Dirty Martini – Dan Duffy’s Custom ’61 Impala Wins Goodguys 2022 Fuel Curve Custom of the Year
Dan Duffy made the cross-country journey from Georgia to California worthwhile by claiming the Fuel Curve Custom of the Year award for “Dirty Martini,” his incredible ’61 Chevy Impala, during the Goodguys 38th All American Get-Together in Pleasanton. Built by Big Oak Garage in Alabama, the tasty metallic green bubble-top Chevy is a showcase of incredible craftsmanship and innovative detail, all brought together in a lean, sleek, contemporary package.
The custom project has been in the works for several years, with origins dating back to when Dan and Will first met at a car show. Dan was showing a wedge-sectioned ’56 Chevy built by his good friend, the late Tommy Manner. Tommy gave Dan the idea of wedge-sectioning a ’61 Impala, the first car Dan had bought with his own money. Dan liked the idea and presented it to Will, who agreed it was a cool concept. Dan and Will soon found themselves looking for an Impala, commissioning Tavis Highlander to create design renderings, and getting to work to make the idea a reality.
The bold body modifications began by completely reimagining the Chevy’s iconic bubble top. Both the windshield and rear glass were shortened 4.5-inches, bringing them in line with the side windows. A new, more rounded top skin was then formed to flow into the new front and rear windshields, both of which were finished with custom-machined, one-piece, flush-mounted trim whittled by Greening Auto Company to keep everything smooth.
The idea to wedge-section the body was complicated by the plan to use a relatively tall 409-based engine, which led Will to do some creative thinking. Rather than remove material from the front of the car, he and the Big Oak team performed a “reverse wedge cut” – they made the rear of the body 2.5-inches taller by extending the quarter panels vertically and modifying the door skins and rockers to match and flow. The result is a tapered, angular profile that suggests forward motion even when the car is sitting still.
Naturally, there were countless more subtle body mods performed, including reshaped rear wheel openings and an extended hood that eliminates the cowl panel, smooths the area above the grille, and incorporates custom trim mimicking the factory trim below the rear glass. The custom trim, taillight bezels, and modified bumpers all wear Advanced Plating brightwork, while the sheet metal is bathed in beautiful “Dirty Martini Green,” a metallic olive hue custom mixed at Big Oak Garage using Axalta paint materials.
The foundation for this custom Chevy is a Roadster Shop chassis, which provides a more modern front suspension with tubular control arms, rack-and-pinion steering, a four-link rear suspension, and coil-over front and rear shocks. Big-inch Baer brakes are mounted behind the custom-machined 20×12- and 18×8.5-inch Schott wheels with satin gold centers.
Lift the electrically operated hood and you’ll find smooth custom panels surrounding a Lamar Walden-built 509c.i. W-engine cranking out more than 630 horsepower. Built using a polished aluminum block and cylinder heads, the beautifully detailed engine is fed by six Autotrend EFI throttle bodies on a vintage Offenhauser intake, topped with a custom air cleaner assembly. Dan Baker at Alumicraft whittled the custom valve covers, while the team at Big Oak built the custom stainless headers and exhaust, which uses Borla mufflers. A Tremec T-56 Magnum transmission and Tilton clutch from Bowler backs up the rowdy V8.
The interior continues the theme of honoring the Impala heritage while giving it a custom twist. Tracy Weaver and his team at Recovery Room Interiors stitched off-white leather over custom seats and side panels in a clean ’60s style, complete with tan suede inserts and Impala-style trim buttons. There’s plenty of one-off custom-machined trim by Atomic Machine and Fiber Forged augmenting the upholstery work, including a custom aluminum bezel for the Dakota Digital instruments. The Recovery Room team upholstered the trunk to match, and even incorporated hidden compartments for a cigar humidor and martini shaker. Finishing touches inside include pedals and a shifter from Clayton Machine, and a custom-machined steering wheel atop the Flaming River tilt column.
The “Dirty Martini” Impala was completed early this year and debuted at the 2022 Grand National Roadster Show, where it was in contention for the Al Slonaker Memorial Award and won both the Sam Foose Design Award and the Sid Chavers Stitch of Excellence honor. It went on to win the Go For The Gold Award at Darryl Starbird’s National Rod & Custom Show in February before coming to California to claim the first Meguiar’s Top 12 award of 2022. Congratulations go out to Dan Duffy, Will Posey and his Big Oak Garage crew, and everyone else who had a hand in this incredible Impala, the 2022 Fuel Curve Custom of the Year!
Photos by John Jackson