Wrapped up: low-riding heavy hitter

Posted in Cars, People
Despite having owned nothing but Nissans, Aaron Wilkie had long dreamed of cruising in a low and slow Impala

Skylines, Silvias, Cefiros, and Laurels — not really the sort of names you’d normally see associated with the pages of NZV8 magazine, but that’s exactly what Hawke’s Bay resident Aaron Wilkie had in his garage for many years. Throughout this time of playing with four-bangers, straight-sixes, and a solitary quad-cam V8, Aaron had a plan to own some real American steel one day. That plan was inspired by rap videos and the ever-popular Cheech and Chong movie. What on earth do these things have in common? According to Aaron, the answer is 1963 Chev Impalas. 

With the knowledge that kids might be on the cards some time in the near future, Aaron knew that if he were to get the Impala he’d long wanted to own, it’d need to be a four door. As luck would have it, there was one for sale as an unfinished project in Auckland. Having a V8-powered Nissan Cedric at the time, Aaron asked the guy if he was interested in a swap. He was — but not for a Nissan. Instead, there was a Mercedes he had his eye on. Some quick thinking on Aaron’s part saw him contact the owner of the Mercedes to see if he’d be keen on the Nissan, which he was. A deal was done, and Aaron loaded the Merc onto a trailer for a trip north, where he swapped it for the Impala and a vanload of parts. 

Once home, Aaron and his wife, Carlena, started sorting through the bits to work out what was what, and exactly what was missing. At the same time, good mate and panel beater, Ricky Scott, was called upon to see if the body really was as ready for paint as Aaron had been informed. While the seller had been straight up with what parts were and weren’t there, the amount of panel work the Impala required was a whole lot more than anticipated. 

With the extra 200 or so hours of smoothing, filling, and sanding all looked after by Ricky, the car was sent around the corner to Lex Miller PSP Ltd, where the paint side of things would be looked after. Aaron first requested a coat of candy apple red, but, upon Lex warning him just how long that would last in the harsh Hawke’s Bay sunshine, he sought an alternative. That alternative was a Glasurit maroon as found on late-model Lexus. 

While Lex was working his magic with the paint, Aaron and Carlena continued to source parts for the giant jigsaw that lay ahead of them. Since the 350ci small block was out of the car anyway, it was dropped to friend Hayden Williams, who stripped the old internals and replaced them with various parts from the Eagle catalogue. The exterior of the engine was also treated to some upgrades in the form of an Edelbrock intake manifold, rocker covers, and an air cleaner, while a bunch of MSD ignition gear was also fitted. To make the most of the added power the new camshaft would give, a 650cfm Holley carb was mounted up top, along with a set of block hugger headers leading into a custom 2½-inch exhaust.

The aim for the car was never to have a huge amount of power, nor to be too badly mannered on the road. Instead, it was always to make it a reliable and fun cruiser; hence the Turbo 350 transmission being left stock, albeit rebuilt. Likewise, the 10-bolt diff with which the car rolled off the production line is still in place, complete with drum brakes fitted at each end. The front drums were removed during the build, however, and a set of HQ calipers and custom discs fitted, along with an aftermarket booster and master cylinder combo. 

It was the suspension side of things that took up the bulk of the build time, due to the complexity of making sure hydraulic suspension is up to certification standard. The CCE hydraulic rams that were fitted all round required a bunch of work up front, including repositioning the shocks, modifying the lower control arms, and the manufacture of custom coil springs. It was a similar story with the rear end, with CCE pumps also used, along with similar custom springs and Monroe shocks. Being an auto electrician by trade — Aaron runs Revolution Electrical — sorting the wiring for the four batteries the system requires was a simple task for Aaron. Before the boot could be trimmed up, a fifth battery was installed — not just for the audio system but for the car to run on, with some clever electronics ensuring this one always gets charged first. 

While Aaron was giving the car the benefit of his expertise, he deloomed the engine bay, installing a Davies Craig electric fan and controller while he was in there. The interior electronics also saw plenty of attention, as not only did Aaron fit a pair of Auto Meter gauges under the dash, he also added a tonne of audio equipment. Wanting to bring some bass up front, he installed a pair of eight-inch subs into modified kick panels, while, to give plenty of boom in the back, a pair of 10-inch items was fitted to the custom parcel tray. Each door got a set of six-inch speakers, components in the fronts and two-ways in the rears, the whole lot running off a pair of amps.

Having an uncle who owns Napier Auto Upholstery came in handy for Aaron with regard to trimming up the whole lot, including the custom panel work used to finish off the boot install. The finishing touches to the interior were a B&M floor-mounted shifter, and a Flaming River steering column and billet steering wheel.

Apart from the few unexpected hours of panelwork required, and the added hurdle of a daughter being born partway through the build, the whole thing went as smoothly as can be expected for a project of this size. 
What does Aaron think of it now he’s got the car he dreamed of owning for all those years? He loves it, and can’t think of a car he’d rather have built or be behind the wheel of. Now, he and the family are out clocking up as many miles as possible in it, and driving a Nissan is just a distant memory. 

1963 Chev Impala

  • Engine: 350ci small-block Chev, four-bolt mains, Eagle pistons, Eagle rods, Pro Comp gear drive, Edelbrock cam, Edelbrock intake, Holley 650cfm carb, Holley Blue fuel pump, Holley fuel pressure regulator, MSD distributor, MSD coil, MSD leads, block hugger headers, Flowmaster mufflers, 2½-inch exhaust, alloy radiator, Davies Craig electric fan and controller
  • Driveline: GM TH350 transmission, 10-bolt diff
  • Suspension: CCE hydraulic rams, custom coil springs, modified top arms, remounted shocks, Monroe shocks, Nolathane bushes, sway bars removed, twin CCE 24V hydraulic pumps, PG Hydraulics steering box and arms
  • Brakes: Aftermarket booster, HQ front calipers, drum rear
  • Wheels/Tyres: 22x9.5-inch Dcenti wheels, 235/30R22 and 255/30R22 tyres
  • Exterior: Shaved badges, LED tail lights, HID headlights, Glasurit paint
  • Interior: Full custom retrim, Flaming River steering column, B&M shifter, Auto Meter gauges, Dynamat insulation, Sony head unit, Sony Amps, 10-inch JBL subwoofers, JBL component speakers
  • Performance: Untested

Drivers: Aaron [and Carlena] Wilkie

  • Age: 34
  • Occupation: Auto electrician
  • Previously owned cars: Skylines, Silvias, Laurel, Cefiro, V8 Nissan Cedric
  • Why the Impala? Always loved watching Impalas on rap videos and the movie Cheech and Chong
  • Build time: Two years
  • Length of ownership: Three and a half years
  • Aaron thanks: Hayden Williams, for the engine work; Malcolm Wilkie at Napier Auto Upholstery; Ricky Scott, for the panel work; Lex Miller at Lex Miller PSP Ltd; Chris Newrick at Beresford Auto Repairs

This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 124. You can pick up a digital copy or a print copy of the magazine below:

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.