Chevy Impala: A Look Back
It’s been almost 60 years now since the Impala first hit the roads. And after going though ten generations, countless design changes and almost disappearing completely years ago the fleet is still going strong. We’re going to look back at this motoring icon and see how its managed to span generations and still be a force to be reckoned with even today.
The Iconic Beginning
The Impala was first available back in 1958, yet the styling of this car still catches the eye to this day. The dual headlights, individual taillights and the sharp fins at the rear made it stand out from the crowd of what can only be politely described as “round” vehicles that were available at the time.
The Impala came in two distinct styles on release. The instantly recognizable convertible and the hard top coupé, offering a 6 cylinder and a V8 power unit to boot. The price of the vehicles helped establish a firm foothold in the market as well, being marketed as mid-range vehicles, the V8 was the most expensive option costing $2,693 on release. Accounting for inflation, that would be around $22,000 in current terms. The price and the styling of this vehicle helped Chevrolet secure top place in the sales chart that year.
However, this styling only lasted a year before the vehicle was given it’s first of many cosmetic updates, leading to the second generation.
Better the Second Time Round?
Following on from the success of the original model a few changes, both cosmetic and business related were incorporated into the second coming of the Impala. No longer was this car a by-product of the “Bel Air” line but its own franchise. Chevy also chose to make a few stylistic changes. Gone were the original clusters of 3 individual taillights at the rear replaced by what can only be described as a menacing look for the rear. The taillights had been collected into a tapered set reminiscent of eyes whereas the tail-fins now swooped over them into what resembles a scowling brow. This incarnation was also an extra inch and a half longer than the predecessor leading to the first of many 4 door models. Despite the leaner, more brought in look to the car Chevy still kept to the same large engines that were previously available, with the top-end 348 cu in (5.7L) engine giving out around 350bhp. Further new additions were brought in, with this being the first model to offer speed and cruise control. The costing remained about constant as well, with the Impala Convertible Coupe costing $2,847 new, around $22,500 in today’s money.
Third Time’s The Charm
As the 60’s rolled in, the third generation Impala made an appearance, this time lasting from 1961 up until 1964. This was also the generation that introduced the world to the Super Sport, or SS, engine, thought to be the birthplace of the American muscle car. The 409 cu in engine was a marked improvement to that house in the second generation, offering a further 10 horsepower, bringing the total up to 360bhp and a 0-60 speed of around 7 seconds. Sedentary by modern standards, but astronomical at the time. The styling also took a more reserved approach compared tot he Impala’s of old, becoming more square and less flamboyant.
Forward Thinking and the Lackluster Fifth Generation
Generation number four of the Impala came in 1965 with an even more modest styling than that seen in the third generation. Despite the dramatic change, this car still holds the US industry record for number of units sold, topping one million in a year. As had become the norm with the Impala, this generation of car lasted longer than the last, spanning five years from 1965 to 1970 and brought with it a plethora of different engine sizes, the most notable being the 454 cu in “Turbo-Jet” V8. Over the five years this generation spanned there were a few minor changes to the styling, bringing back the individual clusters of taillights that has become a staple of the original models. Replacing this was the fifth generation, and aside from this being the final model to sport a 454 engine there wasn't really much to report on the Impala until 1977.
Resurgence in the Sixth Generation?
After suffering a dramatic drop in demand during the life of the previous incarnation, Chevy went back to the drawing board for their latest offering. The sixth generation, lasting from 1977 to 1985. These cars were much shorter and narrower than they had been. The conservative styling remained and the increase in gas prices had shown as the largest engine offered would only be a 350 cu in V8. There was more bad news for Chevy to come, due to low sales they decided to drop the Sports Coupe models in ‘82 and they decided to stop production after 1985 to focus on the much better selling Caprice.
A Welcomed, albeit, Short Return
After a brief nine year hiatus, Chevy brought back the Impala in ‘94. Based around the police model Caprice the Impala came back offering a 260bhp, 350 cu in engine. Unfortunately the four speed transmission that came with it was seen by many as a let down. Production of this model only 2 years before it was again dropped by Chevy, along with the Caprice sister models.
Another Disappointing Return?
The eighth generation came to existence at the turn of the new millennium. Controversy remained around this as not only had it stuck with the poorly received four speed transmission but it had also been switched to front wheel drive. To twist the knife these new cars only came with a V6, missing the two extra cylinders that had become synonymous with the Impala’s of old. Safety was one of the highlights of this car though, meeting industry standards three years prior to them needing to.
Return of the V8
To the joy of many of the Impala purists, the ninth generation came with the option of not only a V8 but also a six speed transmission, giving out 303bhp. Sporting all of the accessories that would would expect a new car to come with from the early cars, there was very little to report in the way of changes over this models seven year life.
The Latest Offering
2014 saw the current model arrive at the dealerships. Sticking with the fan favorite six speed transmission but dropping to a maximum of a V6 engine. Time will tell on how well this latest offering will do, but looking back at how Chevy have had their ups and downs with this model it’s worth betting that this wont be the last we see of the Impala. Granted, compared to the original models this car barely looks like an Impala at all, but the reviews so far are astounding and it’s hard to see how this car can fail.