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Bubble Up – Clarence Goodwin’s 1961 Chevy Impala

Like many hot rodders of his generation, Clarence Goodwin of Nesbit, Mississippi, was bitten hard by the car bug at an early age in the late-1950s. Clarence stuck close by his gearhead older brother whenever he could, mostly running to pick up whatever his brother needed as he wrenched on his ’49 shoebox Ford.

The big moment for Clarence came when his brother had just finished rebuilding the engine in that Ford and could not get it to turn over. Ultimately big brother Jessie hooked a rope to the car and towed it out to the road with the tires dragging. Clarence sat behind the steering wheel until the engine finally loosened up and began to spin and then was able to fire up. Jessie told Clarence to run the Ford up and down the road, giving it all it had until the engine was broken in. Clarence’s mother was not too happy her underage and unlicensed son was tearing up the asphalt, so Clarence had to lay low until the whole thing blew over. But this experience was enough to get Clarence hooked and began a 60-plus-year infatuation with cars that continues to this day.

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While many four-wheeled machines have passed through Clarence’s possession, the most recent focus of his attention has been this 1961 Chevy Impala bubble top. A little over a decade ago, while checking out the latest batch of ads in his local newspaper (which is how we did it before the internet), Clarence spotted an ad that grabbed his attention. Not only that, he was fortunate enough to be the first one to arrive and check out the car.


What he found turned out to be a completely original 1961 Chevy Impala still running a 283c.i. V8 engine and Powerglide automatic transmission. After a good once-over and a quick test drive, Clarence purchased the Impala on the spot. For the first seven years Clarence, his wife Neva, and son Trent enjoyed the car in its stock form, taking it to local events and cruises. After putting plenty of miles on the odometer in its factory form, Clarence decided it was time to transform his Chevy into his vision of the perfect machine. With the blessing from his wife and the help of his son, Clarence began the ground-up rebuild of his bubble-topped Chevy.

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Clarence and Trent tore into the Chevy, starting by updating the mechanicals. That began with a complete update of the suspension using all new pieces from RideTech, including front and rear Strong Arm control arms, Firestone air springs, RideTech’s LevelPro control system, and Fox custom shocks. Wilwood disc brakes and a power steering box from CPP helped complete the package, along with a one-piece driveshaft. The rearend housing was narrowed to accommodate the 20×11-inch U.S. Mags rear wheels, which are complemented by 18x9s up front.

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Slid between the smoothed and powder-coated rails of the original frame is a TCI 4L60E automatic transmission backing up a 383c.i. engine. The LS1 mill runs a Holley dual quad intake set up with FAST EFI throttle bodies underneath a hand-fabricated air cleaner, all of it mounted between a pair of aluminum heads from RHS breathing the burnt fuel through a pair of headers and custom exhaust from Ronnie’s Hot Rods in Senatobia, Mississippi.

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Speaking of Ronnie’s Hot Rods and its proprietor, Ronnie Mathis, it was at this point in the build when he became much more involved and stepped in to repair the body with fabricated patch panels, since they were not available in reproduction form. The custom metalwork also included a smooth firewall and fabricated inner fenders. Ronnie performed all necessary bodywork, as well, massaging the Impala’s long flanks smooth before spraying the brilliant PPG Viper Red paint.

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Inside, Terry Mathis from Gulf Coast Trim and Upholstery in Pascagula, Mississippi stitched up the red Italian leather on the four modified Snowden bucket seats, along with the custom door panels, center console, and incredible one-piece headliner. The dash was filled with white-face Auto Meter gauges and now supports a Flaming River tilt column and CON2R steering wheel. The custom console houses a Pioneer touch-screen stereo, Lokar shifter, and controls for the power windows and air suspension.

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Despite a few slight changes from the original vision of his reborn hot rod, Clarence says that he could not be happier with the results. Even if he could make changes he wouldn’t do anything differently. From here on out, his plans simply include continuing to enjoy the slick red Chevy at events and out on the open road.

Photos by John Jackson & Damon Lee

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