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Weekly Motor Fix: Luke Orpwood’s tough as nails ’60 Impala

22 September 2015


We first caught sight of Luke Orpwood’s 1960 Chev Impala at Repco Beach Hop ’15, and it’s been etched into our memories ever since. While we were unable to do anything with it then, when we caught sight of it at the recent Kaikoura Hop, we just had to give it a spotlight feature at the very least.

It’s amazing how one car can get everything so ‘right’ by following such a simple recipe — it’s the ‘right’ shape, it’s low, and it sits tough over wide, Nascar-style steel wheels. Catch sight of this thing in your rear-view mirror, and the imposing sight will certainly justify the ‘GRIM’ number plates!

It wasn’t always a tough cruiser, though. Luke originally purchased the Impala in 2004, ex-Dalhart, Texas, while working in America for a stint, and suffice to say it was in nowhere near the condition in which you now see it. The Impala was then limped home to New Zealand, where it would undergo a stunning transformation, but if you’re thinking along the lines of a frog-to-princess fairy-tale makeover, you’re sadly mistaken — tough was the only outcome fate would allow.

To that end, the original 348ci W-block was retained. It’s been warmed-up down below, with a rebuilt bottom end and appropriately aggressive camshaft. Of course, the standout feature on the engine — other than those distinctive rocker covers — is the induction system, comprising a trio of Rochester double barrels on an original big block ‘tri-power’ intake manifold.

The mechanical glory doesn’t end beneath the bonnet, though — backing the big block is a Muncie M21 four-speed manual gearbox, wisely rebuilt to handle the additional brute force it will now be channelling. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a huge-cube V8 being manhandled through the gears, and this is exemplified at events like Beach Hop, where open headers are not just the norm, but almost actively encouraged.

It may seem like a small detail, but the four-speed is just one of those ingredients that adds up to have a disproportionate effect on the overall car. Just look at it — if you don’t see that then want to hop in and slam it through its gears, you must be broken! Thanks to the airbag suspension, the big Impala sits low over its wide steel wheels — essential for that tough ’60s Nascar look — and the functionality of the bags greatly helps the car serve a double purpose as usable cruiser, and menacing showstopper.

We’re glad we were finally able to take another look at this wicked machine, and bring you just a little look at the science behind what makes a cool car. It’s not in how much you spend, nor is it in the brand-name parts used in the build, but it’s in the overall vision for the car. Some people have it, some don’t — Luke Orpwood clearly does, and ‘GRIM’ is an incredible, raw testament to that.