“I wanted as many people as possible to see it was a real driver,” says master craftsman Todd Sorensen of his Summernats 33 Grand Champion-winning 1967 Chevy Impala. “So, we decided to do a lap of Summernats on the way to the Meguiar’s Judging Pavilion. It took us nearly an hour, out in the screaming heat, through Skid Row. It was intense and equally awesome, as heaps of people came running up to say how great it was to see a car of this calibre doing laps. At no stage did the Impala complain. It didn’t overheat, the Vintage Air system kept us cool – it did everything just like it was built to do.”
This article was first published in the May 2020 issue of Street Machine
“I bought them a long time ago,” says Todd of the TRIBUTE number plates. “About 10 years ago, when I first started the build, my uncle, Bruce Sorensen, had just passed away and it was intended to be a tribute to him”
Even so, when the hulking white beast eventually made its way into the hall, it was looking far from its best. “We gave it a quick clean, but for a show car it was still filthy-dirty,” says Todd. “I think we were the only car in the Top 10 that was driven to judging. That’s why I was really surprised it did so well.”
That said, Todd also has a theory on why that may have worked in his favour. “It had clearly just been driven,” he says.
Our photoshoot location was once the site of the smash shop opened in the 50s by Todd’s grandfather. This became the family business, which Todd was a part of for 12 years. When the smash business closed a few years ago, Todd relocated Rocksolid into the premises. So much history
“Because of that, I think the judges got what I was trying to achieve with the build.
“Yes, I built it to show off the skills of my shop, Rocksolid Autobody. Yes, I built it to hopefully run a 10. But I was also very careful not to go silly – I wanted to be able to take the family cruising. It’s a family car!”
Since Todd is a panel beater by trade, the Impala’s sheet metal is as expected – exceptional. Custom touches include the reverse-cowl hood and sharpened body lines; in addition, both the front and rear bumpers were cut into multiple pieces, tucked into the body, then had their centre sections widened to accommodate TRIBUTE number plates. Every panel has received extensive fab work so that it all flows from front to back and fits just right.
“It’s a full-chassis car; everything bolts together,” says Todd. “This made it a nightmare to get everything to line up. Especially the bonnet – it seems like people don’t think the bonnet needs to fit! I put a lot of time into making it fit like it should.”
Todd’s also pretty handy with the gun; the PPG Cool Vanilla paint is his handiwork. In fact, he sprays all the big cars that come out of Rocksolid.
The 20in billet wheels feature gloss-black hoops and Matte Metallic Charcoal centres – the same charcoal colour used for the engine bay, driveline, undercarriage, grille, tail-lights and body moulds. It’s offset by the gloss charcoal chassis and suspension
“At the moment there are some shops at the top of their game building amazing cars,” he says. “We’re pumped to be mixing it up with them.”
Todd initially spotted the Impala for sale in 2008 at the last Wintersun hosted at Coolangatta. “It’s my favourite model,” he says. “And this was a fresh import that was a really nice, original car.”
The relocation of the fuel filler is a stroke of sheer brilliance. It’s hidden, secure and doesn’t tie up boot space. Plus, being on the outside of the boot rubber, it’s technically on the vehicle’s exterior – so it’s legal!
Having driven it around ‘as-is’ for some time, Todd had become accustomed to its classic white-with-red-interior combo, and intended to keep it that way. In the end he switched to the super-nice olive green leather, with matching Mercedes carpet. “It’s different, yet timeless; it’ll never go out of date,” he reckons.
While the front and rear bench seats are original, virtually every other trim panel was made from scratch. Trimmer Chris Bakker incorporated a factory-looking pattern into the door trims, which he then carried over into the boot panels. Like the custom metal cover for the Hurst shifter, the door and boot panels are all trimmed in leather.
Todd deliberately kept the front bench – his dream is to run 10s with twin benches. After immaculately restoring the factory gauge fascia, Todd filled the vacant holes with Dakota Digital VHX-series gauges. And being ‘the family car’ (as Todd’s kids call it), the big Chev’s equipped with a decent sound system. The RetroSound head unit runs Bluetooth and powers six-inch speakers in the kicks and 6x9s under custom grilles in the parcel tray.
The engine is a lesson in restraint. “It’s a big, heavy car,” says Todd. “It needs a lot of torque to get it moving. And while it had to remain streetable, I really wanted it to be able to run a 10. My mum’s ’64 Nova runs 10s; I couldn’t have her blowing my doors off!”
To ensure that doesn’t happen, Tony Whyatt at Pine Mountain Performance took advantage of the Merlin block’s tall 9.8-inch deck and built a 582-cube torque monster. When it was all said and done, the highway- and 98 PULP-friendly combo is good for 736hp and 726lb-ft of torque – all without breaking a sweat.
At a glance, the ultra-smooth boot and bonnet look to be fibreglass. Nope, they’re both all steel – they’re that well done. “The bonnet alone took me a year of weekends,” says Todd
To efficiently expel the volumes of spent gases, Graham Bevis TIG-welded up a set of custom four-into-one headers. They feature 21/8-inch primaries, which step up to 2¼-inch before dumping into cavernous four-inch collectors. From there it’s a full four inches through the X-pipe, right to the resonators in the rear. That’s deep breathing for you, which gives it a nice, throaty burble.
The inner guards have been smoothed over and made symmetrical, while the radiator support panel has been pretty much made from scratch. It now flows out to neatly butt up against the modified grille
As well as go, the big Chev also had to stop and steer. A quartet of Brembo rotors clamped by PBR Commodore calipers (fitted with Brembo pads) tick the stop box. As for steering, Craig at Extreme Custom Engineering fabricated custom upper and lower front control arms that incorporate fully adjustable coil-overs. At the other end, Extreme enhanced the factory four-link with tubular links, adjustable coil-overs and a Panhard bar to keep the Chev 12-bolt diff firmly centred.
A 12-bolt? “Yeah, it cost me a lot more than a nine-inch would have, but I wanted to keep it all Chev under there,” says Todd.
Suspension Dynamics bolted it all up and got it dialled in to take full advantage of the fat, grippy Falken rubber wrapped around the 20×8 and 20×10 billets. No mini-tubs here! The Impala’s cavernous factory rear wheel tubs just needed the corners squared up to swallow the portly 295/40R20 rubber.
After its initially unveiling at Summernats 32 in 2019, Todd felt the car wasn’t quite ready to shoot for Grand Champion.
“The car really wasn’t ready for it that first year,” he explains. “Aesthetically we didn’t change anything; we mainly worked on a few niggling things and getting the mechanicals spot-on. It now does everything it’s supposed to.”
It was a year well spent, as the Impala’s performance in the driving events at Summernats 2020 is what clinched it the title.
How long did the build take? Well, it was already in pieces at Todd’s 30th birthday – at which time his mates gave him the pristine boot mould as a present. He’s now 40.
“I built it mostly myself after hours and on weekends,” says Todd. “Whenever we got the chance, the shop did a bit of a stint on it, to help push the project along. To me, it’s very special to win awards in a car that wasn’t built for that reason. I think it’s important to build a car that you like, not a car that you know everyone else will like.”
All that’s left to do is take a quick squirt down the strip, pick up that 10-second timeslip and start cruising the wheels off it.
GREEN IS NICE
FOR most of the build, Todd’s intention was to stick with the Impala’s original colour combo: white with red interior.
“My trimmer, Chris Bakker, was at the shop sorting out things and we spotted the Italian olive-green leather in his sample book,” says Todd. “One of my mates commented that it would look cool. We all looked at each other, and a few minutes later, it was a done deal.
“It definitely was a risk, but it looks incredible – especially against the Matte Metallic Charcoal on all the painted surfaces. I’m so happy with it. It fits in with what I wanted the build to be – still look very 60s, just built a whole lot better.”
1967 CHEVROLET IMPALA
Paint: PPG Cool Vanilla
Brand: 582ci Merlin III, 9.8in deck
Heads: Brodix BB2X
Intake: Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap
Carby: Pro Systems 1150cfm
Camshaft: Lunati solid-roller
Rockers: T&D shaft-mount
Crank: Eagle 4340 4.375in
Rods: Eagle H-beam
Pistons: JE forged
Ignition: MSD 6AL-2, Blaster 2, billet dizzy, plug leads
Fuel system: Aeromotive A1000
Cooling: Shaun’s Custom Alloy radiator, Spal fan
Exhaust: 21/8in stepped to 2¼in, 4in collectors, twin 4in system
Gearbox: Protrans TH400, full-manual, Gear Vendors overdrive
Converter: Converter Shop
Diff: Chevy 12-bolt, 35-spline, Wavetrac 4.3:1 gears
CHASSIS & BRAKES
Suspension: Viking coil-overs (f & r), Panhard bar (r)
Brakes: Brembo rotors, VZ Commodore calipers
Master cylinder: Wilwood
Seats: Factory bench
Trim: Italian olive leather
Steering wheel/seatbelts: Original factory
Instruments: Dakota Digital VHX
Shifter: Hurst Quarter Stick
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Intro Saltster; 20×8 (f), 20×10 (r)
Rubber: Falken; 245/40R20 (f), 295/40R20 (r)
The whole Rocksolid Autobody crew; Pine Mountain Performance; Shaun’s Custom Alloy; Protrans; Altra 9; Chris Bakker; Extreme Custom Engineering; Suspension Dynamics; Ash Mason at Wiring & Tuning Solutions; massive thanks to my wife Krissie and my kids Bridie, Paige and Parker. You definitely can’t build a dream car like this without 100 per cent commitment from the family. They were behind me the whole way. There was also plenty of help from family and friends along the way – all of whom couldn’t be happier to see it finished!