SEV­ENTH (GRADE) HEAVEN

Harry Funke built his Im­pala to im­press a mostim­por­tant 12-year-old: the one in­side him that never quite grew up

Chevy High Performance - - Contents - TEXT: Chris Shel­ton | PHO­TOS: Grant Cox

You never for­get your first time. Harry Funke re­mem­bers his. The goose­bumps. That tin­gling sen­sa­tion. But­ter­flies in his belly. The whoosh of adren­a­line as things got go­ing hot and heavy. How could he for­get that ride in his neigh­bor’s ’61 409 Im­pala?

“It was 1963 and I was in the sev­enth grade,” he fondly re­calls. “Been a car junkie ever since.”

But it’s an ad­dic­tion that’s done Harry well. It in­spired him to go into busi­ness for him­self (he owns Mor­gan-Bulleigh Inc., a trim shop in Wi­chita, Kansas). And he’s fed his ad­dic­tion over the years with var­i­ous projects, like his long-term ’57 Chevy.

And it was in the stor­age space for the ’57 that this story be­gins. Some­thing caught Harry’s eye. It was a ’62 Im­pala, a car not all that dif­fer­ent than the one that got his ball rolling as a kid. And it be­longed to the son of the orig­i­nal owner.

The car ar­rived to the space in 2003. It had the goods: at one point it went from white to sil­ver and the in­te­rior got dyed black. Though born a 283/ three-speed, it cur­rently had a 327 and a four-speed. And as the story went, it even had a 409 for a while. This car, it was a hot rod.

Later, Harry no­ticed some­thing else. The car sat. And sat. And sat some more. “Luck­ily, I started mak­ing in­quiries,” Harry says. Lucky be­cause the owner was get­ting ready for an­other change, this time a change of scenery. He was go­ing back to Nashville. “Stars lined up and I bought the car,” he says. “The rest is his­tory.”

Harry teamed up with Eric Soren­son to put the car back right. They ba­si­cally re­stored the car sort of in the like­ness of a hot car from the time when Harry was a kid. Typ­i­cal for that time pe­riod, they had Howard Van Slyke up­date the ex­te­rior color. For the in­te­rior, ev­ery­thing but the seat came from C.A.R.S. Inc. For the seat, Kevin Di­cus made a cover in ’60’s-pe­riod nar­row (half-inch) pleats us­ing restora­tion-grade turquoise and black vinyl from C.A.R.S.

Jack Gibbs built an­other 409 for the car, this time with a sig­nif­i­cant up­date (as a stroker no less). And rather than four, the trans­mis­sion now has five for­ward gears, the last one an over­drive to make the deep-geared Cur­rie 9+ rearend more high­way friendly. This time around the car got a com­plete cli­mate-con­trol sys­tem, only it does ev­ery­thing from be­hind the dash. Four-wheel discs make it stop bet­ter than it ever could’ve imag­ined pos­si­ble when new.

One could ar­gue that Harry Funke mod­i­fied his car to make it safe on mod­ern roads and keep up with traf­fic. That’s true. But I’m not will­ing to ac­cept that’s the only rea­son this car is this way. It’s too log­i­cal. And log­i­cal is bor­ing.

I pro­pose at least one more rea­son. Re­mem­ber the ’61 409 that be­longed to the neigh­bor? That thing was the row­di­est car in the world, at least to Harry the sev­enth grader.

But y’know what’ll dust off a ’61 409? Most sec­ond­hand cars nowa­days. Ask­ing a car to ful­fill the prom­ise made by a sev­enth-grader’s mem­ory is a tall or­der. But I have a feel­ing that Harry may have done just that. You can call it a resto­mod or what­ever, but I’d just as soon call it a hot rod time ma­chine. And I think he’d agree. CHP

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