They say kids at a certain age are impressionable and for Johnny Freund, who still lives in the town where he grew up, he can easily recall the guys who had all the cool cars long before he was allowed his driver’s license. For Johnny, it seems destiny had foretold that cars would always be in his blood. It was that reason, or maybe because he was always hanging around, that when Dempsey Hunter opened his own parts store in 1968 in Nashville he told Johnny, “Well, if you’re going to be hanging around here, I’m going to put you to work.” Johnny respected Hunter a great deal and, over the years, often looked upon him like a second father.
Johnny picked up this 383 crate motor, topped with two-fours, from Edelbrock, and Street M
From then until now, it’s the only job Johnny has known. In 1988, after working at Hunter’s for 20 years, Johnny was able to purchase the business from the family after Hunter died, but he kept the name the same. Through the ’90s Johnny helped lots of people customize their rides and Hunter’s Custom Automotive became the exclusive East Coast distributor for Boyds Wheels. Friends with Coddington as well as local hot rod builders such as Bobby Alloway meant there was always something special in Johnny’s garage, and many of those cars have been featured in STREET RODDER, as well as other national magazines through the years.
Currently, Johnny owns a ’67 Corvette and a chopped ’55 Chevy, but he found this ’61 Impala a few years back and didn’t care much for its white paintjob, so he worked with Street Machinery in Cleveland to redo the car from the ground up. Originally the car was from California and it had found its way to Tennessee, and the only repair work needed was the replacement of the rockers. After the car was taken to Street Machinery, they had all the trim off the car and the interior ripped out inside of five hours.
Though a ’61, Johnny likes aspects of the interior found in ’63 Impalas, so he had Dave St
Though the car was a driver when he bought it, Johnny wanted to replace the 283 and Powerglide combo with a 383 backed to a TH350 trans. The motor is a crate unit from Edelbrock, and came topped with two-fours and loads of Edelbrock equipment. Up front a serpentine system from Billet Specialties was installed, and the car was soon fitted with an A/C system from Vintage Air. Sanderson headers help draw exhaust out to the Flowmaster mufflers.
Street Machinery, a shop that can work on any make or model but has experience with late-’50s/early-’60s cars, used a Victory Red color off a GM pickup and PPG paint materials to transform the bubbletop in to a showstopping, red-on-red cruiser. Each corner has airbags from RideTech, and big 20x8.5 and 22x10 Billet Specialties wheels, wrapped in BFGoodrich 245/35-20 and 285/35-22 hides, were fitted without any major body or frame modifications.
Inside the car Johnny wanted to update the upholstery a bit because he liked what Chevy did with their Impala interiors in 1963, so that look has a heavy influence in his ’61. Dave Studer did the stitching, which included adding ’63-style buttons to the red leather before being stretched over a ’63 front (with the chrome trim around the backpiece) and rear seats. Mercedes red wool carpet was also used and three small Classic Instruments gauges were added below the speedometer to the otherwise stock-appearing dash. Vents for the Vintage Air A/C, a shifter from Lokar Performance, and a Billet Specialties steering wheel bolted to a Flaming River tilt column are the only other giveaways that the interior isn’t stock.
With all the stainless and chrome trim pieces re-plated by Leonard’s Plating back on the car, Johnny was ready to start driving his ride around town. Now with more than 2,000 miles rolled up on the odometer, the car still looks as good as it did when first finished, and Johnny is thinking about a ’65 Rivi project next. Now in their 44th year, Hunter’s Custom Automotive is still supplying hot rodders with what they need to get their cars on the road, and we can bet ol’ Dempsey Hunter is smiling down on Johnny, satisfied the kid has done good.