A SUPER-clean black ’66 SS Impala packing 700hp wasn’t on Barnaby Lester’s radar. He was chuffed with the red one he had, with a stout 383ci pumping out 500hp, built by his go-to guy, Chris Dalton from Dalton Automotive in South Geelong. Having owned a string of locally built rides, he was pretty satisfied with his first American car.
Then this glistening black version caught his eye on eBay. It had copped a body-off-chassis rebuild a decade prior, with both the externals and interior exceeding the quality of his current ride. “So I sold off the red one and took a gamble,” Barnaby says.
“I bought it from Chicago, based on one video and 60 photos. I took a punt and it paid off.” Even shipping it to Oz was a dream thanks to Darren from HTX International in Sunbury, Victoria.
Upon arrival it was sent straight to Dalton Automotive. “It rolled in on slicks, with NOS and some undercarriage work, so we knew it had definitely been raced,” Chris Dalton says. Up front was a 427ci big-block Chev, with Dart Pro 1 heads and an Edelbrock Victor Jr single-plane manifold.
“They advertised it as 650hp,” Barnaby says, “but Chris stuck it on the dyno and it was only about 450hp!”
This disappointment set Barnaby on a quest for those missing ponies. “The first thing I did was remove the nitrous and put an 8/71 TBS supercharger on it – I’d always wanted a blown car,” he says. “And yeah, it was unreal – great fun. But I broke the motor after about a month, shearing a lobe off of the cam.
Sticking a blower on a motor that’s not built for it isn’t going to last long. And I was continually worried about having the blower sticking out of the bonnet, so I sold it.”
Barnaby instead charged Dalton Automotive with the task of building him a very well-mannered, big-horsepower, naturally aspirated ride.
“He wanted it so he could make that power all of the time, at the hit of the throttle. It could be driven every day and not get hot,” Chris says. “We basically had to change everything: the fuel system, the electrics, the exhaust – the lot.”
They stroked the 427ci Chev to 500 cubes and packed it with tough goodies. On top, a Holley Ultra 950HP feeds the aforementioned Victor Jr manifold, port-matched to the alloy Dart Pro 1 heads with copper gaskets. A Comp Cams solidroller takes care of lift, while below, Mahle dome-top pistons bolt to Eagle rods, swinging off an Eagle forged 4340 crank with a Pro Race balancer.
An MSD digital 6AL-2 ignition kit sparks the PULP fed by a billet Holley Black pump via half-inch lines and a Holley reg.
Gases then exit via Hooker Competition headers through a twin three-inch system, with electric cut-outs for full-tote noise. The whole shootin’ match is cooled by a PWR custom radiator and a 16-inch thermo.
Behind is a trusty TH400, manualised and toughened up with billet shafts and ceramic clutch packs thanks to Geelong Automatic Transmissions. This feeds through a 4200rpm converter, back to a strengthened 12-bolt filled with a Truetrac, 3.7s and Moser 31-spline axles.
The rest of it is pretty much how it arrived from its Stateside build. Some of the chassis had been boxed, and aftermarket discs had been added up front. “There’s also adjustable trailing arms at the rear, which had been strengthened, and the suspension was already done,” Chris says.
On all four corners Barnaby has chosen drag-spec 15-inch Weld Vitesse RTs, with the rears wrapped in stomper 28x12.5 M/T Sportsman Pros.
Inside that beautifully restored interior, Dalton Automotive added a few tough niceties to allude to what’s lurking beneath.
Steering is thanks to a Billet Specialties jobbie, while a B&M Stealth Pro Rachet takes care of cog-swapping. Auto Meter gauges keep an eye on the vitals.
“Barnaby said he wanted over 600hp at the fly, and it’s
probably pushing 700hp given that it’s 540rwhp,” Chris says. “He wanted a car that he could drive every day, and I tell you, he drives it nearly every day! Everything was done in-house; the only thing we didn’t do was the machine work on the engine and trans. It’s a beautiful car and a good overall package. Wherever it goes everyone looks at it, because there’s not a lot of loud, big two-door American cars around.”
As for Barnaby, he’s certainly learnt a few things along the way. “This build taught me a lot about getting that sort of horsepower and the quality required to do it,” he says. “I ended up with the most powerful car I’ve ever owned. Chris delivered on my request for a driveable, big-horsepower car to cruise after work, and when I hit the throttle, it’ll go. Hitting the pedal is pretty wild!” s
Colour: Gloss black
Donk: 500ci Chev Induction: Holley Ultra 950HP Heads: Dart Pro 1 Compression ratio: 10.9:1 Cam: Comp Cam solid-roller Pistons: Mahle dome-top Crank: Eagle 4340 Harmonic balancer: Pro Race Ignition: MSD Digital 6AL-2 Fuel: PULP Fuel pump: Holley Black Cooling: PWR custom radiator, 16in thermo Exhaust: Hooker Competition headers; twin 3in system
Transmission: TH400, fully manualised, billet shafts, ceramic clutch packs Converter: 4200rpm Diff: 12-bolt, Truetrac, 3.7:1 gears, 31-spline Moser axles
Rims: Weld Vitesse RT; 15x6 (f), 15x8 (r) Rubber: Sumitomo LST (f), 28x12.5 M/T Sportsman Pro (r)
Wheel: Billet Specialties Gauges: Auto Meter Shifter: B&M Stealth Pro Rachet
My wife Aimee for putting up with my car obsession; Darren from HTX International; Chris Thorogood for the shoot; Chris Dalton and everyone at Dalton Automotive for the great work on my last two cars – I’d never go anywhere else!