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.