Impala Custom Woodwork

In 2007 the MTV Pimp List of cars in the "Pimp My Ride" series grew by a special edition for Earth Day – a biodiesel-powered 800 hp truck engine installed in a modified 1965 Chevy Impala. The beefed-up Impala burning 100% biodiesel beat hands down a gasoline-powered 2007 Lotus.

California Governor Schwarzenegger jumped into the fold taking the opportunity on the show to promote biofuels.

All that high-profile celebrity was hard to trump – until Rau was called in to add the ultimate touch to the restored Impala – our trademark custom steering wheel!


We drove out to Galpin Motor Sports to check out this reborn classic and get a look at the exterior color. What was needed was a wood steering wheel with shift knob and some speaker trim in the trunk. Of course the trick was to match the candy apple red paint job.

A request like this requires some special woodwork knowledge. Obviously wood does not come in bright red, or other solid colors like blue or yellow. Normally when you want to use a color in the wood, you choose a light-colored wood, one that doesn't have a strong color to it naturally. The whiter it is, the less the original wood color will interfere with your final product. The idea of course in choosing wood is that you want to see the natural beauty of the wood texture or you might as well just paint it.

Bold is Beautiful

This was no Rolls or Bentley, not even a Lexus. This was an 800hp fire-breathing 1965 Impala on steroids. So what wood would you choose to make a Bold statement? We were looking in our library of woods to match this Impala's persona. For an extra effect we selected tiger maple, a highly figured domestic beauty that can look like stripes or waves that resemble tiger stripes. Using this particular wood for steering wheels is always a hit with our customers, and we have made them in many different colors.

Audacity of color
To achieve a "realistic artificial" color in wood requires layering shades of color at different levels so that wood is the correct color of red but still maintains its natural looking characteristics. Undaunted, we experimented with color combinations using dyes and tints to match the Impala's exterior red while highlighting the bold tiger stripe in the maple.

Impala custom wheel and shift knob

While some traditionalists view the coloring of wood intended for automobiles as rude and even sacrilegious (Tabasco on foie gras), this project was not the time to be timid or tradition-bound in the choice of the wood or color.

We enjoy the diversity of projects that clients send to our doorstep. This means we are frequently balancing the need for fidelity in selecting an authentic wood for the restoration of a 1934 Voisin, for example, with the forward thinking contemporary aesthetic required for a show like "Pimp My Ride".

The wheel grips of these older car models are quite thin, which is a more challenging environment for wood as far as shaping it to the wheel is concerned, so we chose to use solid lumber. To add some turbo bust to the shift knob You can see that we added some ebony segments to the shift knob.

In the end, the uniqueness and beauty of a custom steering wheel or interior wood job is only limited by an individual's imagination. When melding a worldwide verity of lumber with peerless craftsmanship, pretty much anything is possible.
The Fusion of Art and Technique!

Anyway, the Governor loved our work or he undoubtedly wouldn't have been on the show. Thanks Arnie!

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