Wait a second. How did a high-dollar, pro-built, wannabe road racer sneak its way into a magazine that advocates the low-buck, do-it-yourself lifestyle? Easy answer: Deceptive appearances aside, Craig Murray's 1962 Chevy Impala is anything but a high-dollar, pro-built, wannabe road racer. To the contrary, it's actually a 100 percent homebuilt street machine that doesn't have to weave through a sea of cones to justify its existence. Just like most gearheads, Craig works on his own stuff because he can't afford to pay someone else to do it. He just happens to be a far more talented DIYer than the typical acetylene-torch-wielding hack, so stop hatin' and up your game. This right here is down-home hot rodding at its best.
To claim this Impala is homebuilt is a bit of a stretch. Craig actually did all the work out of a quaint storage facility that didn't even have running water. A typical two-car garage would have been luxurious in comparison. Steel sheds aren't fun places to spend time during a blazing Texas summer day, either. The ace up Craig's sleeve is that he's been in the collision-repair business his entire career. "As a kid, my whole family was into cars, and we worked on them because we didn't' have the money to buy new ones. All we did was work on cars, and it made us better mechanics," he explains. As hard as it is to believe, this Impala is Craig's first real project car. "I bought it in 1994, and it sat for 10 years before I started building it. There are just too many Mustangs, Camaros, and Chevelles out there, and other than Tri-Fives, not many people build fullsize cars. I really liked the idea of building a big B-body that performs like a smaller ponycar."
Although the car is a real SS, Craig didn't hesitate to rip out the original 327 and Powerglide for more modern hardware. In their place went a 556hp World Products 427ci small-block and a TCI TH400 transmission. Likewise, the X-frame chassis' antiquated suspension got replaced with a full RideTech setup front and rear. To complete the mechanical modernization, Craig swapped the stock 10-bolt rearend for a Currie 9-inch and installed Baer disc brakes at each corner. Granted the Impala looks the part of just another Pro Touring poser, Craig makes no bones about the fact that it's primarily a street cruiser. That kind of honesty is refreshing, to say the least.
While the updated running gear and suspension bits are impressive, it's the car's unbelievably straight lines, tight panel gaps, ripple-free paint, and fastidious attention to detail that keep the pro builders on their toes. "All it takes is time and patience. I probably have 3,000 hours into this car stretched out over five years, but most of that was drinking beer," he quips. "I've seen so many half-assed projects that have to get redone to fix all the mistakes from the first build, and to avoid that, I wanted to build this car right the first time. These Impalas have very large and flat body panels, so I had to spend 400 hours block-sanding it to get the body lines right. I pre-fit and assembled the body and trim twice to make sure everything fit perfectly, and tightened up the body-panel gaps to 3⁄16 inch."
The interior is arguably even more jaw-dropping than the outside. Like a true carnivore, Craig went through 10 cowhides to cover the seats, door panels, and trunk in sumptuous red leather. He sewed it all up himself, using decorative buttons and double stitching for an ultra-luxurious effect. The center console is a custom design as well, and Craig covered up the instrument panel and console with custom billet-aluminum accents and vents. "The stock center console doesn't touch the dash, so I made a custom unit with an integrated arm rest that flows into the dash as if it were a single piece. For the billet accent panels, I made cardboard templates, then had everything cut out on a CNC machine," Craig explains.
After you see Craig's Impala for the first time, it takes half an hour for the initial shock to subside. How something so nice can materialize from the efforts of one dude working out of a storage shed simply defies logic and prompts disbelief. We can't decide if we're more envious of the car itself or the mechanical abilities of the man who built it.
Who: Craig Murray
What: 1962 Chevy Impala
Where: Austin, TX
Engine: Striking a sweet balance between power and driveability is a World Products 427 crate small-block. It's based on a World Products block that's been bored to 4.125 inches, then fitted with a 4340 Eagle 4.000-inch crank, steel rods, and Manley 9.5:1 forged pistons. Airflow comes courtesy of Motown 220cc aluminum cylinder heads and a single-plane intake manifold. Metering the air and fuel flow in proper doses is a Fast EZ-EFI stand-alone engine management system and 4150-style throttle-body. An MSD billet distributor, coil, and plug wires provide the spark, while exhaust exits through Hooker 1.875-inch long-tube headers and dual 3-inch MagnaFlow mufflers. On the engine dyno, the combo spits out a respectable 556 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. Although the solid flat-tappet cam's specs are classified, we guesstimate duration specs in the 235–245 degree at 0.050 range based on the motor's displacement, idle quality, and peak horsepower rpm.
Transmission: Rather than having delusions of cross-country road trips and opting for a six-speed, Craig kept things real and bolted up a TCI Turbo 400 trans instead. It's matched with a PTC 3,500-stall converter that has enough give to lay patch on cruise night but is street-friendly enough to keep rpm reasonable on the freeway.
Rearend: To endure the strain of a stout 427 in a big B-body, the rearend of choice is a Currie 9-inch fitted with 31-spline axles, 3.55:1 gears, and a Detroit Truetrac limited-slip differential.
Suspension: The fully modernized underpinnings boast RideTech tubular control arms, adjustable shocks, and airbags at each corner. Hotchkis sway bars, measuring 1.5 inches up front and 1 inch in the rear, keep body roll in check.
Brakes: Since the task at hand is street cruising, not road racing, the Impala relies on modestly sized Baer brakes to slow down the tempo. Twin-piston calipers squeeze 13-inch rotors in the front, while single-piston clamps and 12-inch rotors get the job done in the rear. An electric booster provides power assist.
Wheels/Tires: A street machine of this caliber demands a set of memorable rollers, and a set of Intro Phantoms fit the bill nicely. The fronts measure 20x8.5, while the rears are 22x10.5. Providing the stick are Nitto 555 Extreme tires that check in at 235/35ZR20, front, and 295/40ZR22, rear.
Paint/Body: Overall, the Impala was in good shape when purchased. The only sheetmetal that needed replacement were the rockers, lower fenders, and lower quarter-panels. Craig re-shaped the quarters for additional clearance. Other custom touches include shaved antennae, mirrors, and rocker moldings as well as a smoothed firewall. Working in a cramped shed was tough, but Craig made it work.
Interior: The custom leather upholstery and center console are just part of overall interior design. The cabin is packed with modern conveniences such as a Vintage Air A/C system, a Kenwood stereo with GPS, big amps, power windows and door locks, Lokar pedals, a Billet Specialties steering wheel, and Dakota Digital gauges.