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