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1961 Chevy Impala - 'Readers' Pages

This Totally Rules!

Who: Mike McNessor (driver) Kim Sterrit (codriver)
Where: Albany, N.Y.
What: Propane-fueled '61 Impala with a 348, T10 four-speed, and 3.55:1 Posi rear. It finished 59th out of 70 in the '04 LaCarrera Panamericana road race. The Imp is rebuilt and street legal for competition in the Carrera's historic division, which means it's stone stock with the exception of a new wiring harness, an HEI distributor, an internally regulated alternator, a 10-point 'cage, junkyard bucket seats out of a Neon, 409 Impala springs front and rear, headers, and a dual 2.5-inch exhaust (sans mufflers). Retention of manual steering, manual drum brakes, skinny cheapo whitewalls, and questionable handling qualities makes for hours of driving excitement on Mexico's soaring mountain roads. It runs on propane, which has 104 octane.
Why: Who needs to ask why? This thing is as cool as it gets, and he's out there beating on it and going fast.

Top Down At Redline

Who: Ed West
Where: San Francisco, CA
What: '68 Chevy Chevelle SS396
Why: This guy bought the car when he was 18 in 1986, and it still only has 75,000 miles on it. JH Restoration in Riverside, California, rebuilt it for him, including paint by Doug Starbuck at Starside Design and a 396 by Dougan's Racing Engines. It's pretty stock except for 15x7 and 15x8.5 Stockton Wheels TQs and Diamond Back Classics redlines.

With An AMC Four-Door, How Much Punishment Can You Ask For?

Who: Ron Hallock, NAMDRA officer
Where: Carol Stream, IL
What: '69 AMC Ambassador SST sedan
Why: It runs low 13s on street rubber-13.13 at 104.75 mph to be exact. It has a 401 with Speed-Pro slugs, home ported heads, a "clearance sale" 238-at-0.050 Crower cam, Hedman 151/48-inch headers, and an 850 Holley atop a Torker intake. The TorqueFlite is loaded with a 3,200- stall converter, and the gears are 3.54:1 in a Model 20 rear with Twin Grip. The suspension has Prothane bushings and disc brakes from a '79 Spirit.

Five Boats For 6 Grand

Musclecar prices are insane, but there are plenty of opportunities for car crafting without laying out big bucks. While we all love musclecars, lots of enjoyment can be had from bigger cars with the same engines that are available for a fraction of the cost. Sure, they make better cruisers than drag cars, but many of us without the money, time, or skills to build an 8-second supercar actually prefer that. We just want a ride with style and a big-block rumble that we can hop up a little, take to the local cruise night, and drive around town to see and be seen.

I personally own five land yachts, four with big-blocks: two '70s Olds clamshell wagons, a '72 boat-tail Riv (shown), a '66 Toronado (don't mock the front-drive until you've felt the neck-snap from that 425), and a '78 Toronado (it's an ugly beater but you can't beat the cheesy Barcalounger seats for comfort in a driver, or the 403-weighted front-drive for traction in the rain and snow). I picked up all five of these over several years for a total of $6K, barely more than half the price of the least expensive real musclecar you can find.

My cars might not be everyone's idea of the perfect ride, but these are just examples. Car crafting is supposed to be about regular guys with regular cars. As musclecars gradually move out of the reach of regular guys, perhaps we should start looking beyond them to cars we can actually afford.Jim Cohen, Bethesda, MD

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