The Chevrolet Impala was, through 1996, a full-sized automobile built by General Motors for their Chevrolet division. The Impala was reintroduced in 2000 as a full-size front-wheel-drive car. Ed Cole, Chevrolet's chief engineer in the late 1950s, defined the Impala as a "prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen."
From 1958 until 1965, the Impala was Chevrolet's most expensive full-size car. In 1965, Chevrolet introduced the more-expensive Caprice.
In the late sixties, the Impala was typically positioned just below the top luxury trim, the Caprice, and above the more economical models like the Biscayne or the Bel Air. The Impala, named for a southern African antelope, is most readily distinguished by a pair of three rather than two taillights at its rear. It competed in the market against other full-size cars such as the Ford Galaxie 500 and the Plymouth Fury.
One of both General Motors' and America's most successful auto nameplates, the Impala was often the best-selling automobile in its formative years when full-sized cars dominated sales. The 1965 sales of over one million units in the U.S. still stands as a record. From 1958 through 1996, Impala sales were in excess of 13 million, more than any other full-size car in the history of the automobile. The current version of the Impala is the 8th best selling vehicle (of any kind) and 5th best selling car in the United States and has the distinction of being the top selling American nameplate sedan, according to Reuters Top 20 Best-selling Vehicles Scorecard for the calendar year of 2007.
The Impala was introduced in 1958 as a new, upmarket, sporty trim package created for Bel Air coupes and convertibles. Unique to the model were its six taillights, which set it apart from lower trim levels with only two lights on a side. This classic styling cue would become its trademark. The Impala became a separate model in 1959 in both two- and four-door versions and became the best-selling car in the Chevrolet lineup. For 1960, it became the best-selling automobile in the United States and held that position for the next decade.
The Impala featured body-on-frame construction, using the "X" frame used on other Chevys, as well as Cadillac. The exception for the six-taillight rear end styling was the 1959 model, which used the "teardrop" taillight shape as all other Chevy models had.
The Impala was restyled on the existing GM B platform for 1961. The new body styling was more trim and boxy than the 1958-60 models. Sport Coupe models featured a "bubbleback" roofline style for '61, and a unique model, the 2-door pillared sedan, was available for 1961 only. It was rarely ordered and a scarce collectible today. The rare Super Sport (SS) option debuted for 1961.
The 1962 model featured new "C" pillar styling for all models except the 4-door hardtop "Sport Sedan." Sport Coupe models now featured the "convertible roof" styling, shared with other GM "B" full-size hardtop coupes. This style proved extremely popular, and contributed to the desirability of the '62-'64 Impalas as collectibles. The "overhang" roof style of the sedans was replaced with a more attractive, wider "C" pillar with wraparound rear window. Engine choices for '62 settled down, the V8 discontinued and replaced by the , which could be ordered with any transmission. The small-block 283 was enlarged to , which added more engine choices for small-block fans. The Beach Boys produced a hit single, "409," referring to the Chevy, which became an iconic song for these cars. Impalas again featured premium interior appointments, plusher seats, and more chrome trim outside, including a full-width aluminum-and-chrome panel to house the triple-unit taillight assembly. Super Sport (SS) models featured that panel in a special engine-turned aluminum, which was also used to fill the side moldings, making the SS more distinctive in appearance. Due to reliability problems, the optional Turboglide automatic transmission was discontinued, leaving Powerglide the only autobox available until 1965.
Many consider the 1963 model to be the best in terms of styling, although it was mechanically identical to the '62 in most ways. Crisper styling, with pointy front and rear fenders, emphasized the longer, lower look which was so popular at that time. Impalas again featured a rear taillight panel which was aluminum surrounded by a chrome border, which had the engine-turned surface on SS models. Engine choice was similar to '62, with the small-block and V8s the most popular choices. The Sport Sedan featured a new, creased roofline that proved popular. A new "coved" instrument panel was good-looking, but replaced the temperature gauge with "idiot lights" for hot and cold engine conditions. An optional factory tachometer was built into the dash, just above the steering wheel. It was rarely ordered, but gave the Super Sport models an extra feel of sportiness.
For 1964, the Impala was slightly restyled, reverting to a more rounded, softer look. Out back, the signature taillight assembly had an "upside-down U" shaped aluminum trim strip above the taillights, but the lights themselves were surrounded by a body-colored panel. The returned as the big-block option, but the 4X2 carburetor setup was no longer on the option list. SS models continued to feature the engine-turned aluminum trim. Rooflines were carried over from '63 unchanged.
Redesigned again in 1965, the Impala set an all-time industry annual sales record of more than 1 million units in the U.S., which has never been bettered. All new full-size Chevys eschewed the "X" frame for a full-width perimeter frame, a totally new body which featured curved, frameless side glass(for pillarless models), sharper angled windshield with newly-reshaped vent windows, and redesigned full-coil suspension. As with previous years, Impalas featured more chrome trim inside and out, with pleated tufted upholstery and door panels.
In 1965, Chevrolet introduced the Impala Caprice. Beginning with the four-door hardtop sedan body, Impala Caprices received unique upholstery, wood grained accents on the dashboard and specialty pulls on the insides of the doors. The Impala Caprice was reintroduced as the Chevrolet Caprice in 1966, taking the top position in the full-size Chevrolet lineup. The Impala however, remained Chevrolet's top-selling model until the late 1970s. The 1967 model was redesigned along the lines of the 1963 Buick Riviera. The Coke bottle shape was strengthened and the curves were biggest with the 1967-68 models. In keeping with Federal regulations, safety features were built into Impalas during the 1967 and '68 model years, including a fully collapsible energy-absorbing steering column, side marker lights, and shoulder belts for closed models. During the 1969 model year, for example, Impala production topped Caprice production by 611,000 units.
Right Hand Drive cars were manufactured in Canada for export to some countries such as Australia, UK etc., until 1969. They used a version of the 1965 Impala dash panel until 1969. Australian models were assembled in Australia from kits as this lessened tax on the cars.
Engine choices included the inline six-cylinder as well as the famous Chevy small-block and big-block V8s. Automatic buyers were given the option of the newly-introduced three-range Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission for the newly-introduced Mark IV big-block engine, displacing 396 cubic inches. The old "W" engine was discontinued early in the 1965 model year, so early-production '65s got the 409, where later-built cars had the as the big-block option. Two-range Powerglide, as well as Synchro-Mesh 3- and 4-speed manual transmissions were also available.
In 1961, the Impala SS (Super Sport) was introduced to the market. The SS badge was to become Chevrolet's signature of performance on many models, though it has often been an appearance package only. The Impala's SS package in 1961 was truly a performance package, beginning with the high-performance V8 engines available with , , and or the new V8, which was available with up to . The package also included upgraded tires on station wagon wheels, springs, shocks and special sintered metallic brake linings. Starting in 1962, the Impala SS could be had with any engine available in the Impala, down to the , inline-6. With one exception, from this point until 1969, the SS was an appearance package only, though the heavy-duty parts and big engines could still be ordered. From 1962-on, Super Sports were limited to the hardtop coupe and convertible coupe exclusively. The Super Sport package was known by Regular Production Option (RPO) Z03, from 1962-63, and again in 1968. As mentioned above, '62-64 Super Sports got engine-turned aluminum trim, which was replaced by a "blackout" trim strip in '65 which ran under the taillights. "Super Sport" script replaced the "Impala SS" badges in 1965 and 1966.
The exception was the Z24 option package available in combination with the standard Z03 Super Sport package. Starting in 1967 through 1969, buyers of Impala Z24s got cars badged as "SS427" models. The SS427 included a heavy-duty suspension and other performance goodies, as well as a Turbo-Jet V8 in either L36 (in 1967-1968, in 1969) or L72 in 1968-1969. Special SS427 badging, inside and out, was the rule, but few were sold since muscle car enthusiasts were looking toward big-block intermediates such as the Chevelle SS396 and Plymouth Road Runner, which were lighter and faster off the line. From 1968 to 1969, Z24s could be ordered without the Z03 SS package, which meant SS427 equipment but no bucket seats or center console.
The Impala SS could be identified by "SS" emblems on the rear fenders and trunk lid. The Impala SS became its own series (separate model rather than an option package) for 1964. In 1968, the Impala SS once again became an option package. 1967 and 1968 SS427s got a special domed hood and body emblems, and the 1968 model featured "gills" on the front fenders in front of the wheel opening, possibly to remind people of its Corvette cousin. In 1969, the Impala SS was available only as the Z24 (SS427), coming exclusively with a V8 of , , or . This was the final year for the Impala SS until 1994. Those 1969 Impala SS cars were often considered "sleepers" in that there was no distinctive SS badging inside the car (again there was no Z03 offered that year), and a true 1969 Z24-optioned car is the rarest and most collectible of the SS427 years.
1969 was the last year that the Impala SS was offered with the Z24 package, but the only year in which front disc brakes and wheels were standard; that made the 1969 SS427 better than the previous version. Although the 427 was replaced by the Turbo-Jet V8 in 1970, the SS option was gone. Thus, the 1969 Impala SS427 got the best of both worlds, which is why it is so valuable and is often cloned today.
In 1971, the redesigned full-size B-body would be the largest full-size car ever offered by GM. However, the 1970s marked the impact of the 1973 energy crisis. Gasoline prices doubled between 1973 and 1979. Industry car sales plummeted 20 percent between 1973 and 1974, and for the first time in recent history, annual passenger car travel in the U.S. actually declined. The Impala's sales dropped to 176,376 units in 1975, the weakest since its introduction in 1958. In spite of the large size of these cars, an Econominder gauge package was offered on 1975 and 1976 models to keep track of gas mileage. Station wagons replaced the swinging tailgate with an unusual design where the back window retracted into the roof, which was abandoned on the subsequent redesign.
While still very good cars, these Impalas had some notorious reliability issues. The appearance of a large crack in the dashboard when exposed to the sun's rays was jokingly referred to as the "Mark of Excellence" by some owners. The windows would sometimes leak, including the back window leaking into the trunk. Many different car makes of the era were plagued by these same maladies though.
Starting in 1968, two coupe models were offered on Impalas, the "Sport Coupe" was the lower-priced hardtop coupe design, shared with other GM "B" body hardtop coupes, and the formal-roof "Custom Coupe" which was the Caprice Coupe body in Impala trim. Sport Coupe models were discontinued after 1975, leaving the Custom Coupe, with its wide "B" pillar and fixed rear window, the only 2-door Impala available in 1976. This body style was actually introduced for the 1974 model year, a precursor to Detroit's complete abandonment of pillarless body styles before the end of the Seventies.
The 1972 model introduced a "gaping" grille which extended below the bumper. The large size was partly because of federal bumper rules which required impact protection beginning in 1973, and the rear in 1974.
Powertrains consisted of V8 engines mostly, offered with , , or ; however, the long-familiar OHV six-cylinder Turbo Thrift engine continued to be standard on two-door hardtop coupe and four-door pillared sedan models through the end of the 1972 model year. Beginning in 1972, all engines were designed to run on unleaded gasoline. Catalytic converters were introduced in 1975. High Energy Ignition, or HEI, debuted on the 75 models as well, although it is said HEI was installed on some 1974 cars. The Impala convertible model was dropped after 1972, and continued as a Caprice until 1975.
Several new options were offered for the first time in 1975. In addition to the Econominder gauge package, new options included intermittent wipers and a divided 50-50 bench seat (with a choice of sport cloth or vinyl trim). Also in 1975, the dashboard, radio and climate control graphics were revised; the speedometer read up to , and had smaller numbers for kilometers per hour.
Although the "Super Sport" model was long since discontinued, two special models were offered:
The changes in the automobile marketplace resulted in Chevrolet redesigning the Impala once again in 1977 to meet changing demands. The new downsized Impalas were shorter, taller and narrower. The new Impala's frame was a shortened version of the one introduced in 1971 and would be utilized until 1996 when the B-body production line was shut down. The Impala was typical of smaller, lighter (even more so than the 1977 Chevelle), and more fuel efficient full-size American cars. Even with its smaller dimensions, the new Impala featured increased headroom, legroom and trunk space.
Production of the downsized model increased substantially versus 1976, and the Impala regained the number one US sales position. The redesigned 1977 Impala/Caprice was named Motor Trends car of the year.
No convertible models were offered. Pillarless hardtops were also discontinued, the result of rumors of Federal rollover standards looming in the near future. The relatively rare 1977-1979 coupes did have a double bent tempered rear window much like the Monte Carlo Aerocoupe.
Engine availability was reduced in 1977 when the V6 was introduced with . Other options included and V8 engines. The V8 engine was optional in some years. Oldsmobile's V8 diesel engine also was available.
In 1980, a slight facelift took place, although the body style remained the same, and all the sheet metal was changed. From 1980-1990, all GM B-bodies shared similar doors that can be replaced by removing model-specific trim pieces.
Although the Impala (and the upscale Caprice) sold well into the early 1980s, the Impala was more of an entry-level vehicle along with fleet usage - especially with law enforcement. The Impala was discontinued in 1985, while the Caprice continued unchanged until 1990. The Caprice received a major redesign in 1991 and continued until 1996.
In 1991, the GM B platform was extensively redesigned, though it retained the same shortened frame design of the 1977 redesign.
The Impala SS badge was resurrected at the 1992 Detroit Auto Show as a concept car designed by GM designer Jon Moss. The concept car was two inches lower to the ground than the regular Caprice, and was powered by a engine. Eventually, the concept car's engine was replaced with a engine derived from the Corvette in order to show the public what would be offered if put into production (an off-road specification V8 was eventually put into the engine bay of the prototype years later).
The 1994 Impala SS went into production 14 months later at GM's plant in Arlington, Texas, and was almost identical cosmetically to the concept car, the only noticeable change being the chromed bowtie logo on the grill (vs a red logo on the concept). The car was, in essence, a high-performance version of the Caprice. From a mechanical standpoint, it used the Caprice 9C1 police package as its base and as such got most of the equipment formerly available only to law enforcement and government agencies. This included a sport-tuned suspension with reinforced shocks and struts, a high-capacity upgraded reverse flow cooling system, larger and more powerful four-wheel disc brakes, transmission cooler, dual exhaust, a higher-output electrical system, and other minor mechanical alterations. Not all of the police equipment was carried over however, as the Impala SS did not get the external oil-to-air engine oil cooler, nor were all the body mounts secured (the standard Caprice and Impala SS were assembled at the factory with the front 3 body mounts missing one of the rubber cushions, while the 9C1 was assembled with all rubber cushions in place), although both are popular aftermarket additions to the Impala SS by their owners.
The Impala SS was uniquely fitted with a standard 3.08 limited-slip rear differential and suspension that was an inch lower. A retuned LT1 small-block V8 was standard on the Impala SS, making and of torque (retuned from the prototype's rating). The primary difference between the LT1 in the Impala and the LT1 that was in the Corvette and Camaro was that the Impala engine was fitted with cast-iron cylinder heads instead of aluminum ones, and a camshaft that was designed more for low-end torque than high-end horsepower. Another difference was that the Impala LT1 had 2 bolt main bearing caps while the Corvette LT1 had 4 bolt main bearing caps. The transmission used in the car was the 4L60E, which was itself an upgraded and revised version of the previous 700R4. However, the transmission was not beefed up for the power of the LT1, and transmission failures after were commonplace.
Several other cars in the B-body line also shared a similar powertrain: these were the Chevrolet Caprice, Buick Roadmaster, and the Cadillac Fleetwood which all shared the LT1 engine and 4L60E automatic transmission.
Cosmetically, the Impala SS received body-colored trim, which helped reduce the sometimes "bloated" look of the standard Caprice, a unique single-bar grille with no hood ornament and, a rear deck spoiler. It was fitted with brushed aluminum wheels with 255/50ZR17 tires. Inside, the car came with a central console with cup holders (1994 and 1995 models) and a storage compartment, leather seats embroidered with the Impala SS logo, and a standard leather-wrapped steering wheel.
For the 1994 model year, it was available only in black with a grey interior. Due to a shortage of the unique 5-spoke aluminum wheels (manufactured by ROH in Australia), only 6,303 cars were sold. However, the wheel shortage was remedied for the 1995 model year and 21,434 cars were sold. In 1995, Dark Cherry Metallic and Dark Grey Green were added as exterior color options, and the body paneling on the rear quarter panel was altered to reflect the cosmetic effect formerly achieved by a window insert. 1996 was the last year of production with 41,941 units sold. The 1996 Impala SS production went late into the model year; some being produced as late as December 17, 1996. It saw minor interior alterations, with the digital speedometer being replaced by an analog one, along with a tachometer. The shifter was moved from the column to the center console, and the engine was given an OBD-II computer control system (the camshaft was reground to adjust for the new computer).
The entire B/D-body line, consisting of the Chevrolet Caprice, Impala SS, Buick Roadmaster and Cadillac Fleetwood, was discontinued by General Motors, as GM wanted more assembly lines to be able to produce more profitable SUVs. Another fact was that the Caprice was the only B-body with a market share since fleet sales to law enforcement outnumbered sales of all other B-bodies.
The Impala name was "resurrected" for the 2000 model year to replace the mid-size Lumina. It was built at the Oshawa Car Assembly in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Unlike the earlier Impalas, this one was front-wheel drive and was available with a choice of two V6 engines. This car was based on the GM W platform. A new Impala SS with a supercharged V6 was brought out for the 2004 model year.
The Impala was available in two trim levels from 2000 to 2002. The base model came equipped with cloth bench seats, the 3.4 liter (204 cu in) LA1 V6, and a 3-gauge instrument cluster. The LS came factory-equipped with cloth bucket seats upgradeable to leather with center console and floor shift, color-keyed "Impala" door scripts and trunk badge, anti-lock brakes, traction control, keyless remote entry, integrated foglamps, 4-gauge instrument cluster, and the 3.8 liter (231 cu in) L36 V6. Options available on all models included a sunroof, OnStar system, rear decklid spoiler, Driver Information Center with built-in HomeLink system, heated power front seats, and 16 inch 1990s SS-inspired wheels. All options found or available on the LS were available on the base model. All models came equipped with power windows, door locks and mirrors.
In 2003, Chevrolet introduced the LS Sport appearance package. Added to the LS model, it offered a 6-gauge cluster, front bumper extension, color-keyed tail light panels and a chrome exhaust pipe tip.
The 2004 to 2005 Impala SS came equipped with the 3.8 liter (231 cu in) supercharged L67 V6 engine. It was rated at and had been previously used in the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP, Buick Regal GS and Pontiac Bonneville SSEI. The lightweight front wheel drive sedan was actually quicker than the vaunted 1990s Impala SS, with times pushing 6.5 seconds compared to the earlier models' 7.1.
The 2006 Impala was introduced at the 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show, resembling a Caprice. Like the Buick LaCrosse, this model uses the updated GM W platform. The base engine is a 3.5 liter (214 cu in) V6 producing . The new Impala features new taillights, different from the four-circle style of the previous generation. The most notable news about the model, though, is the SS model's use of the Generation IV small-block V8 in a front-wheel drive Chevrolet for the first time, and the first V8 in a Chevrolet sedan since the 1996 Caprice: the new 5.3 liter (325 cu in) V8 (with Displacement on Demand, now called Active Fuel Management or AFM) produces . With the use of the 5.3 liter LS4 V8, the Impala SS is capable of a 5.6 second time and a quarter-mile time of 14.2 seconds traveling at . The car is 200.4 inches (5,091 mm) long, high, and 72.9 inches (1,851 mm) wide. Available trim levels are LS, LT, LTZ and the aforementioned SS. Also updated are the 9C1 & 9C3 trim levels for Police Package models, which do not have the civilian SS's V8 engine available, but instead use the 3.9 liter (237 cu in) V6. The reason for this is that the Police Sedans utilize the SS radiator and cooling system as an upgrade from the standard 3.9 liter engine (used in the Impala LTZ). GM did not wish to design a specific radiator and cooling system to equip a low-production V8 police vehicle. Also, the heavy-duty steel wheels were not redesigned, and as such, the Police Sedan uses the original center caps or the older style wheel covers. A factory spoiler is an available option, and cruise control and a CD player are standard.
The interior has been completely redesigned. The 2006 Impala featured a wood trim center console with chrome accents on all major control buttons. The dashboard featured a chrome Impala logo embedded in the wood grain trim that runs across the front of the vehicle and onto the doors. The new control knobs found throughout the vehicle's cockpit are similar to those found in the new Buick models as well as the Cadillac DTS, all of which feature a similar center console. Another interior revision is the location of the cupholders, which are now concealed beneath the mid-section of the vehicle's center console.
In 2007, the Impala began to replace the Monte Carlo on the NASCAR stock car racing circuit; more specifically, on all the scheduled racing events where NASCAR has mandated the use of a car with different (and some) new specifications, better known as the Car of Tomorrow, it was recently announced that in 2008 the Impala will be the only Chevrolet nameplate on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.