CALGARY — Grant Vessey says his two-door 1960 Chevrolet Impala served him well for 17 years and thousands of miles. With that kind of service, it’s inevitable that the vehicle would show signs of wear.
But the Calgarian was determined to keep the Impala on the road and began searching for a company to help accomplish that mission. That’s when, at the 2013 Calgary World of Wheels, Vessey met the Street Heat Hot Rods & Customs team. Vessey liked the modified cars Street Heat had on display, and after speaking to proprietor Bill Kerekes, booked his Impala in for some freshening up.
“Basically, I wanted it cosmetically redone and modernized,” Vessey explains.
Vessey originally bought the Impala in 1995 while on a business trip in Colorado. During one of his meetings the topic turned to cars and the owner of the Impala told Vessey it was for sale. The car had been modified with a 350-cubic-inch Chevy engine and a three-speed automatic transmission, but the rest of the running gear, including the drum brakes, was original. Although the interior was stock the body featured a hot rod paint job with traditional-style flames.
“Having stumbled across this Impala, I loved the shape and the lines and just thought it would be a great car to drive,” Vessey says.
And drive it he did. For all of those 17 years, during spring, summer and fall Vessey drove the Impala everywhere on a near daily basis, and his son used it, too. But in 2013, Vessey says the car was getting old and tired.
“The drum brakes were seizing up and it was starting to get some visible signs of rust,” he says, and adds, “But it’s a rare car; you don’t see many of the two-door Impalas at the car shows, and it means a lot to me so I wanted to get it redone.”
What started as a simple job became something bigger, however, when the extent of the rust damage was exposed. It was in the floorboards, the rocker and quarter panels and the trunk floor.
“I was surprised by the amount of rust,” Vessey says of the rotten metal in the car. “We originally didn’t think we’d have to go that far. But once we made that discovery, we decided there was only one way to do the job, and that was the right way.”
At that point, the body came off the frame and as Vessey says, no nut or bolt was left in place. Stripped down to bare metal, every rusted panel was cut out and fresh metal welded in place. The frame was blasted clean and refinished while all new drivetrain components were bolted in place, including a nine-inch Ford rear end, coil over springs and Wilwood disc brakes at all four corners. Up front, a 450 horsepower 383 cubic-inch engine with a stroked crank was mated to a 700R4 automatic transmission.
Kerekes’s son, Tim, painted the car with House of Kolors paint in Seabreeze Green with a Grecian Green roof and quarter panel inserts. An award-winning painter, Tim also updated the flames to a more modern ghost-style pattern. All of the stainless steel trim was straightened and the dents removed and the bumpers were sent to Victoria Plating in B.C. for show-quality chrome plating.
Inside, the interior was replaced with reproduction fabrics true to the original style and colours, and Classic Instruments supplied all new gauges. A Vintage Air air conditioning system was installed, and more modern conveniences were added including power door locks and power windows.
“It’s a brand new 2015 Impala from 1960,” Vessey says of the car that took 18 months to finish.
When it was done, Vessey showed the car at the 2015 World of Wheels, where it took first in its class. Now, three years later, Vessey will display the Impala at the 52nd annual Calgary World of Wheels that’s rolling into the BMO Centre at Stampede Park this February from Friday the 23th to Sunday the 25th.
“I’ve put 15,000 miles on the car since 2015, and I intend to drive the Impala until I can’t drive anymore,” Vessey says. “Then, it will be my son’s car, and hopefully after that my grandson’s car.”
At the World of Wheels, Vessey’s Impala will be part of the Street Heat exhibit. Established in 1988, Kerekes says his company is celebrating 30 years of building customs and hot rods. They also do the occasional complete restoration, such as the build they’re doing in honour of Bill’s dad, John Kerekes, who died in 2010.
“We built my dad’s 1987 Chevy truck back in 1988,” Kerekes says. “Now it’s going back to bone stock, with everything 100 per cent original.”
IF YOU GO
The 52nd annual World of Wheels is at the BMO Centre, Stampede Park. Several cars from the Fast and the Furious franchise will be on display, and other features include Zeeb’s Performance Battle of the Techs Engine Building Competition, Pedal Car Challenge, KUB’s Cup Car Rally and Vintage Alley. Celebrity showcase talent includes WWE star Jinder Mahal on Friday night, Dave Kindig of Kindigit Designs on Saturday afternoon and the Hanson Brothers from the Slap Shot movie on Sunday afternoon. Show hours are Fri. 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $6 children six to 12, and free for children under five. Auto Value Parts Store pre-sale tickets are $16 for adults and $5 for children. Check for more information.
Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or [email protected]