To many, one of the best-looking body styles Chevrolet ever produced was the bubble-top. The round top exemplifies the early ‘60s automotive styling, and the incredibly thin pillars holding up the roof bring a whole new meaning to hard-top. The overall styling of the car is also one of the most understated designs of the era. It’s simple, elegant, and darn near perfect.
Beyond just the body and the looks of these early ‘60s Chevys, they also came equipped with one of Chevrolet’s most iconic engines: The 409 cubic-inch big-block. These engines have always been popular and are highly sought after today—it’s no wonder the Beach Boys made a song about them!
It was in real rough shape with no floor or anything. I needed to replace almost all the panels.” – Don Kreger
A Serious Project
“It took me about 14-years to build it and it’s been on the road about 3-years now,” Don continued. “It started out as an Impala hardtop, but I did a conversion and put the Bel Air bubble-top roof on it.” In 1962 the Bel Air was the only model available with the bubble-top, so when Don wanted one on a 1962 Impala, he had to do it himself.
The roof came from an un-restorable donor 1961 Impala, and most of the other body panels are from other cars as well. “It was a total restoration project,” Don said. “The trunk is from a Bel Air, each of the doors is off a different car, and the fenders, I don’t even know where they came from. Almost every piece is off a different car.”
As you can tell from Don’s description, there is practically nothing left on the body from 1962, so this thing has been gone over inch-by-inch. Just changing out all the body panels would have been a big job on its own, but swapping the roof was something completely different. It doesn’t stop there either, Don did a lot of other custom work to the car. It sits on a custom frame designed and built by Don himself. He also made custom floors to fit the frame. That means it’s all custom from the firewall to the back bumper. “I’ve done this all my life for a hobby,” Don told us.
Building The Bubble-Top
These are the best-looking cars Chevrolet built – Don
Along with the custom top, Don added the custom fiberglass cowl-induction-style hood. He bought the hood pre-made, and it was nice, but he wanted the bottom as smooth as the top. “I spent hours and hours on the bottom, smoothing it out,” he explained. “You have to look real close at it to see that it’s fiberglass since it’s finished to look like steel.”
Don also did all of the paint and bodywork on the car himself, and that was actually one of the biggest challenges for the whole project. He wanted to get the fit and finish just right. Anyone can put a car together, but it takes dedication and experience to get the lines as straight as they are on this car. “The most challenging part was the paint, fit, and finish on the body,” he explained. “I did all of my own body and paintwork too. It was just getting the gaps right and getting everything to fit right.”
One thing that Don pointed out was that the bumpers are custom made by Carolina Customs. “They are not Chevrolet one-piece bumpers,” he told us. “They are shaved with no bumper bolts or anything, and that is the way they come.” The smooth bumpers are a subtle addition that add a lot to the overall look of the car.
She’s Real Fine, That 409
While the 409 cubic-inch engine, bored and stroked to 483 cubic-inches, powering this stunning car is an important factor as to why this thing is so awesome, it’s definitely not the only reason we love it. The rest of the drivetrain is just as impressive as the engine, and features a 4L80E overdrive automatic transmission, 9-inch rearend with 3.25 positraction gearing, and two four-barrel FAST EFI throttle bodies supplying fuel to the whole system.
The braking system has been upgraded using Wilwood equipment. The Impala now features front disc brakes with 12-inch rotors and dual piston calipers for stopping power. The rear brakes are 11-inch units taken from a Ford Explorer. Don also added ladder-bar rear suspension with air bags and Shockwaves in the front with an Accu-air control system.
The custom frame is a cool aspect of this car for sure, but with the benefit of hindsight and all of the cool stuff available from the aftermarket today, Don might have bought one instead of making one. “Nowadays, I’d look at an aftermarket chassis instead of building my own,” he explained. “Even though I had no problem building my own, what’s out there now would make it so much easier.”
Beauty Inside And Out
The interior is all custom, and does a great job matching the personality of the rest of the car. While a car from the early ‘60s is not always built to be something that would be considered a muscle car, this one definitely fits in that category. The 409 cubic incher under the cowl-induction hood, Junkyard Dog wheels, and mean stance make it a muscle car for sure.
“I had the interior done all custom,” Don explained. “I also did the dash layout.” The upholstery was put together using late-model seats, and it was basically patterned after the ’64 Impala SS. “The console is out of a ’64 Impala SS,” he continued. “I just wanted that muscle car look on the interior.” He definitely got it.
In addition to the stellar looks of the muscle car interior, this Impala also sports an air-conditioning system from Vintage Air. It looks nice, rides nice, and even on the hot summer days and with the black interior, the cab stays nice, cool, and comfortable.
The Finished Product
Don finished his car about 3 years ago, and since it’s completion, he’d put between 1,000 and 2,000 miles on it. It’s a nice cruiser, and that’s just what he plans on using it for from now on out. He liked it just the way it is and it’s time for him to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
“There are no big plans with it going forward,” Don said, “Just driving it.” After so many years worth of work, Don is finally in a place where he can walk out to the garage and start up the car, rather than the air compressor or welder.
There are no big plans with it going forward, just driving it – Don