A racer's cruiser: 1964 Chev Impala

Posted in Cars
When you own a performance tuning workshop, part of a race team, and have driven competitively for years, what better car could there be to unwind in than an Impala convertible?

 “It was my dream car; I’ve always wanted one. I just like the shape of the ’64s,” Paul Manuell says of his freshly completed Impala convertible.

Despite Paul having owned countless cars over the years, the Impala dream didn’t become a reality until four years ago. You see, with a seriously time-consuming race-car schedule and a number of business commitments all taking up more hours in the day than were available, the dream had to wait until the time was right.

With Paul’s kids getting to the age at which they, too, liked the thought of cruising in an American car as opposed to sitting trackside, he decided that it was now or never. With a good knowledge of what he was looking for, and without time to go building something himself, he decided to spend a bit more than he’d like to, but make sure the car he got was perfect. After finding what he was after in America, he asked a local company to inspect it to make sure it was all it was cracked up to be. On getting a glowing report back, a deal was done, and the car was his. 

A few weeks of nervousness and anticipation passed before the car landed, but Paul is not one to mess around — plans were in place to get the car straight to compliance and be on the road as soon as it arrived.

As we all know, fairy tales aren’t true, and neither was the report of the condition of the car. “It was an eBay disaster,” says Paul with disdain. “I should have gone over and checked it out … and I advise anyone who is looking at doing this to do that, no matter how busy you are. They screwed me big time.”

How bad could it be? Well, try imagining pieces of road sign welded into the bodywork and you’ll start to get the picture. In fact, it was so bad that Paul even toyed with the idea of scrapping it altogether. But, Paul being Paul, he was never going to give up that easily, and he wasn’t going to let any shonky Americans get in the way of his dream.

Instead, he embarked on a rebuild of monumental proportions. Sure, it may have left him with a hole in his wallet, but at least he knew it’d be done right. The big task was the bodywork, as, with the car in need of complete new quarters, sills, floor, boot, and more, it was a major task. For this, he employed an old-school panel beater who could fold, roll, cut, and weld new panels to perfection — the tricky part being that convertible rear quarters aren’t the same as the readily available hard-top ones, so plenty of custom work was required to make it all come together.

With the car stripped to a bare shell, and plenty of parts of the shell so rotten they were almost non-existent, you can only imagine the look on Paul’s kids’ faces when they checked up on progress. True to Paul’s promise to them, though, after 12 months of solid work, the shell began to start resembling a car once more.

While the metalwork was going on, Paul could get his teams at his businesses, Eastern Automotive Performance Centre (EAPC) and M3 Racing, into sorting out the rest of the package. With the body shaping up nicely, there was no way the motor that had come with the car was going back in. Instead, a brand-new 6.2-litre LS3 crate motor was purchased, into which the EAPC team installed one of their custom cams. With a 102mm Holley throttle body fitted for greater air intake, and custom 1-inch headers attached, the shiny engine sitting on a stand was more than enough inspiration to keep the project moving forward. 

Wanting to get the car sitting closer to the ground, Paul had his team of race engineers at M3 Racing set about fitting a custom airbag set-up. As part of this, custom front shock mounts were added, as were modified and strengthened rear control arms and more. 

It wasn’t till the body shell was back from Precision AutoWerk panel and paint, which looked after the finer details of the panel work and the full paint job, that Paul let himself get excited. With the panels now arrow straight and fitted up with a mix of new and repaired trim over a layer of charcoal paint, the car was starting to look as he’d always hoped it would.

When the car was placed back on the newly modified and painted chassis for the first time, there was an air of excitement. But that was nothing compared with the buzz all involved got when the LS3 was fired into life for the first time. With Flowmaster mufflers fitted and a custom tune taken care of, the car has to be one of the best-sounding old cruisers around. 

With another of his businesses being the sole New Zealand importer for PWR Performance Products, Paul understandably fitted as many of the products as he could. A massive PWR radiator, polished power-steering reservoir, PWR trans cooler, and more found their way into the mix. 

With the looks and mechanical aspects taken care of, the rest of the car was pieced back together by the EAPC team. While plenty of new bits were used throughout, the stock interior was deemed good enough. Look in the boot and you’ll see a pair of Viair air compressors mounted atop two large air tanks, as well as an impressive fuel system. Even with all this, there’s still plenty of room for luggage, and, with the family intent on heading to Beach Hop, it’ll all be needed.

Besides the interior trim, the only things remaining from the car as first purchased are the 18x8- and 22x10-inch Foose rims. 

While it may have cost more than he’d first hoped, and taken four years longer than expected, Paul couldn’t be happier with what he’s created. 

“The rust was hard going, but this is now not only a very special car but actually a new car. In theory, we could have scrapped it, but it has been worth it. I absolutely love the car, the noise, the look, the power, etc., and so does the family, which is cool,” he says. And with looks like this, and over 500hp on tap, it’d be hard not to love it.

So what next for this busy racer-come-businessman? Well, a ’59 Cadillac has been mentioned — but this time, we’re pretty sure he’ll be making the trip abroad to check it out himself, no matter what! 

Todd Wylie

Todd Wylie has been involved with NZV8 magazine since before the first issue was printed, and has been the editor for the last eight years. Growing up in the heyday of the Jap-import scene, he's not adverse to Japanese vehicles, having worked for NZ Performance Car previously, as well as owning a few well-known examples. These days he cruises at a slower pace in a 1956 Cadillac Coupe and dreams of building a Model A tudor.