If you’re into rolling low and slow, there’s no better ride than a ’64 two-door — featured in NZV8 Issue No. 50 (July 2009)

Throughout life, most men need to make sacrifices at one point or another for the greater good, whether that be family, friends, or otherwise. Hopefully, and if all goes well, said sacrifices pay off and are rewarded. In multi-award-winning architect Andrew Lister’s case, things have certainly worked out quite nicely, as he explains.

“My wife is a film-maker [Niki Caro, of Whale Rider fame], and a few years ago she took a job in the States writing and directing a movie called North Country. I decided to give up my architecture practice and move over to be a full-time dad while the film was being made.” The movie, which earned actresses Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand Oscar nominations, had a script which required a vehicle that, in Andrew’s opinion, just did not suit. “It just wasn’t right,” he says. “I told Niki, and got her to rewrite it, swapping the original car with a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS. I helped the film find the right one, and instead of renting it for the gig, Niki decided to buy it and give it to me — I think as a sign of appreciation for me giving up my business, and for the support I gave her. Even better, now that I owned the car, the studio had to rent it off me — it was quite a nice win-win situation.”

Although much of the footage of the SS was eventually left on the cutting room floor, Andrew’s then-factory-standard ’64 still makes a few appearances in the critically acclaimed film, which is sure to make it a nice little memento in the coming years. 

Once the Stateside job had finished, Andrew couldn’t bear to part with the beautiful hard-top and decided to pack it up and bring it back to New Zealand with the rest of the family. 

As a long-time low-rider fan, Andrew had himself the ultimate vehicle with which to build something special. “The ’64 hard-top two-door SS has been my dream car for over 20 years now, and if you know anything about low-rider culture, you’ll know that this year and model is the ultimate,” Andrew says. Apparently, although ’58 to ’64 Impalas are popular in the scene, the ’64 coupe is the pick of the bunch as it has the fewest curves, looking like a big single slab of metal, especially when laying frame on the ground. 

Although the low-rider scene here in New Zealand is quite a small one, it is very strong, with the Kiwi club Old Skool Rydz (OSR) at its centre. As a prominent member of OSR, it only stands to reason that Andrew needed one of the best examples of six-four style in the country, not to mention one of the few hard-top coupes. So, not long after arriving back in the homeland, work began on the Impala, starting under the hood.

Considering the ethos behind a car of this type is ‘low and slow’, Andrew had no need for huge power, simply wanting a nice, reliable, and smooth V8 powerplant. Sitting between the front guards is an original, numbers-matching 327ci small block, which has recently been completely pulled apart and refreshed by Richard at Barry Clarke Automotive West, who restored it to original condition. 

Respiration has also been improved with the addition of an Edelbrock four-barrel carburettor, an Edelbrock Performer Endurashine manifold, and a full Flowmaster exhaust system. Barring an MSD ignition system and a large amount of chrome detailing, the engine bay remains unmolested, as does a factory reconditioned Powerglide two-speed transmission.

Next up, it was off to see Jeff at Shardlow Panelbeaters, for arguably the most important stage in this Chev’s transformation: the bodywork. Once the body was brought back to the state at which it was deemed perfect, a unique coat of custom champagne gold metallic was applied. Before layer upon layer of clear sealed the colour, the car also received some very nice gold leaf and pinstriping, giving it that one-off, custom Cali low-rider look. The final touch is an original, factory continental kit hanging off the back bumper, which Andrew managed to bring back to New Zealand in his carry-on luggage during a more recent US trip.

For a lo-lo of this quality, the ’64 has a surprisingly basic suspension system, consisting of a single CCE hydraulic pump and a pair of Supercharge deep cycle batteries feeding eight-inch cylinders in the rear, while the front end has simply been resprung with a set of Jag springs and Pedders shocks. “I’m happy with how low the car sits now,” Andrew says. “If I juice the front end, I have to do some chassis strengthening work too, or the frame and bodywork gets seriously damaged. I’m not really a fan of the whole hopping and bouncing my car thing, so it isn’t really a big priority at the moment.” 

And what is this hardcore old-schooler’s opinion on the more common airbag alternative? “Airbags are fine for certain cars, but hydraulics are where low-riding culture began, and that’s where it will stay. I guess I view airbags as the soft option for people who aren’t committed enough to chop up their car; it’s safe to say you need to be committed to run hydros. Although people say fitting them ruins the ride, it’s like anything: do it properly, with good equipment, and it’s perfectly fine.” 

James Hope was the man who did the suspension work on the car, and is pretty much the only guy in New Zealand who does hydraulics to a level at which they can be certified for road use. To allow enough clearance to get the car super-low to the ground, the factory rims have been swapped for tiny 13x7-inch LA-Wire 100-spoke rims, which, when fitted with equally small 155/80R13 Cooper Trendsetter whitewall tyres, tuck nicely up inside the unmolested guards.

As far as interior goes, Andrew is a fan of the simple and clean look, and he had the interior
re-trimmed in original black vinyl while the car was still in the States. Apart from oil, water, and voltage gauges from IISPRO, the Chev’s interior looks as factory as the day it rolled out of Detroit. 

Now dubbed ‘Ghetto Blaster’ for its resemblance to a mobile sound system, the ’64 constantly cranks old-school hip-hop, the other great love affair in Andrew’s life. At the heart of the system sits an Alpine CDA7865R head unit, sending signal to a pair of powerful amplifiers. These power Alpine 6.5-inch two-way components, twin Soundstream T4 subwoofers, and 6x9-inch JL speakers. To say the Impala is very loud would be a serious understatement. 

And, though we are very aware that low-riders like Andrew Lister’s may not be to all NZV8 readers’ tastes, there is no denying that this ’64 two-door hard-top is a beautifully built machine, faithful to an eccentric and fascinating subculture that’s popular the world over. 

Although Andrew had to give up a lot for his family, you only need to see the man driving his immaculate machine past the beaches over summer, pumping out his favourite old-school hip-hop tracks, to see the world has a way of balancing itself out. Is that what they call karma? 

1964 Chev Impala

  • Engine: 327ci small block Chev V8, Edelbrock four-barrel carb, Edelbrock Performer Endurashine manifold, MSD HEI distributor, MSD leads, Flowmaster exhaust system, chrome dress-up kit
  • Driveline: GM Powerglide two-speed auto
  • Brakes: Factory drums
  • Suspension: CCE single hydraulic pump set-up, eight-inch cylinders with custom hard-lined tubing, two Supercharge deep cycle batteries, Pedders air shocks, CCE two-ton rear springs, Jag front springs
  • Wheels/tyres: 13x7-inch LA Wire 100-spoke chrome rims, Chev engraved knock-offs, Cooper Trendsetter 155/80R13 whitewalls
  • Exterior: Custom champagne gold metallic, gold leaf, pin-striping, factory continental kit
  • Interior: Black vinyl re-upholstery, original SS steering wheel and shifter, IISPRO gauges, chromed dashboards
  • Audio: Alpine CDA7865R head unit, Alpine 6.5-inch two-way components, two Soundstream T4 subwoofers, 6x9-inch JL Audio speakers, two Soundstream PCX1500D amplifiers
  • Performance: Low and slow

This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 50. You can pick up a print copy of the magazine below: