The 409-cubic-inch V-8, introduced as an option for the new full-size Impala SS in 1961, boosted Chevrolet’s reputation as a drag racing powerhouse. With 360 horsepower, four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission and the right factory accessories, the SS/409 combo could fly down the quarter-mile in 14.02 seconds at 98.14 miles per hour and run from zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.0 seconds. Renowned racer Don Nichols drove an SS to the inaugural 1961 NHRA Winternational championships in Pomona, California, and repeated the win the next year.
One writer praised the Impala SS with 409 power as being “about as exciting an automobile as you can buy,” but no words of endorsement have endured longer than the refrain “she’s real fine, my 409” from The Beach Boys’ 1962 chart-topper. In spite of its universal appeal among speed freaks, the 409 was only offered from 1961 through the end of 1965 production, at which point the high-output version produced an amazing 425 horsepower. Chevrolet built only 43,775 cars with some version of the 409 – a relatively small number for the country’s number-one automaker – but the 50-year-old engine’s cult continues to grow.
Concord resident Jerry Dennis bought a new Impala SS in 1962 and has restored five 1962 409s since then. His collection currently includes a red hardtop and a white two-door sedan – both of which have been restored to the highest standards imaginable. A complete 409 engine sits on a pallet in the corner of his garage like a piece of industrial art.
“Once you get started with a certain type of car,” Dennis said, “it is hard to stop buying parts and working on them.
“I’ve owned the red car for 18 years. When it was new, it was repossessed, then a guy in Albemarle owned it for the rest of the time. I restored it once but didn’t like the results so I took another three years and did it right.
“I’ve been going to the AutoFair at the speedway since it started back in the ‘70s. That’s where I find a lot of parts.”
The Showcase Garage at the April 7-10 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway will feature “Beauties and Beasts” from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and AMC; a street-legal Radio Flyer wagon; high-riding “skyscraper” sedans that roll on 30-inch custom wheels; a Legends of Drag Racing display and a collection of electric and hybrid cars.
Food Lion AutoFair
Hours for the April 7-10 Food Lion AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults or $25 for a four-day pass; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.