Triple Crown of Rodding: Best Street Cruiser
By Brian Brennan – Photography By John Jackson
Artwork By Tavis Highlander
If there was ever a ‘61 Chevy Impala bubbletop that has captured hot rodders’ attention nationwide it’s Dan Duffy of Marietta, Georgia’s Chevy built by Big Oak Garage (BOG). It should also be mentioned that it has brought home the awards to warrant this attention. The ’61 Chevy Impala bubbletop has taken home Goodguys Custom of the Year, helped BOG, under the direction of Will Posey, take home Builder of the Year and a Meguiar’s Top 12. It was also a multi-award winner at the Grand National Roadster Show by capturing the Sam Foose Design Award and the Sid Chavers Stitch of Excellence honor. Added to this it won the “Go For The Gold” Award at Darryl Starbird’s National Rod & Custom.
However, there is one more significant award to mention and one to hope for. The ’61 Chevy also won Triple Crown of Rodding’s Best Street Cruiser award and as such received an automatic invitation to the Barrett-Jackson Cup in Scottsdale, Arizona, in January 2023. Here it will compete for $20,000 and other notable prizes.
When looking at this Impala it becomes apparent the sheetmetal has been reworked … imaginatively. At one time or another we have seen hoods that are pie cut, we’ve seen bodies sectioned, but in this case how about a wedge section taken out of our ’61?
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OK, you are thinking, “Where was the sheetmetal taken out of the front of the car?” It wasn’t. The wedge section was installed, not removed, from the rear to accommodate the W 409 engine. What? Yep, because of the packaging requirements of the 409, which as we all know is noticeably taller than any of the conventional modular motor power plants.
How was this achieved? The rear quarter-panel sheet metal was heightened (vertically) by approximately 2-3/4 inches. From here the door skins and rocker panel portions were matched while the handmade roof was wedge chopped ¾ inch and then the body was channeled over the frame some 1-1/4 inches. By making the appearance of the rear of the car look to be taller, the front begins to look lower, giving itself a raked appearance. Remember we are dealing with a ’61 Chevy bubble top, one of the truly iconic designs, but it too needed additional massaging. Look at the flush-mounted trim from Greening Auto Company that ties the reworked front and rear glass to the side glass. According to Posey at BOG there was 4-1/2 inches taken out and shortening of the windshield and back glass.
Other sheetmetal mods that help bring the entire design together are the reshaped rear wheel openings along with a hood that’s extended. The bumpers are also reworked; note how they are tucked into the body, yielding a much more pleasant appearance. An old friend to many hot rod builders is Advanced Plating. From their “tanks” lots of chrome and subsequent polishing occurred, yielding just the right amount of “shine” to the bubbletop. Note the body- and paintwork was handled by the staff at BOG using an Axalta Dirty Martini Green color, a custom mix metallic olive.
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We mentioned the sheetmetal modifications were found in the motor that was to rest under the hood and between the Roadster Shop frame rails. What appears to be an equally iconic power plant is used–the period-correct W engine that is now much larger than its 348-409 roots. One of the truly legendary names in the world of W engines is Lamar Walden Automotive (LWA). With Rob Walden of LWA leading the way, they are known for their restoration and custom builds. The V8 engine dropped into this bubbletop is a 509-inch W engine. Today’s horsepower readings are significantly higher and produce a more reliable power punch. The 630-plus ponies are derived from the aluminum block and cylinder heads both meticulously polished, as is the Offy intake now topped with custom 6×2 Autotrend EFI throttle bodies. All engine commands are run through the Holley Dominator ECU. More accessories adding to function and beauty are the Alumicraft one-off valve covers and custom air cleaner. BOG handiwork can also be seen in the stainless steel headers and exhaust tubing that incorporates Borla mufflers. Getting this power to the 9 inch rear end with a Nitro aluminum center section is a Magnum transmission built by Bowler Transmission.
The Roadster Shop chassis features their Independent Front Suspension with tubular control arms, Penske shocks, and a Woodward Machine Corp power rack-and-pinion steering. At the corners you will find Baer brakes. The system is based on 14-inch drilled-and-slotted rotors with six-piston calipers, operated through a Baer master cylinder, with a Kugel Komponents 90-degree pedal assembly and a trio of Clayton Machine Works pedals. At the corners you are sure to spot the Schott Wheels (satin gold centers) and Pirelli tires. The wheels come in 20×8.5 and 20×12, with the rubber measuring 255/35R20s and 325/35R20s.
Inside there is a stunning amount of work to be viewed as well. Between BOG and the Recovery Room the custom interior comes to life. The reworked dash is outfitted with a custom Dakota Digital gauges nestled behind a custom aluminum bezel. The hot rod’s electrics are run through a customized American Autowire system positioned by the staff at BOG. Wired in is the Vintage Air AC system. Resting beneath the dash is a Flaming River steering column with a custom steering wheel and Clayton Machine Works pedals and shifter. Tracey Weaver and his staff at The Recovery Room received the nod to come up with custom front and rear seating that is covered in off-white leather with tan suede insert panels in a ’60s-era look as well as the green carpeting. A fun look is into the trunk to see some special touches BOG included, like the hidden martini shaker, a cigar humidor, and the head unit for the Kicker stereo system.
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This 1961 Chevy Impala owned by Dan and impeccably displayed around the country by BOG has left crowds speechless. Well, other than the incredible sigh once your eyes take in this build. MR
Be sure to attend this year’s Triple Crown of Rodding event (September 8-9, 2023) at the Nashville Superspeedway (triplecrownofrodding.com).