by Bill “Bird” Johnson #15357218
I bought my first new car in Wayne, MI in 1963. I wanted a 409 4-speed but I was only 20, and my dad would have to sign for the loan. Instead, I got a black on black ’63 Impala with a 327, 3-speed standard transmission. Tinted glass was the only option and it was backordered for 8 weeks. Oh well, it was still a new Impala!
Immediately, I customized the car by painting the side chrome stripe black, adding chrome reverse wheels, six taillights, blacking out the grille bars and installing a Hurst floor shifter. After destroying countless 3-speed transmissions (and clutches), I found a Muncie 4-speed and 4.11 gears. I also installed a Corvette dual four intake and WCFB carbs and finned valve covers. “Tunes” for the local cruise scene came from an ARC (RCA clone) 45 rpm record player.
In 1967, after rubbing the paint off the car with compound and Simonize, the emblems and stainless were removed, the holes were “leaded” and the car was repainted. I drove, raced and loved that car until ’71 when it was destroyed by a fire.
I started searching for a rust free ’63 Impala SS with a black interior in 1974. In 1975, I found this Impala in Coweta, OK. Originally sold at Wilkerson Chevrolet of Tulsa in September 1963, it was a top-of-the-line 327 automatic, white with black interior, padded dash, power steering and brakes, factory air, tinted windows and a black vinyl top. I bought it for $400, drove it for several weeks and then it sat for the next 12 years.
I knew that I would restore the ’63 and I knew what it would look like when completed. I just did not know when! I got all of the inspirations I needed in 1987 when I saw a black ’63 Chevy convertible at a car show in Dearborn, MI. My restoration started that winter.
The underside of the car was sandblasted and the suspension was completely rebuilt from the ground up. Charlie Smith of “Charlie’s Custom Colors” in Broken Arrow did the body work and applied the black lacquer paint. “Yogi” Hays of Inola, OK rebuilt the 327 engine with a 350 cam, Corvette finned valve covers, Offenhauser intake and a pair of Carter WCFB carbs in front of a Muncie 4-speed with 3.70 gears. The front seats were re-upholstered; black headliner and new black carpet were installed. A Sun tach was mounted in the factory housing, and six blue dots were installed in the rear tail panel. The outside of the car looked almost identical to my original Impala down to the missing front center valance panel. Only the Cragar wheels and the vinyl top were different.
I needed the RCA record player and chrome wheels to finish the restoration. A longtime friend (Glen Williams) still had an RCA record player from his black ’62 Impala SS and, I found a used set of chrome reverse wheels, which gave me the look I wanted.
In 1998, my wife’s co-worker sent me some pictures of his ’65 Chevy Convertible, which had a 409 dual quad motor in need of rebuilding. We made a swap and Bob’s Machine Shop in Hulbert, OK built the “W” motor that found its way between the fenders of my ’63. We added front disc brakes, fixed the firewall and Chuck Rowland installed a new interior.
By 2010, the 23 year old black lacquer paint was starting to crack and it was time to start over. Good friends Doyle and Linda Groat owned a body shop in Sand Springs, OK and we committed to returning the ’63 to its glory. The entire car was taken apart, stripped, sandblasted (unbelievably, it was virtually rust free) and painted with Spies Hecker Clear Coat, a stainless gas tank and new wiring were installed, and the frame repainted. The front and rear bumpers were welded into one piece and chromed and the rear cove moldings, taillight housings and the rear valance panel were all chromed. All stainless and chrome was polished or replaced. We started the frame-off project in May and it was on its way to the Goodguys event in Ft. Worth, TX in October
It was a head turner and trophy winner! Awards include: Modified Class win at the 1989 Late Great Chevy Nationals (the most exciting award at that time) and at the Super Chevy Shows in 1991, 1993, 1999, 2002 and 2011, Best Interior Driven award, Best Big Car, AMSOIL’s Best of the Best (full size 2011), Platinum Certificate at the International Convention in 2011 (best paint and scored 996 points.)
The ’63 has been featured in car enthusiast magazines including Late Great Chevy, Super Chevy, Chevy Rumble, Popular Hot Rodding, and All Chevy. In January 2011, Super Chevy Magazine began its 30-year anniversary celebration honoring its “Winners from the First 30 Years” series. My ’63 Impala was picked for the first of the series.