z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala

Z061 – Joe Nichols’ 1961 Chevy Impala

Joe Nichols has had quite a number of cool cars, from a ’41 Willys with a blown Hemi – a Street Rodder Magazine cover car – to a wild’66 Chevelle street machine that scored big way back the 1981 Car Craft Nationals. At the Goodguys 30th Speedway Motors Heartland Nationals, he added Custom Rod of the Year Finalist to the list with his latest project, a ’61 Impala he calls the Z061.

z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala

As a big-rig diesel mechanic, working on the Impala must have been like building a custom scale model, especially when Joe assembled the 427c.i. LS engine. Note the 427 designation as Joe envisioned combining a classic Impala with Corvette technology and performance. The LS block was deburred and smoothed then topped with an MSD intake. As a nod to the introduction of the Chevy 409 in 1961, he adapted a set of the classic W-motor valve covers to the engine.

z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala
z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala


The Impala body was channeled over an Art Morrison Chassis capped with Wilwood discs and a custom set of wheels crafted by Mike Curtis. After lowering the body over the rails, the bulk of the metal work started in earnest. Joe thrashed on metal work during the weekdays and was joined by his friend Bob Thrash on the weekends. They created an all-new floor, worked the quarters to wrap around to the exhaust cutouts, built new wheel wells, added a rear belly pan, moved the parking lights into a custom spoiler, and much more. In short, a lot of metal was moved!

z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala
z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala

For his previous builds, Joe relied on a couple different painters, but they weren’t available, so he decided to do the job himself using a PPG Cyber Grey Metallic. He even attended a class on buffing and polishing by Gloss University and the results are obvious. With all the blood, sweat and years in the custom bodywork, there was no way Joe was going to use any factory trim work on the car. He ended up scanning the body to have Atomic Machine design and CNC all of the trim and the taillights!

z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala

Custom work continues inside such as moving the glove compartment to the passenger side and a one-off console to secure the accessory controls. Stitch work is the one area Joe shies away from, so he enlisted the pros at Avant-Garde to work the leather and suede over the seats and custom panels throughout.

z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala

z061 impala, zo61 impala, Joe Nichols 1961 Impala, 1961 chevy impala, custom rod, 61 impala

Watch for Z061 Impala at a few upcoming events throughout the season – you’ll be amazed when you see the craftmanship in person.

Photos by John Jackson & Jason Lubkin

Todd Ryden is first and foremost a car guy and admits to how lucky he is to have been able to build a career out of a hobby that he enjoys so much. He’s owned muscle cars and classics, raced a bit and has cruised across the country. With over 25 years in the industry from the manufacturing and marketing side to writing books and articles, he just gets it.