8 December 2014

What Drives You: A 50-year dream

(Editor’s Note: From pearl, metallic flake and candy-colored paint to modified small-blocks, big-blocks and flathead V-8s, the proud owners of custom cars are opening up their throttles and bursting forth with their classic build stories. Join us as we get down to the nuts and bolts of these builds and tell the stories of car builders worldwide — finding smiles and unforgettable memories behind the blood, sweat and tears. If you have a custom with a great story and would like to be considered for our “What Drives You” series, contact Tara Hurlin at thurlin@hagerty.com.)

It was the car that started it all. Jim Powers’ 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air put a twinkle in his eye ever since it rolled off the production line, and one finally entered his life in 1962. It was a drag racer’s dream come true.

“My first car was a lesser-known 1951 Henry J, but the 1958 Bel Air was the car that changed everything,” Jim said. He drag raced the car from 1962-64, and it was a class record holder at the SRCA strip in Great Bend, Kan. It never lost a race in its class, and it won little modified stock eliminator three times. According to Jim, owning and driving the Bel Air was a blast and came with memories that a proud car owner could never forget.

The Bel Air led to Jim’s current love, his 1958 Chevrolet Impala roadster. Yes, you read that right; the car was shortened 22 inches and has a 96½-inch wheelbase, with the rear axle set back one inch. It has a removable top, and its 1965 Thunderbird bucket seats offer comfort for two. The one-piece California bumpers, horizontal tube grille, custom sequential tail lights, custom console and Foose wheels complete the roadster’s look.

The Impala is now home to the prior Bel Air’s overdrive transmission, crankshaft, a heavily sought-after yo-yo Hurst shifter and high-performance Chevy 302 V-8 engine. Jim wanted to build this hot rod like the rodders of 1965, and it comes with a long list of quality performance modifications: 411 Posi for optimum acceleration (no one-wheel peels for this car), three-speed overdrive for smooth cruising, Edelbrock E-tech heads for increased air flow, a roller camshaft and Quick Fuel carburetor. Even better, he has had the car since 1964 and it was built in the back of his barber shop.

Jim even has a matching 1950s trailer to go with the Impala, a very handy item for long distance travel to car shows and swap meets when additional cargo space is needed. The car even has a Vintage Air, a powerful climate control system that adapts perfectly to the vehicle and gives the greatest level of comfort when traveling in hot summer heat.

Reactions to the Impala range from love it to hate it. “I couldn’t care less, it’s my baby,” Jim said. Some people are upset that a 1958 Chevrolet Impala was turned into a roadster, but the majority of onlookers ask him how he built it and admire the craftsmanship. Jim has met many new people at car shows because of this build. And, he said, “The ladies really like it.” The Impala is without a doubt a one-of-one car and completely tailored to what Jim had dreamed.

18 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Bigblox Oregon December 31, 2014 at 17:12
    This might just work if it was lowered (?)
  • 2
    art th barber ca December 31, 2014 at 17:40
    i,m a retired barber/hot rodder&i love 58 bel air's;had one 49 yr,s ago (orig blk;painted it poppy red;348w/troubleglide;later 3 speed;anyway i know about working on parts in the back of the shop;great looking car
  • 3
    Lowell Johnson United States December 31, 2014 at 18:01
    The only advantage I see is he probably got rid of the 2 piece drive shaft. I had lots of those Chebbies and the center support bearing always failed. I don't think it could handle the torque from a 348.
  • 4
    Ron(hot rod)Brooks El Cajon, CA. December 31, 2014 at 19:35
    This to me is no Roadster, a person could say he did a good job of ruining a good convertible..
  • 5
    Lowell Johnson United States December 31, 2014 at 19:51
    The only advantage I see is he probably got rid of the 2 piece drive shaft. I had lots of those Chebbies and the center support bearing always failed. I don't think it could handle the torque from a 348.
  • 6
    Michael Monahan Ontario, Canada December 31, 2014 at 20:40
    Beautiful concept and workmanship -- love everything but the wheels.
  • 7
    Jack Zinserling Liverpool, New York December 31, 2014 at 21:49
    I love it! Great idea and workmanship.
  • 8
    Ray Horn Windsor On. Canada January 1, 2015 at 13:30
    i thing it is the nices 58 i ever seen ... i would be the first to tell him that and i seen a lot of 58's
  • 9
    Dan Cave creek az January 1, 2015 at 02:12
    Jim discovered the only way a 58 Chevy can look good. And it does look good!
  • 10
    Ron Prescott, Az. January 1, 2015 at 15:26
    Normally I'm a purest, but I'm a guy who channeled a '39 Merc convert 9" and put a Caddy engine in it, in mid 50s! This '58 Impala looks GREAT, and if it ever went to auction, I'd be bidding on it!
  • 11
    JPFLTWD Ca. Not "Cali" January 1, 2015 at 16:05
    It took quite a bit of effort to make it all come together...but the end result is a bit "Cuban" car looking in it's proportions and ride height.
  • 12
    Patrick (pjmk65) Indiana January 1, 2015 at 18:27
    I find myself wondering if it could be done to a 59 Chevy without ruining the lines. Very nice job, the proportions still look good like it was done by the factory.
  • 13
    optiontown northern michigan January 1, 2015 at 00:46
    This is one sweet ride full of retro.Tons of imagination on this one.I love it!
  • 14
    Car Collector Chronicles SE Wisconsin January 2, 2015 at 11:13
    I for one, like it! If a car ever called for sequential turn signals, it was the Impala. Have always wondered why Chevy did not go the sequential turn signal route on Impalas. Probably too costly in the minds of the bean counters.
  • 15
    Herb Ward Clyde River PE Canada January 3, 2015 at 02:32
    Simply put....Beautiful car. Fantastic Job. :)
  • 16
    Mark Simpson Tampa Fl January 3, 2015 at 03:47
    I love cars that are different! If I see a full size '58 at a show, I might think it's nice; maybe nicer because of paint or wheels. But I see this '58 shortened roadster and to me, that's COOL. Different! Imagine going to one car show where all the cars in the show were this unique. What a show that would be!!!
  • 17
    Don Pierce Sr. Centennial, CO January 7, 2015 at 23:41
    I guess I would have done it as a resto-rod, but hey, I wouldn't knock work like this. Looks great to me.
  • 18
    Al Loncto Westhampton. Ma. March 11, 2015 at 23:49
    Move the rear end back some and lower the car, add some whitewalls and some better looking rims and then you'd really have something! Nice ride tho.

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