Though we are always looking toward the future, we must also refer to our history, and the mistakes we committed therein. Sorry if you missed those mistakes and the beginning of all this hot rod stuff. Back then, aside from the custom car cultists, most kids who grew up outside of California clung to function rather than form—hardtop, real doors, and glass windows. So as long as the envelope wasn’t wearing severe road rash, fist-sized rot holes, or rumpled clothes, it was sure enough good to go. It was the chunk underhood that mattered most.
We had no money, but the bright side: 102-octane 260 Sunoco was at an insane 35 cents a gallon. In short, so long as the envelope was presentable, it worked all over town. The hard earned went right to the motor, and as quickly as possible. Could Mario Pelayo be an unwitting proponent of “leave it like it was” in the street machine arena?
Liquidity squandered on the creature will affect most of us and begin to diminish as the financial meltdown continues. Though we aren’t at the “what will it be: food or gasoline?” dichotomy quite yet, that scenario looms like a tsunami. But those with plenty of heart won’t let a little irritation, like no food or fuel, intimidate them. They will soldier on regardless, perhaps with cars like Mario’s ’62 Impala. And as such, the minimalist inside of us is clawing to get out. Surely, you don’t have to go to the last degree to create a wholesome, maybe kinky, piece of work that others will enjoy and in which you will thrive.
We’ve got nostalgia racing, rat rods, all kinds of period jive, and the actors to go with it, so how about Poor Street, Nostalgia Street, or Rat Street? This isn’t Mario’s first time at bat. He’s been on both sides of the fence. His prior convictions include a ’65 Mustang, ’66 Caprice, ’70 Chevelle, and ’72 C10, all of them more developed than his mighty Imp. This time he was a cost-conscious acolyte. He found a half-finished prop that had already been scraped and painted and needed no major correction.
“Since I was a teenager I’ve always admired the ’62 Impala,” Mario says. “I wanted a convertible because most people go for the fixed-roof versions.” For several years he searched for a clean, halfway-done mule. “So when I found this car, the paint color was perfect—a nice, clean GM silver,” he says. “The chrome and the moldings are half original and half repro. The interior was black, but missing a bunch of small items. I did a lot of searching for original parts like the steering wheel and ashtray. I wanted a low stance but didn’t want to bag it, so with the combo of wheels, tires, and suspension I was able to make something that rarely interferes with driveway humps, speed bumps, and crap surface roads.” True, this car would have a tough time negotiating West Virginia or maybe the south Bronx, but California roads are still intact and somewhat smooth.
So Mario drives them to local and even some national events. He copped Cool Convertible at Goodguys and has received awards at various area shows. “I don’t take my car to compete. I just go to have fun driving the car and hanging out with my buddies. If I do win something, it’s a real surprise.” So yes, driving is the ultimate goal, not running a hundredth of a second better than the next guy or clipping the pylons, or the quickest and fastest from 0-to-100-to-0. None of that. We said drive.
Not much to say about this. Mario bought the car with the paint and body completed as you see it here and that’s all the input he could give. Since it was his plan to leave as much of the car as it came from the showroom, all he really needed was a clean and worthy place to begin.
When you don’t need to cause a ruckus, the engine proposition becomes insanely easy. There’s no one to impress here, just the idea of a safe, reliable method of getting from point A to point B. In that light, the ’72 350 has more than enough crust, even for the ark-like, 3,750-pound B-body. Mario says, “The engine is mostly stock except for a mild cam for a little more giddyap.” Other changes are minimal and in keeping with the vision of the car. The Edelbrock intake manifold is paired with a Holley of some sort that sucks through a K&N filter element. Spent exhaust is extracted by Hedman headers. Torque passes through a Turbo 350 and thus to the factory axle fitted with a Positraction differential and 3.23:1 gears.
Without a doubt, the most significant thing about the Imp is its stance and how it got that way. Mario did an end run and made it work with plain, old basic stuff, like we did back in the day. The Imp is rudimentary, and uses a studied wheel offset, complementary tire size, and modified coil springs to yield the lounge-lizard look. Stance is set via CPP front and rear coil springs that were cut to yield the desired height. Wheel movement is lassoed by KYB gas-filled shock absorbers. To make it all work with scraping, the front and rear inner fenderwells were modified to accept the 20-inch wheel combination.
The wheels are big and the brakes are little, but that’s no skin off a dedicated cruiser’s nose. Stock drum brakes are completely overwhelmed by the 20-inch Foose two-piece Nitrous hoops (8.5 and 10.0 inches wide) and the brutal 245/35 and 275/30 Pirelli P Zero rubber.
Again, the stock theme prevails. It’s a pleasant change to see the real McCoy when it’s the practice these days to mute, smooth, and divest the interior of its original markers. “I was lucky enough to find a car with power seat and convertible top mechanisms intact,” Mario says. The air conditioning is original, albeit refurbished for its new mission. Mario held the interior to factory spec because he felt that the stock look is critical to the package and that it had to be retained. He did take advantage of the Imp’s mammoth nether region, though. A custom trunk enclosure houses the amp and woofers. Custom fiberglass kick panels house 61/2-inch speakers and the front dash and rear speaker housing also accommodates a pair of 51/4-inch coaxial speakers.CHP