“It’s what I had when I was a teenager,” Keith Robinson said about his 1965 Chevy Impala SS. “I always wanted it back. Took me 40 years, but I got it.”
It was worth the wait, because as Keith said, “It’s pretty much a brand new 1965 Impala.”
And he’s not kidding. During the 15 year, frame off restoration, Keith updated the chassis, suspension, body, and interior – and placed an LS3 between the front fenders.
Although it looks like it just rolled off the assembly line, the Impala was nowhere near that condition when Keith got it. The car was an original Impala Super Sport, with a 283, automatic, white paint with a black vinyl roof, and a black interior. But that makes it sound a lot better than it was. As Keith put it, “It was a rolling wreck.”
He started by sandblasting and painting the chassis. Then he replaced the quarter panels, wheel wells, and the floor pans from firewall to trunk. He took the body panels off and media blasted the entire body structure underneath. “There’s no rust on the car whatsoever,” Keith said. “Anything that had rust was replaced, or blasted and repaired.”
Suspension upgrades started with new coil springs and shocks on all four wheels. The rear coils have the stock spring rate, but provide an additional 1 ½” of lift that gives the Impala a great stance. Chevy gave the SS Impalas front sway bars, and Keith added one to the back as well. He also installed Prothane bushings all around.
The front drum brakes have been upgraded to disks. Chevrolet’s original drum brakes are still on the factory 12-bolt rear. That 12-bolt now contains a Positraction differential with 3.73 gears.
The 283 is history. In its place is a 6.1 liter LS3 kicking out 495 horsepower. Basically, Keith has a modern day Corvette engine in his Impala. Keith opted to use GM’s Connect & Cruise package for his LS3. It includes the engine control computer and a wireless gas pedal. GM matched a 4L75-E transmission to the engine based on the horsepower rating of the LS3. The Impala emblems Keith installed on the LS3’s throttle body are a nice detail.
Long tube headers feed a 2 ½” Pypes dual exhaust system – but with a little surprise. Keith installed cutouts in the exhaust, activated by a small switch under the dash. Of course, I asked for a demonstration, and Keith obliged. Through the mufflers the LS3 has a great throaty rumble. With the cutoff activated, you think you’re at the drag strip. Very nice.
The Connect & Cruise swap was pretty straightforward. Keith had to install new engine mounts for the LS3. The 4L75 required a new transmission crossmember, and he had to enlarge the transmission tunnel in the floor pan. But overall it was a pretty smooth endeavor.
Naturally, this brand new 1965 Impala has a brand new interior. The original black upholstery has been changed to white. The Impala was originally a factory A/C car, but Keith has upgraded to a Vintage Air system, which he’s run through the stock ducting. He also installed Dakota Digital gauges, a Bluetooth stereo and power windows.
That beautiful Super Sport body came about with a lot of hard work, and Keith had some help with that. His 10-year old grandson Jackson was also at the show. You won’t find many men of any age more poised and polite than Jackson. It was a pleasure to meet him. Jackson told me he helped his granddad with the Impala. “I like sanding, buffing, and polishing it,” Jackson said.
You can see from the photos that Jackson did a great job sanding, buffing, and polishing. The black paint is flawless. Jackson’s body work is supplemented by the original chrome trim that has been refinished. The American Racing mags and red stripe tires look great – and match what Keith had on his original Impala 40 years ago. Authentic Barrow County license plates from 1965 complete the retro look.
In addition to Jackson’s help, Keith made sure to acknowledge Johnny Palmer and his associates Mark and Jean at J.P. Muscle Cars. “They’re truly good honest people,” he told me. “It couldn’t have come together with out their help.”
The end result of everyone’s hard work is spectacular. Keith says the LS3 is “wonderful”. It cranks right up even if it’s been sitting for a few days. And he loves taking the Super Sport out for a spin. The Impala’s ride is very smooth.
There may be a few tweaks coming up in the future, but right now Keith’s plan is to “enjoy what I’ve done so far.”
With a beautifully finished 1965 Impala Super Sport, 495 horsepower, and the best advantages of modern technology, there’s a lot to enjoy.
Photos by GHR, and courtesy of Keith Robinson