SWAN­SONG

THIS ’61 CHEVY IM­PALA CUS­TOM HAS BEEN COL­LECT­ING AWARDS BUT WAS BUILT TO DRIVE

Street Rodder - - Tech - BY TIM BERNSAU ■ PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY ERIC GEIS­ERT

Most of the street rod­ders we meet were born with a love for cars. For many, ful­fill­ing that in­ter­est can re­quire some wait­ing. Reach­ing le­gal driv­ing age comes rel­a­tively soon, but can be an ex­cru­ci­at­ingly long wait for young en­thu­si­asts. And even though teenage gear­heads are thrilled to start driv­ing, own­ing their first car and own­ing the car of their dreams are al­most al­ways two en­tirely dif­fer­ent au­to­mo­tive mile­stones. That lat­ter mile­stone typ­i­cally re­quires more time, more money, and more wait­ing.

For Mike and Car­rie Swan­son, the wait was over in 2001. Their sons were grown and their in­ter­est in street rod­ding aligned with the re­sources to build some­thing cool. Their first street rod, a red ’46 Ford con­vert­ible, was the re­sult. A few years later, they wanted a se­quel—an­other red con­vert­ible, but a ’54 Chevy this time. Mike and Car­rie had a lot of suc­cess at car shows with the Chevy, which was fea­tured in these pages in 2009. (Check it out at hotrod. com/ar­ti­cles/0902sr-1954-chevy-bel-air.) After sell­ing that car, the Swan­sons de­cided to build their swan song.

A swan song, as ev­ery­one knows (after a quick Google search), is a no­table fi­nal per­for­mance. “I wanted to build a top-qual­ity car with all the mod­i­fi­ca­tions done at the high­est level,” Mike ex­plains.

“I started look­ing for a ’60s con­vert­ible, with the thought in mind of build­ing a full cus­tom,” he told us. Mike’s first choice was a ’62 Chevy. He says that he made of­fers on sev­eral but with no suc­cess. When he saw a ’62 con­vert­ible and a ’61 con­vert­ible parked next to each other at a car show, he com­pared and con­trasted the lines of each and fell in love with the ’61. Even be­fore his search was over, Mike spoke to Richard Sprol at Hot Rods & Cus­tom Stuff (HR&CS), Randy Clark’s shop in Es­con­dido, Cal­i­for­nia, about his plans. Sev­eral months later, the per­fect raw ma­te­rial turned up about 20 miles from the shop. It was a two-owner car, pur­chased by the sec­ond owner in 1962, and stored since 1995. The Im­pala con­vert­ible body was in ex­cel­lent shape and all the parts were in­tact. Upon ar­rival at HR&CS, the car was com­pletely torn apart. “We cre­ated a build sheet and or­dered an Art Mor­ri­son chas­sis and LS3 en­gine,” Mike says. “The pre­lim­i­nary build sheet was just that. Many changes were made as we con­tin­u­ally up­graded the build to truly make this our swan song car.”

The plan was al­ways to give the Chevy a full cus­tom look, and like many of the best cus­toms, the ex­te­rior mod­i­fi­ca­tions are taste­ful and low key. The em­blems and door han­dles have been shaved to clean up the lines, and the new side mold­ing was fab­ri­cated with a sub­tly dif­fer­ent shape. Two

fac­tory grilles were grafted to­gether to cre­ate a new piece, with turn in­di­ca­tor lights in­stalled be­neath. Com­pare this car with a stock ’61 Im­pala to see the im­prove­ment made by smooth­ing and tuck­ing the front and rear bumpers, re­shap­ing the li­cense plate pock­ets, and adding lower filler pan­els. Tail­lights from CON2R were frenched into the mod­i­fied deck­lid, and cus­tom tail­light mold­ing— with hor­i­zon­tal pieces be­tween the cir­clu­lar bezels—were added.

An Art Mor­ri­son En­ter­prises GT Sport chas­sis pro­vides the plat­form for the Swan­sons’ cus­tom Im­pala. Mike and Car­rie orig­i­nally wanted to achieve the proper on-the-ground stance with­out bag­ging, but as things came to­gether an air sus­pen­sion seemed like the best way to go. The front and rear coilovers were re­placed with a RideTech Ac­cuAir sys­tem with an Ac­cuAir ENDO-CVT tank and com­pres­sors mounted for easy ac­cess below the trunk floor. De­troit Speed rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing keeps things mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion. A Strange En­gi­neer­ing S-se­ries 31-spline Trac-Lok dif­fer­en­tial is packed with 3.70:1 gears spin­ning Strange axles, and lo­cated by a tri­an­gu­lated four-bar setup. Wil­wood disc brakes with drilled and slot­ted 12-inch ro­tors are plumbed to a Wil­wood dual master cylin­der and pro­por­tion­ing valve and Hy­drat­ech booster. Rolling stock com­bines 20x10 and 18x8 Venom se­ries wheels from Schott Wheels with Pirelli P Zero Nero tires mea­sur­ing 265/40R20 and 235/40R18.

Mike said that find­ing the right paint color was a chal­lenge. After own­ing a cou­ple of red cars, he and Car­rie thought about chang­ing things up and choos­ing blue this time. “She wanted a medium blue and I wanted a dark blue,” he told us. “We com­pro­mised and went back to ma­roon. Let’s face it, we

are red peo­ple.” In ad­di­tion to be­ing “red peo­ple,” the Swan­sons are true blue USC foot­ball fans and this cus­tom candy mix—they call it Tro­jan Wine—is close to USC’s car­di­nal color. Andy Meeh at HR&CS painted the Im­pala us­ing House Of Kolor paint. Chrome was han­dled by Ad­vanced Plat­ing.

The paint is con­trasted by the ’15 Corvette Kala­hari fab­ric con­vert­ible top, cre­ated by Mark Lopez at El­e­gance Auto In­te­ri­ors. Lopez used two-tone Kala­hari leather to cover the six-way power bucket seats, trans­planted from a Lexus SC400.

The Ger­man loop car­pet is a close shade. Two ’61 dashes were mod­i­fied and grafted to­gether so that the dash fea­tures two sym­met­ri­cal coves in­stead of Chevy’s de­sign of one long driver-side cove. The Dakota Dig­i­tal VHX gauges are painted to match the up­hol­stery. Mike Cur­tis De­sign cre­ated the pas­sen­ger side dash badg­ing in­cor­po­rat­ing the Swan Song name, in ad­di­tion to the horn trim on the CON2R steer­ing wheel mounted on an ididit tilt col­umn. The door pan­els are dressed up with fab­ri­cated in­serts and N.O.S. han­dles and arm­rests. A Vin­tage Air Gen IV A/C unit blows cool air through el­lip­ti­cal vents from Clay­ton Ma­chine Works. Bil­let Spe­cial­ties sup­plied the ped­als. A clock, A/C con­trols, and Cadil­lac shifter are housed in the cus­tom con­sole. Car­los Ro­driguez at The Art of Sound in­stalled the state-of-the- art sound sys­tem, which uti­lizes a re­mote switch or cell phone to con­trol vol­ume and chan­nels, and Blue­tooth tech­nol­ogy to feed the Rock­ford Fos­gate am­pli­fiers and speak­ers. A Pain­less Per­for­mance Prod­ucts wiring har­ness, in­stalled by HR&CS, en­sures that all com­po­nents are func­tion­ing.

The in­te­rior themes carry over into the en­gine com­part­ment, home to a 430-horse LS3 crate en­gine. HR&CS built the in­take tubes chan­nel­ing fresh air to the K&N air fil­ter. Art Mor­ri­son head­ers were cus­tom built to fit the chas­sis and flow into an HR&CS ex­haust sys­tem. Cus­tom coil cov­ers were fab­ri­cated by Green­ing Auto Com­pany in Nashville. A Vin­tage Air Front Run­ner kit dresses up the front of the en­gine, and a Matt­son ra­di­a­tor with dual SPAL fans keep ev­ery­thing cool. The 4L65E trans­mis­sion tied to an Ocean­side Driv­e­line cus­tom drive­shaft de­liv­ers up­wards of 425 lb-ft of torque to the rear. Mike and Car­rie spent 2018 do­ing the show cir­cuit with their Im­pala, start­ing with the Grand Na­tional Road­ster Show, where Swan Song col­lected a pair of awards. At the Goodguys Spring Na­tion­als the car nailed down a fi­nal­ist spot for Cus­tom Rod of the Year. We saw them again at Hot Au­gust

Nights in Reno, where they were in com­pe­ti­tion for the pres­ti­gious

Hot Au­gust Nights Cup award— and where they earned a STREET RODDER/ Pain­less Per­for­mance Prod­ucts Top 100 pick. In 2019, they are plan­ning to stick to lo­cal shows that they can drive to. They’ve been wait­ing a long time to drive the car of their dreams. The wait is over.

THE SWAN­SONS ARE TRUE BLUE USC FOOT­BALL FANS AND THIS CUS­TOM CANDY MIX IS CALLED TRO­JAN WINE.

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