Looking Up – Albert Fletes Took a Top-Down Approach on His 1963 Impala Wagon
Like many of today’s hot rodders, Albert Fletes grew up surrounded by family and friends who were modifying and cruising old cars. His first car was a Pontiac Lemans, which gave way to an Impala SS followed by a Chevy Luv truck. His latest project is right in front of you, a 1963 Impala wagon that he’s been working on for about six years.
When Albert set out to find a wagon, he had a vision of what he wanted to start with. He insisted that the wagon be solid and basically original. He didn’t want to start with something already modified, as it can be tough to put your own stamp on a car once it’s been changed. Finding a wagon that met his demands proved more difficult than he anticipated, but Albert is a patient man when it comes to waiting for the right car or the right parts.
Albert’s ’63 popped up on Craigslist with a note that the owner was in the San Diego area for the weekend and if it didn’t sell he was driving it back to San Francisco. When Albert called the owner was already heading north on Interstate 5 but agreed to pull over and wait for Albert to come see the car. It was a two-owner wagon, all original with a 327c.i. V8 and a Powerglide. It was finally the right car and barely at the right time. A deal was struck right there on the side of the highway.
With the wagon in his driveway, it was time to put this ‘60s custom project in motion, but a few drivetrain upgrades had to happen first. The worn-out 327 was replaced with a smooth-cruising 350 and there was no question about updating from the two-speed ‘glide to a fresh trans from Well-Built Transmissions. Things were kept simple not only for driveability reasons, but also for any repairs that may come up on the road since Albert’s wife Dani and family typically roll out to shows and cruises with him.
Having the family regularly along also led Albert to focus on safety. The factory front drums were replaced with a set of discs for improved braking consistency, while the suspension was rebuilt and completely upgraded by Meyer Chassis to an air spring system to obtain the right stance while cruising and during the shows. A set of Astro Supreme wheels were wrapped in thin-stripe whitewalls and bolted in place to provide the proper ’60s vibe.
With the mechanical pieces in order, Albert was able to dive into some of the fun upgrades – the most significant of which to date being the beautiful paint and graphic work across the long canvass of the wagon’s roof. Albert called upon Pete “Hot Dog” Finlan at Hot Dog Kustoms for the custom paint work. Pete laid down a white finish using PPG materials along the body, and then added custom pinstripes for contrast before getting serious on the roof. More than a pound of metalflake went into the 15 layers silver with a series of blue candy patterns, stripes, and flames that sparkle to life in the sun. It’s a dazzling display!
The interior is a blend of factory pieces with custom touches throughout thanks to help from Dani. A custom console sits below a set of accessory gauges, while a metalflake Mooneyes steering wheel and column shift knob complement the candy blue above. The dash and door panels remain stock and a pair of period-correct spotlights was also added.
The Impala is far from done, as Albert plans to continue adding and making personal custom touches. He recently scored a set of bucket seats to give the Impala more of an SS appearance, which he’s been planning since day one. There are other subtle updates in the works, too, as no custom is ever completely finished. Right now, the Fletes family simply enjoys cruising the wagon around SoCal to events and their daughter even rides along to help accept the trophies and accolades the car brings. It’ll be great to see what updates have been made when we roll into Goodguys Del Mar next year.
Photos by John Jackson