It’s a common situation. Many project cars reach a point in the build when you have to make a choice: keep building it as a driver or step it up and build it as a high-level show car.
Joe Horisk never had to make that choice. His most recent car was always meant to be a driver and was always meant to be a contender for the most prestigious show car award around—the Ridler Award. We know that Joe accomplished the second goal. When his custom 1961 Impala wagon appeared at the 2016 Detroit Autorama, it had everybody talking—including the judges, who selected Joe’s now-famous Double Bubble as a Pirelli Great 8 winner and Ridler finalist.
If there’s such a thing as a 1961 Impala guy, it’s Joe. His first new car (long gone) was a 350hp 348-powered 1961 with a four-speed (the biggest and fastest fullsized Chevy at the time). Fifty years later, he built a white 1961 bubbletop muscled up with a 600-horse Merlin 540ci big-block. That car won a Street Shaker award from STREET RODDER (read about it athotrod.com/articles/1212sr-1961-chevy-impala).
The plan for the latest Impala was a little different and a little more ambitious. In Joe’s words, “It all started with me wanting to create what I thought a 1961 Impala concept car might look like after the demise of the two-door Nomad.” Part of the inspiration was the phantom 1955 Chrysler wagon built by J.F. Launier a few years ago (hotrod.com/articles/0810rc-1955-chrysler-two-door-wagon).
Joe started the project the way a Detroit designer would—with artwork. He got together with designer/illustrator Eric Brockmeyer. He said that Brockmeyer understood his ideas and the first rendering was spot on. Over the following eight years, there would be many more ideas and drawings, with Brockmeyer contributing to practically every inch of the car’s design.
A friend in Arizona had the Impala Joe needed to turn the concept into a car. The Double Bubble project started with Larry Stewart at One Off Rod & Custom Inc. in Middletown, Delaware (now under different ownership). The build continued with Jesse Greening at Greening Auto Company (builders of several Great 8 finalists and two Ridler-winning cars).
The original strategy for creating the roof involved extending the top with an additional top from a 1961 Pontiac bubbletop. “I cut the top off of the Pontiac and set it on the back of my Chevy, to create a double bubble,” Joe explains. The idea made sense, but it didn’t work as planned. Eventually, the entire roof was fabricated by hand. Countless modifications went into creating the one-of-a-kind top. The ribs are a nod to the Tri-Five Chevy Nomad. The top got a 3-inch (or so) chop, with the uncut windshield laid back and tucked into the cowl area. AM Hot Rod Glass provided the glass. The rear glass was installed into a handmade hatch. All glass is flush-mounted to provide a contemporary detail. All pillars were made by hand, and the window garnish moldings were modified to match the custom pillars.
The extensive mods continue through the rest of the body. Lengthened front sheetmetal, shaved door handles, CNC-formed billet side trim, and modified fender flares contribute to the lower profile changes. The hidden wipers and cowl hood are more nods to later GM styling; Brockmeyer and Joe designed the steel hood’s power lift system.
The front was cleaned up by replacing the factory bumper with a custom-fabbed Camaro-style bumper “as if that was something the GM designers had come up with in the early ’60s, a few years before actually putting it on a production car,” Greening explains. Custom driving lights were mounted below the bumper. The rear bumper and taillights were created to complement to looks of the front of the car.
Greening Auto Company had experience with CAD technology, CNC machining, and 3-D printing, and put that to good use creating several components on the Impala, such as the machined mirrors, and the headlights and taillights that feature machined bezels and 3-D printed lenses. Lighting is an intentional theme on the Impala. Lights are incorporated into the reworked fender spears, also created with 3-D metal printing.
Even the rear license plate is worth noting. Double Bubble is registered in Joe’s home state of Delaware where the DMV authorizes vehicle owners to use original or replica antique porcelain plates. Lucky for Joe, “61 409” was available.
The 18- and 20-inch wheels were custom built for a ’60s look with contemporary dimensions. Dave Wagner at Schott Wheels provided these plus-sized replicas of the 14-inch wheel covers worn by stock 1961 Impala bubbletops. Even the tires are custom. Diamond Back Classics modified Goodyear Eagles, working with a rubber lab to create the 3/8-inch sidewall stripes, color matched to the side molding paint, and the interior upholstery.
Double Bubble is set on a full Art Morrison Enterprises frame. Mirrors underneath the wagon at the Detroit Autorama revealed radiused corners and boxed ’rails with added sheetmetal to dress things up—“Detroit stuff,” as Greening calls it. The beefy CNC-machined custom triangulated four-link setup locates the 3.50-geared Ford 9-inch equipped with a Detroit locker and spinning Strange axles. The front A-arms are also CNC-machined—and beefy. RideTech ShockWaves at all points provide a great ride, and a Mustang rack and Flaming River steering column keep the car on course. Slowing down is no problem with front and rear Wilwood brakes, featuring six-piston calipers gripping 14-inch rotors.
The engine compartment is cleaner than the inside of a bubble thanks to a design by Brockmeyer and Joe, and a lot of sheetmetal fabrication by Greening Auto Company. The 1963 Chevy 409 went to Carma Performance in Nashville where Erin Carpenter stretched the displacement to 473 ci, running an Eagle crank and 10.5:1 pistons. The engine is fed by a custom EFI setup with nostalgic injector stacks on a one-off manifold. Edelbrock cylinder heads are topped by stock valve covers; the DB emblems are a recurring theme throughout Double Bubble (more “Detroit stuff”). The headers and exhaust are custom pieces, with Flowmaster mufflers. A PerTronix ignition fires things up. Cooling is accomplished by a Be Cool radiator and Cooling Components fan. Backing up the 409 is a five-speed Tremec with a McLeod clutch. The engine was painted with a satin clear over the basecoat to contrast with the shine of the exterior paint.
The wagon’s stunning white finish was accomplished by Jacob Eden and Ben Giuliano who were shooting for Greening Auto Company at the time along with Jeff Greening. Jesse and Joe knew that putting white paint on the big car—especially one built for Ridler competition—was a bold choice. The secret to success, Greening told us, was in finding the right white. The wagon was too big for a soft yellow-toned white. The cooler tone they selected, using Glasurit paint products, sharpens the lines, and highlights the shape of the body. Even under the unflattering lights of Cobo Hall in Detroit, Double Bubble looked incredible.
That tan color from the exterior trim carries over into the interior. Paul Atkins in Hanceville, Alabama, stretched tan leather over the 1961 Cadillac Eldorado seats, trimmed with chromed aluminum. The front buckets and rear bench feature a waterfall design on the back. The door panels were finished the same way, and lighting was incorporated into the custom armrests. The dash was hand-fabricated to be an updated interpretation of a 1961-1962 Chevy dash, and covered in brown leather. Sixties-style ribbed inserts, built from chromed stainless steel create a theme that extends from the gauge panel and glovebox door to the steering wheel, shifter plate, and custom pedals. The look continues on the faces of the Classic Instruments gauges, and on the shifter top built by Motorhead Jewelry. A Vintage Air A/C system provides cool air through custom vents. The rear deck is covered with leather covered steel strips and chromed bands over a solid piece of carpet. You won’t find any bent or crushed carpet tufts because Atkins used a shaving razor to cut the carpet pile beneath the bands.
Everyone who saw Double Bubble at its Detroit debut knows that Joe accomplished his second goal: to build a bona fide contender for the Ridler Award. Everyone who saw it in Louisville, Columbus, Syracuse, and Pigeon Forge knows it too. So what about the first goal—you remember, to build a driver? Joe hasn’t forgotten. The next time you see Double Bubble, it will be on the street.
Article courtesy of Hot Rod Network, written by Tim Bernsau.