Chevy Impala SS is hot rod in disguise by Linda Sharp (Atlanta Journal and Constitution 6/10/94)

   Memorial Day morning, the day after the running of Charlotte

Motor Speedway's Coca-Cola 600, I was at the North Carolina home

of Darrell and Stevie Waltrip. Darrell is the driver of the

Western Auto Chevrolet on NASCAR's Winston Cup tour. He is also

the winningest active driver on the Winston Cup circuit, with 84

victories to his credit.

   Enough about race cars; breakfast was the subject at hand. Two

apple bran muffins, to be exact. Darrell offered to pick them up.

Having noticed a new red Corvette parked in the carport, I

offered the use of the car I was driving. It was a

limited-edition Chevrolet Impala SS. Because the Impala is

equipped with a 5.7-liter Corvette LT1 engine, I was curious

about how its performance would stack up in Darrell's opinion. 

   When Darrell's almost 2-year-old daughter, Sarah, realized her

daddy was leaving, she tearfully pleaded to go along. Her mom,

Stevie, nixed that idea, explaining that she had left Sarah's car

seat in another vehicle. Her decision confirmed that she

understands and agrees that even when riding with a driver of the

caliber of Darrell Waltrip, all precious cargo should be strapped

in a car seat.

   Then, it was to the McDonald's drive-through. After all, the

muffins were the real reason for the trip. I noted that Darrell

made a generous change contribution to the Ronald McDonald

charity collection box. He said, "Yeah, me and Ronald are pretty


   Then he brightened the day of a few McDonald's employees with

a couple of minutes of pleasant conversation. One raspy-voiced

worker explained, "I lost it yelling for you last night." Darrell

smiled appreciatively and then added, "It's OK when they're

yelling for you; it's when it's at you that worries me."

   Time for the test drive. Darrell opted for the interstate to

check out the Impala's 260-horsepower motor. He noted, "This

piece is pretty stout." Next it was to a curvy back road to

evaluate the Impala's enhanced handling performance. Darrell

said, "I like the car's feel. It gives you a lot of feedback. The

steering is quick, positive. It doesn't wallow like most big

sedans." Darrell and I agreed that the SS's 255-by- 50-by-17 BF

Goodrich Co. tires contributed a lot to the car's driveability.

Darrell pointed out that the ample tires actually enhanced the

car's controllability. "I had to drop a wheel off back there when

the last car approached. The wide tires made it a simple maneuver

to get the car back on the road."

   I told Darrell that my mom had recently purchased a Caprice

Classic, and while a nice car, there was little comparison

between the two. I joked that maybe I ought to take a can of

black spray paint to my mom's car. (The SS Impala is available

only in black.) I chimed in, "Mom, it'll make the car drive

better. Really, it will."

   Back in the Waltrip driveway, Darrell asked, "How much does

this car go for, about $ 30,000?" His expression attested to his

surprise when I told him an Impala goes for about $ 23,000.

That's with power everything, anti-lock brakes, leather interior

and dual air bags. He said, "This is a car I could own. You know

what it really is? It's a car that a guy can tell his wife,

'Honey, it's just an ol' four-door Chevrolet,' and then bring

home a hot rod." We both laughed when he added, "But it might be

tough explaining why he wanted the kids to wear helmets."

   Linda Sharp is a training consultant to auto manufacturers.

Her column is written exclusively for The Atlanta