Cruisin’ to the beach in his six-four, Bradley West has defied the odds, turning a rusty wreck into one of the country’s best summer cruisers
Happily ever after seems like a myth. Some people will spend untold hours and sums of money in search of it, only to fall disappointingly short. A handful of others are lucky enough to find it, whether by determination, hard work, or some other phenomenon more akin to luck. Whatever it is, Bradley West sleeps easy at night knowing that, against all odds, his ’64 Impala ragtop has somehow given him a happily ever after story.
It all started when Bradley purchased the ’64 from a mate. “Brodie Smith was selling her before he moved to Australia,” Brad recalls. “I thought it would be a cool first old car to buy and get on the road, and, after having a look at it, I bought it two days before going on holiday to Thailand.”
You’ve got to take the good with the bad, though, and after what was undoubtedly a fantastic time overseas, Bradley returned to the real world — one where his $10K rebuild expectation was brutally shot to the ground with one sideways glance by Phil of Fraser St Panelbeaters. “He took one look at it and basically told me she was a mess! He recommended I get the shell sandblasted, and we’d go from there,” says Bradley.
That was all before the plan snowballed out of control, though — at that stage, Bradley still intended to get the body sorted and put everything back together, retaining the original red vinyl interior, 283ci V8, and Powerglide transmission. Progress thus entailed Bradley spending innumerable hours in the shed, stripping everything from the shell, and finding too much fibreglass, pop-riveted ‘patch panels’, and more terrible repairs than he cares to remember.
Eventually, she was ready to trailer down to Rod and the team at Thames Valley Blasting. The car spent a day in the booth, being blasted by JR, after which Rod made a panicked call to Bradley, explaining that there wasn’t much car left!
Undeterred, Bradley pushed ahead, stripping the doors, bonnet, boot lid, front guards, and other bolt-on panels at home. Eventually, these were ready to be etch primed, before being taken to Phil for a look-see, as well as a re-evaluation of the original plan. A list of available and required panels was made, before Kendyl at Speedshed in Cambridge was tasked with sourcing them. With a pile of parts trickling in, the Impala was returned to Phil, who, over the next 18 months, performed substantial repair work to return the car to a presentable state.
Meanwhile, the rethought plan of attack meant Bradley questioned retaining the asthmatic old small block, let alone the bulky dinosaur of a transmission to which it was bolted. A venture onto Trade Me saw Bradley end up with an LS1-powered HSV ClubSport that had been written off in a garage fire. While the car itself was toast — no pun intended — the engine, transmission, and related electrics had escaped relatively unscathed.
LS1-into-Impala engine mounts were easily sourced online, as was a suitable rear-sump oil pan. But, while Brad was searching Trade Me for other LS1 parts needed, he stumbled across a very cool individual-throttle-body (ITB) set-up to suit. Originally built by Racefab in Christchurch, and using two sets of Toyota 4A-GE ITBs, the set-up had been used on D1NZ competitor Johnny Latham’s Mazda RX-7 drift car, only being removed after he decided to go supercharged. The ITB deal was taken care of, and Bradley had Phil Hutty, the metal-spinning wizard, whip up a set of alloy intake trumpets to finish it off.
With the LS1 cleaned up and painted, that intake combo installed, and a more suitable camshaft and valvetrain sourced from Kelford Cams, Bradley felt a bit bad about installing it into the factory engine bay. As such, he decided to give the engine bay a complete overhaul, removing the heater box, filling any excess holes, and smoothing the firewall to perfection. Once this was done, the reins were handed over to Mikey Samuelson, who stripped the entire thing back to bare metal in preparation for Bradley’s planned paint job.
With the body on a rotisserie, allowing the undercarriage the same attention to detail that would the top would receive, Bradley rolled the chassis home to give it the works. This entailed all-new everything, not to mention detailing the whole lot to perfection. Just as important, given how far the project had now come, was getting the stance perfect. Joel at Lowrider NZ supplied a bolt-in airbag kit comprising Firestone airbags, Ridetech mounting brackets, and two Viair compressors, all controlled by an AccuAir E-Level air-management system, topped off with a set of Classic Performance Products (CPP) two-inch drop spindles up front.
The final piece of that puzzle was sorted through the power of the internet. A friend of Bradley’s let him know that he’d seen Truespoke USA list a set of rebuilt Truespoke 45-spoke wire wheels on Facebook. As soon as he saw the listing, Bradley was all over them. “Hundred spokes never interested me, and I felt these were the perfect wheel for the car,” he says — and you can’t deny that it looks nothing short of amazing.
Speaking of amazing, how about that paint? Despite the intensive overhaul, the hardest thing to do was exactly the same problem faced by almost every other vehicle owner — deciding what colour to go for. “My original plan was gunmetal grey with a black roof and interior, although it nearly went a purple-black or a silver, before Mikey convinced me to go with my original styling ideas,” Bradley says.
Whatever direction Bradley went, there’s no way that Mikey would have completed it to a standard less than perfect, and the crowning feature of that silky smooth finish is the intricately applied baroque filigree patterning adorning the bonnet, dash top, and boot lid. Finally, the body could be reunited with the chassis, for the last big push towards completion. The next year was spent piecing everything together, including the piles of brightwork, all of which had been either replaced, re-chromed, or polished to perfection. With Repco Beach Hop 16 rapidly approaching, the heat was turned up a notch. Paul at
The Lakes Automotive was given the job of getting it all running, and the first port of call was Glen at Eze Auto Electrics, who gave it a full rewire. With that done, Gav at Precision Workz Engineering modified the ‘bolt-on’ exhaust kit to actually fit the car. He also crafted a few custom parts to complete the conversion. Meanwhile, Regal Automotive was shortening and refurbishing the driveshaft, in time for a massive weekend with Paul, Adam from Ezi Mechanical Services, and Bradley tucking in to get it all going.
“We first turned the engine over late on Saturday night,” Bradley recalls, “and, over the next few weeks, we finished the running and driving side of things, before it went to Dtech Motorsport to get the factory ECU [engine-control unit] reflashed.” The Impala returned home with just two weeks to spare — and no interior trim in sight. So, who else to turn to than Greg Mather at Midnight Upholstery! All of the remaining weekends were spent with Greg, as he completed the seats, carpeting, and roof. “We finished it at 7.30pm on Monday night, before loading it and leaving for Beach Hop at 8pm,” Bradley states — mission accomplished!
The following few months saw the Impala on hold. The push to make it to Repco Beach Hop 16 meant that everyone was well overdue for a break! Of course, with just the finishing touches needing to be done, Bradley couldn’t leave the job unfinished. The VIN and certification process was commenced to get it all legal for the 2016–’17 summer, and, once that was completed, the factory ECU was ripped out in favour of a Link G3+, updated with Link G4 firmware, and a retune to get the ITB set-up running more smoothly.
Greg hadn’t seen the last of the car, either. The boot trim was completed to match the rest of the interior, and finished off with beautiful hard lines for the airbag system, bent up by Adam at Ezi Mechanical Services, and polished by Toby at BOP Polishers. With the last thing crossed off the to-do list, all that was left was for Bradley to enjoy the summer, cruising to the nearest beaches with the top down. Happily ever after isn’t always a myth.
Occupation: Company director / civil engineer
Previously owned cars: Nothing worthy of noting in NZV8! Plenty of turbo Jappas, including Subaru STi Type R, Subaru Forester, two Subaru Legacys, Subaru Impreza, SR20DET-powered Mitsi L200, etc.
Dream car: Too many to choose from, but you can’t beat this one on a sunny day!
Why the Impala? A mate was selling it, and it looked like a cool car that didn’t need too much work …
Build time: Four years
Length of ownership: Four-and-a-half years
Bradley thanks: My partner, Amanda, for all the help, putting food on for me, and everyone who helped, and putting up with never-ending nights in the shed; Mum, Dad, Logan, and Ryan, for the support; John, for the shed and help; Brad, Killer, Floppa, Brenton, Mikey, Phil, Hayden, Gurj, Troy, and all the other boys who lent a hand, drank a beer, offered advice, or sat and watched me work; Rod and JR at Thames Valley Blasting; Phil and Renee at Fraser St Panelbeaters; Mikey Samuelson, for the paintwork; Greg at Midnight Upholstery; Dtech Motorsport, for the tune; Willie at Willie’s Transmissions Limited, for the gearbox build; Reece at Alltranz, for supplying gearbox parts; Adam at Ezi Mechanical Services, for the head rebuild and various other bits; Spun by Hutty, for the trumpets; Toby at BOP Polishers; Ryan Dukes in the US, for parts and advice; Skim in the US, for trim and chrome work; Mat at Monaco; Paul and Leone at The Lakes Automotive, Tauranga; Glen at Eze Auto Electrics; Brian and Liz at Ajays Ford V8s, for shipping parts; Brenton, for the transporter trailer; Gav at Precision Workz Engineering, for exhaust and fab work; Fish and Andrew at Kopu Engineering, for fab work; Joel at Lowrider NZ, for the AccuAir; Simon at Airride NZ; Jase and Kendall Haultain, for providing parts and advice; Chris Harrison, for endless questions and advice; Miranda at Repco Thames; Ben at Nicholsons Holden Whakatane; Neil Miller, for the cert; Dave at Truespoke USA; the Pinnacles Civil team; David at AA Auto Advantage, for the VIN; Brodie, for selling me the sack!
1964 Chev Impala SS Convertible
Engine: 5.7-litre LS1, Kelford 232/234 camshaft, LS7 hydraulic lifters, Kelford Cams beehive valve springs, custom ITB intake manifold, Toyota 4A-GE blacktop throttle bodies, custom trumpets, knock-sensor delete plate, Tanks Inc replacement fuel tank, in-tank electric fuel pump, Corvette fuel filter, Corvette fuel-pressure regulator, 300cc fuel injectors, braided fuel lines, custom fuel rails, MSD ignition leads, Diamond Joe stainless-steel headers, 2½-inch MagnaFlow stainless-steel exhaust, Fenix twin-pass alloy radiator, twin thermo fans, transmission oil cooler, polished water pump, Link G3+ ECU
Driveline: GM TH700R4 automatic transmission, upgraded frictions, Z-Pak clutches, The Beast drive shell, shift kit, wideband overhaul kit, factory GM 10-bolt diff, LSD centre
Suspension: Firestone airbags, CPP two-inch drop spindles, relocated front shock mounts, Monroe shocks, Ridetech brackets, AccuAir E-Level air management, AccuAir VU4 valve manifold, twin Viair air compressors, polished hard lines, uprated front sway bar, new bushes
Brakes: Wilwood master cylinder, Wilwood proportioning valve, front disc-brake conversion, Scarebird brake adapter kit
Wheels/Tyres: 14×7-inch Truespoke 45-spoke wire wheels, 175/70R14 tyres
Exterior: Custom paint
Interior: Custom retrim, modified factory SS floor shifter, hidden Auto Meter gauges, lace-painted dash top, RetroSound Model Two head unit, Pioneer mono amplifier, Pioneer four-channel amplifier, twin 12-inch subwoofers, Pioneer component speakers, custom kick panels
Performance: 400hp at the wheels (approx.)
This article originally appeared in NZV8 magazine issue No. 145 — to get your grubby mitts on a print copy, click the cover below: