Restoring Dan Gurney's Impala – Parts for the course
The third and final part of the story: the Chevrolet Impala SS nears the end of its journey to the Goodwood Revival, but it hasn’t been without its problems…
1955-65 inner fender heater hose retainer, bolt on.
1961-64 trunk hinges hardtop and sedan.
1961 front licence panel.
1955-62 voltage regulator.
1960-67 headlight set.
1958-62 interior rear view mirror
1961-64 exhaust manifolds.
The list is endless…
Airlines have been kept quite busy over the past few months shipping an extraordinary number of parts for a 1961 Chevrolet Impala SS from the US to the UK. The sheer number took me by surprise, so I actually counted them up: 101 parts have come from America while a further 15 or so have been sourced in the UK.
To be fair, the costs are not what you’d think for a 1961 American muscle car. A full set of headlights? £102. Alternator? £60. Radiator? £315. They do mount up, though, especially when the SS badge, which goes on the rear quarter, comes in at £210. Two hundred and ten pounds?! I have paused here, wondering whether to be open about the full cost… The parts have cost £18,000 in total, but that does include a correct, rebuilt 6.7-litre V8 engine with 450bhp and 440lb ft of torque. It also includes the shipping and tax… It’s some way short of budget, which is a relief.
The team at Jordan Racing Team (JRT) has been amazing during the process, especially Liam, who has done the vast majority of work on the car. Not only has he not been stumped by anything, he’s also put up with many late-night messages from me asking about the state of the car. “Have you had any thoughts on tyres? Should we try Avons? Or something else? What does the 7.60 refer to?” Poor Liam, I think he’s looking forward to returning to normal duties at JRT. Gurney ran the car on Blue Streak Goodyears, but they’re not made in the right size anymore so the hunt has been on for something that looks right, and is legally allowed to be used on the road.
Part of the problem with the restoration came when we decided to return it to the exact specification that Dan raced it in. He raced with bench seats, a radio, carpets and even all the original glass so we had to find all the small parts that came with the road car when new. Small things like the cardboard backing to the glove box and window seals soon started mounting up. Another challenge has been registering the car for the road over here. That’s another story… Still, I’ve got imitation plates made up for the Revival that match exactly what Dan had, and I am now hunting for the owner of the ‘VHX 874’ registration in the UK.
The plan is to drive the car from JRT in Tamworth, to Silverstone, where we will hopefully drive it round the track for the first time in 57 years. I tried to persuade Alex Gurney, Dan’s son, to come over, but he’s flat-out with All American Racers. Despite how busy he is, he wrote a very polite reply to me: “My Dad beamed every time he mentioned the Impala,” he told me. “That whole adventure of going to Silverstone was one of his favourite stories and he told it over and over again. It meant so much to him to go and challenge the Jags and, when he spoke of the wheel problem on the last lap, even 50 years later, it bothered him as if it was yesterday. He was still so proud to have given it a go.”
I’ll then drive from Silverstone to Goodwood and during the Revival, Dario Franchitti will drive the car on track. I very specifically asked Dario as he’s someone who not only loves the history of the sport, but who knows the Gurney family and is a big admirer of them.
As part of the restoration process I’ve also been collating as much coverage of the car as possible, and it’s extraordinary how much actually exists. Alongside words in a couple of copies of Motor Sport, several issues of Autosport and the likes of Hot Rod, Sports Car, Road & Track, and Rod & Custom, David Weguelin amazingly found 8mm film of the British Empire Trophy saloon car race in 1961. Not only that, it was filmed in colour and the whole two-minute piece was based around the Impala. Watch this space as we’re doing some video content on the car soon.
The whole process has been as eye opening as it has been enjoyable. I can’t help but think it’s been easier than many people told me it was. My father’s mantra of ‘never buying a car unless you can drive it around the block’ has been ringing in my head throughout, but the project has gone remarkably smoothly. To be fair, that has nothing to do with me and more to do with JRT and the parts suppliers in America. They have been extraordinarily helpful and efficient.
Hopefully see you all at the Revival on September 7-9: We’ve got straight pipes on the car so I may be slightly hard of hearing by the time we get to Goodwood.