five in South Africa and found this one on eBay in New Mexico. He asked Ash Waldorf from American Connection, who he gets all of his cars through, to bid on it and he managed to get it for a pretty reasonable amount. It was in running condition with an old six-cyclinder engine. The car did, however, need quite a lot of work. 

At around the same time he met a chap – who he subsequently became quite friendly with – from Tempe near Phoenix, Arizona. Tim Perrin, who was in South Africa for three months doing some work for Leon Centner of Amcar Imports, who does right-hand drive conversions in Durban. Richard had always wanted to do the Hot Rod Power Tour in the States – in his own car – so he spoke to Tim about building the car there for him hi his workshop, Tim’s Garage, which he agreed to. It was then shipped form New Mexico to Phoenix in November 2014. In a period of six months, Tim single-handedly did a complete nut and bolt restoration, which involved some minor rust removal and patchwork. The workmanship is exceptional, and the car looks brand new, and was featured in the American Hot Rod Magazine in their coverage of the 2015 Power Tour. 

The car was stripped to its bare shell and the chassis was strengthened and powder-coated. Richard laments the fact that hot rod magazines, particularly in the States, hardly ever show pictures of the build process. He however, received plenty of his own car, the photos of where were posted by Tim on Facebook – an exciting process by all accounts, where everything (including parts and repairs) were documented, like watching a movie series where it all coalesced into the perfect ending. Not only that, but Tim also posted videos of himself test-driving the car, which must have been both frustrating and exciting for Richard to watch – knowing that the car was almost done and not being able to drive it himself. Tim communicated with Richard via email with regards to which direction the build would be going in and Richard chose what he wanted online, dealing with any revisions as they went along. It was due for its spray job at Elite Automotive Finishes in Mesa, Arizona where it was to be sprayed white with blue hood and stripes. The very it was about to go to the spray booth, Time sent Richard pictures of cars in order for him to select rims. Whilst deciding on what rims to select, he saw a completely blue car and called Tim, waking him up to ask him to hold off – he wanted the car predominantly blue with white, not the other way around. It is a ’64 Corvette colour. 

Richard and his wife flew to the States in June of that year and had the car shipped from Arizona to the start of the 21st Hot Rod Power Tour in Madison, Wisconsin. It involves touring through seven cities in seven days, ending in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Although unprintable, his two-word description of the event said it all. Ever heard of a carbeque – well, Richard attended one. It is about hot cars, but the meat is cooked on a grill. He said that on any given day there was between two and four thousand muscle cars, hot rods etc parked up. After the tour, he left the car in Florida with Ash, who shipped it to South Africa two months later. Richard reckons it may be the only car in South Africa which has taken part in the Power Tour. 

When I met up with Richard, he had just driven all the way from Durban, over five days via Colesburg to Cape Town to attend the Dusty Rebels event. He averaged an enviable 8 litres per 100km thanks to the new 480hp LS3 engine. Richard had not installed an engine like this in any of his cars before for the simple reason that he knew of no-one that work on them. He then found Mark 1 Auto who can do just that. He swears by the new technology and says that, apart from being lighter on fuel it is super reliable and starts in any weather condition. The engine is coupled to a 4L70-E transmission which is part of the GM Performance package. The complete plug-and-play kit is a drive-by-wire system and includes a diagnostic connector. The diff is a Currie 9-inch and it has CCP Pro-touring kit. The upholstery and interior trim originates from a company called Ciadella Interiors and also an upholstery expert, Doug Stinson from American Upholstery, who assisted Tim with the fitting. The original speedo was refurbished, and the other gauges are new so that they sync with the electronics of the new engine. Although he wanted to go wider with the 315s at the rear, he did not want to mess with the bodywork and so settled with 275/40/18 Nitto NT555 Extremes, with 245/40/18s in front. Richard was so impressed by Tim’s work on his Impala that he bought another two projects – a 1958 Corvette and a 1964 Galaxie 500 for Tim to restore. How refreshing that someone is finally bringing these classics into the country instead of shipping them out.