Written by Jason Reiss on September 24, 2019 for the Hot Rod Network, Don Kates - Photographer
In this humble writer’s opinion, the two-door 1962 Impala hardtop is one of the most timeless automotive designs of all time. Although it is not the traditional bubbletop of 1961, it retains the thin A-pillar and provides a bit of much-needed muscle to the full size chassis by incorporating the thick, convertible-style C-pillar. The massive windshield of the bubbletop cars remains, but the extra heft of the rear pillars helps to balance out the proportions. You know what they say about opinions, though.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with me about automotive design, the amazing ’62 owned by Todd Widhalm should stop you in your tracks. The arresting R-M Dango Red pigment expertly applied by Brent Ellison of Dakota Muscle Cars, atop body lines smoothed and tuned by Ellison and Widhalm, undoubtedly catches the eye of any automotive enthusiast. It sure caught mine, especially when I realized that the body lines—appropriately, in my opinion—are stock. It’s not overdone, gaudy, or excessive. It’s just right, like a big-body Impala should be. Widhalm, a trucker from Sioux City, Iowa, preferred to keep it simple. Or, as he says, “Less is more.”
The nine-year project required great focus and perseverance, as Widhalm completed most of the work himself from start to finish. It’s obvious that he has the eye and the talent to bring together a piece that’s head-and-shoulders above the typical homebuilder.
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He just so happened to discover the car in Colman, South Dakota, while on a drive through the state. “It was sitting in a parking lot along the highway with a small For Sale sign. I called the guy’s phone number and he came down. I drove it and bought it on the spot,” says Widhalm. It was an easy score, with only two minor rust holes over the rear wheelwells, but was otherwise solid and dry. As anyone knows who has ever purchased a classic car, rust can be the devil, and when it’s unseen it can completely ruin a project to the point of no return.
The car came with a white top, red bottom, and red interior, and featured a 283-cubic-inch small-block powerplant fronting a Powerglide transmission. All of those features are long gone, replaced with pieces far more fitting to the car’s overhaul.
He took the car home and thought maybe he’d put some wheels and tires on it, maybe some disc brakes, and cruise it around as a fun driver. But as we all know, car guys will be car guys and the best-laid plans can change with a short puff of wind. “The car sat in the shop for two weeks, untouched. Then the crazy train pulled up, I got on and went nuts after that,” he says. “Every nut, bolt, panel, the frame, engine—everything came apart. As the photos show, this is what was created on reassembly.”
To upgrade the motive force in the engine bay, he turned to the Chevrolet Performance catalog and selected the 6.2-liter LS376/525 crate engine, which produces 525 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 486 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. The hydraulic roller cam-equipped engine provides clean street manners with more than double the horsepower than the original 283 Turbo-Fire V-8.
Billet Specialties aluminum valve covers and a custom air cleaner housing enhance the engine’s appearance. A Vintage Air HVAC kit was fitted to help the big greenhouse stay cool in the summer, a critical component of the build where the local summer temperatures average mid- to high 80s. An AFCO Racing three-row aluminum radiator was chosen to keep the engine’s operating temperature in check.
The engine bay is also home to a set of ceramic-coated 1 7/8-inch custom long-tube headers, which feed into a custom stainless exhaust system based around 2.5-inch stainless Flowmaster mufflers.
For simplicity’s sake, one of GM’s 4L70 four-speed transmissions uses a 3,500-stall torque converter to feed the power into a Moser Engineering bolt-in 9-inch Ford rear axlehousing. To help keep the power planted in a straight line—and motivate the big-body Chevrolet—a Detroit Locker limited-slip differential turns the 3.89:1 gears.
Widhalm made the choice to retain and refinish the original X-frame, although he says this is the one element he’d do differently if he were to start the same build today.
The chassis has been updated with a full complement of performance suspension gear, from the 2-inch Heidt’s drop spindles and Global West tubular front control arms to the RideTech ShockWave shocks, which incorporate the company’s air-suspension system that helps give this car the perfect big-body stance. Baer’s 6P brake systems are at each end of the car and feature six-piston calipers and 14-inch rotors.
Intro ID307 wheels are at all four corners: 20×8.5 in the front and 22×10 in the rear, wrapped in 245/30R20 and 295/25R22 Toyo Proxes T1R rubber, respectively.
The Impala’s exterior is visually impressive, but the interior is where the package really comes together. Subtle touches modernize it, but the overall appearance is one that could have been in place back in 1962.
Darren Carlson at Bonnie's Custom Interior worked his magic on the interior, focused around ’62 Impala SS seats, new custom door and side panels, and a fabricated-from-scratch custom console. The interior is covered in gorgeous, supple leather in a simple cream color. Dakota Digital gauges help keep tabs on the fuel-injected engine, while Widhalm controls the car with a Billet Specialties wheel and a Lokar floor-mount shifter.
Lastly, a one-piece leather headliner was installed—there are no bows here. New glass from Retro Glass was fitted to the car, and its perfectly clear appearance helps belie the Impala’s age. The interior doesn’t detract from the exterior, instead complementing it perfectly and providing clean, flowing lines that look right at home. The interior treatment continues into the trunk, with the luscious leather covering the surfaces to give the trunk its finished appearance.
Curt Harshfield of H&H Fabrication provided additional support throughout the build process, contributing water jet services, laser material cutting, and assistance with the construction of the stainless exhaust. Todd Beelner of Stainless Rehab repaired and polished all of the trim pieces to complete the restoration of these components.
It’s an amazing build, made more impressive by the fact that the car wasn’t dropped off at a well-known hot rod shop and a check stroked to ensure its completion. Instead, one guy toiled away in his garage, night in and night out, to bring his vision of the perfect Impala to life.
Even with the car’s stunning countenance, and Builders Choice award at Goodguys in its first show appearance, Todd Widhalm is modest about the car’s presentation to the world. “It was just something to keep me busy at night and on the weekends. I like building cars,” he says.
Spoken like a true car guy.