Chevrolet Impala 1964 “Radioactivo”

The iconic game GTA San Andreas opened new horizons in the development of car culture. Players were introduced to the world of “bouncing” cars, adorned with whimsical patterns—so-called panels. A collective image of the Chevrolet Impala became one of the main platforms for such tuning, though the model was not directly named.

The Fins are Lower - The Body is Wider

The Chevrolet Impala is a full-size car with a classic layout that was at the upper end of the Chevy line. It’s worth noting that the brand itself wasn’t considered prestigious, but it was one of the top sellers. The Impala was equipped with all the options that GM engineers could create at the time.

The 1964 Impala belonged to the late fin style. The aerodynamic wings, so beloved by designers in the 50s, were getting lower—fashion was changing, and practicality prevailed over frills. The wide and square body looked massive and embodied the needs of Americans, a huge cabin, a spacious trunk, an abundance of chrome and an impressive ride quality.

Why Lowriders Love American Business Class

The culture of lowriding began in poor neighborhoods. Like any customization, it’s primarily a desire to stand out from the gray city flow. It involves lowering the clearance to a minimum, which almost immobilizes the car— projects grinding the body against the asphalt. Some owners install pneumatic or hydraulic suspensions that can lower and lift it— the latter does so with such speed that some can even jump. This was memorably depicted in some missions from GTA SA—where cars “danced” under the player’s control, and such competitions are indeed held.

Ordinary guys couldn’t afford a new car—but there was always American classic available for a song. An Impala with an inline six-cylinder engine is an excellent choice for a project that doesn’t necessarily need to go fast. The money saved went towards suspension preparation, purchasing beautiful—preferably chrome—wheels, and a unique one-off paint scheme.

Like Columbus

The owner of this Impala is Tom O’Hara. He was around classic cars his entire life. His grandfather owned two Ford Model A’s and a 70s era Chevrolet Suburban. His father and brother both had numerous muscle cars, from Camaros, and Firebirds to Novas.  As a youngster of 8 years old, he first saw lowriders in the films of Cheech and Chong. And there was something unique that fascinated him about lthem. What they lacked in speed they made up for in style. 

It’s worth noting that each car Tom owned was older than the previous one—his first car was a 1976 Volkswagon Beetle, replaced by a ’71 Pontiac GTO. It was when he purchased his 1969 Buick Skylark in 1992 that he built his first lowrider. A car he owned for 22 years. He clearly loves classics. 

When Tom moved to Argentina in 2012 and left behind his beloved Buick. For his first few years, he moved through the city as most do, using the subways and buses. However, his desire to build another lowrider never faded. Financial constraints did not allow him to start immediately. After nine years in the country, at the height of the pandemic, Tom bought a stock brown Impala with a white roof. After the purchase, he began looking for a craftsman who could bring his ideas to life. Members of an Argentinian classic car group on Facebook advised him to contact a painter named Pollo, the owner of MF Kilmes—and they were not mistaken. The two bonded immediately, having a shared passion for lowriders.     

During the build, he came to realize that there are only a small handful of lowriders in this country and he had a chance to bring something new to the local car culture. It seemed that the residents of Argentina had accepted that building a lowrider was far too expensive here—Tom’s goal was to dispel that myth. 

An Iterative Approach Leads the Way

The mistake of novice tuners is to try to do everything all at once. It’s a long, expensive, and complicated process. And not being prepared to go through the suffering often leads to ads like “couldn’t finish, time to move on.” Given Tom’s experience customizing cars in the US, he took a different approach, patience. He started by attacking all of the mechanical issues first, rebuilding the motor and transmission. As long as the car was driveable everything else would fall into place in time. Painting a custom roof came next. And a year later when he had saved enough money he repainted the body of the car. Another six months passed and he purchased the air suspension kit and chrome American Racings 5-spoke wheels. All that’s left to complete the project is a full custom interior that matches the external appearance. 

The project has made an impression on the local car culture and draws attention every time it hits the streets and shows. He plans to sell the car once it’s finished and build at least two more—one more to sell and the other one to keep.

What Tom’s Experience Shows

Throughout history, people have moved to other countries and brought pieces of their culture with them. Globalization and the Internet have opened up the world and today in a remote part of India, one can learn what Stance is. But without people who believe in their way of thinking and are ready to present it to others, cultural development—in our case, car culture—is impossible.

Tom found himself in a country where people did not believe in their ability to assemble custom lowrider projects. With his example of sheer passion for his dream and without money, he proved that anything is possible—you just need determination.

The material was worked on by:
Owner: radioactivo64
Photographer: mccarthy606
Text: its_sokol