CHEVY IMPALA SS
IN THE BEGINNING…
Chevrolet was on a roll coming into the 1958 model year. The ground-breaking 1955 Chevrolets not only raised the bar for mass-production cars, but sold like hotcakes. 1956 and 1957 Chevys were even hotter. It’s interesting now in modern times to observe how every car that Chevrolet built, other than the Corvette, was essentially the same car in a variety of versions. There was the entry-level 150-series, devoid of chrome, then the bread-and-butter 210 series with a little more glitter, topped of by the chromed and bedazzled Chevrolet Bel Air. And most of these were available in convertible, 2-door hardtop, 2-door coupe, business coupe, 4-door hardtop, station wagon, sedan delivery, and gorgeous Nomad sport wagon. But it was time for a change. As big a leap forward that the 1955 Chevys were over the 1954s, the new 1958 Chevrolet line would need to raise the bar even higher by breaking Chevy out of the old bulbous, pontooned-fendered look of the 1950s and bring their cars into the modern age…the Space Age…the Jet Age.
1958: THE BIRTH OF THE IMPALA
Everything changed for 1958. Gone was any remnant of separate outboard fender housings of old, in their place was a squared-off body with hood and fenders molded together as a single form. Gone was the upright stance of the old car. This new Chevy Impala was longer, lower, and wider, it had an entirely new stance. And gone were the vertical fins of the ’57 Chevy, and in their place a horizontal, laid-down fin that made them look more like wings. The lower level 1958 Chevy was now the Bel Air. Now a new nameplate was seen for the first time: Impala, and it was the top of the line for Chevy. The 1958 Impala was covered with intricate chromed details. As it turns out, 1958 was a stand-alone year for the Impala, rare in Detroit. In other words, almost nothing carried over from the 1958 to the new 1959 Chevrolets. The 1959s were all new, just like the 1958 Chevys were when they came out. The styling on the 1959 Chevys got wilder still, some would say less attractive, with the ‘winglets’ getting more pronounced, the sides becoming sort of tubular like the fuselage of a jet, and the chromed detail getting even gaudier. Thank goodness 1959 is generally considered the peak of the gaudy 1950s Big Fin Look. Even the mighty 1959 Cadillac topped out with the biggest fins ever on a production car in 1959. So, by 1960, Chevrolet toned down the styling of the entire line, with the Impala remaining the top model.
BELOW: 1959 CHEVY IMPALA Dig those laid-down fins, man. Talk about wild?!
1961: THE CHEVY IMPALA SS IS BORN
With the Horsepower Wars heating up, leading up to the Great American Muscle Car Wars (although no one knew it yet), Chevrolet thought it was time to dial up the power on its best-selling Impala. But a big engine wasn’t enough. It would have a new name: SS, short for Super Sport. The new car would have unique styling cues and a unique interior treatment (something unheard of in 1961), along with the most power engine Chevrolet had at the time, the 405hp 409 V8 (as well as the 305hp 348, 340hp 348 and the 350hp 348 V8s). Unique to the 1961 model year, the Impala SS Package was available on all models, including sedans and wagons.
1963 CHEVY IMPALA SS This was the last year for the mighty 409 V8 (below). By 1963, there were small blocks making 350hp, with less weight and less cost. BELOW: CHEVY’S 409 V8
Built on a completely different block than the small block, they are distinctive and easy to spot due to the oddly-shaped valve covers. The 348 and the 409 shared this design.
ABOVE: 1965 CHEVY IMPALA SS One of my personal all-time favorites. I love the fastback lines. An elegant shape, despite its enormous size. BELOW: 1966 CONVERTIBLE When was the last time you saw a full-sized convertible? Many of these came with big blocks.
1967 CHEVY IMPALA SS Check out that fastback roofline.
1969: SWAN SONG FOR THE SS
Like everyone else in the late 1960s, the combination of high gas prices, high insurance rates (and too many deadly auto collisions), and new smog regs spelled the end to performance, and the Impala SS. 1969 was the last year, with the Chevy Impala SS until it was reintroduced in modern times in 1994.
1995 Chevy Impala SS in Dark Cherry Metallic
CHEVY IMPALA SS
1994: BACK FROM THE DEAD
By the early 1990s, digital technology had solved many of the problems of making powerful engines get good mileage and run clean at the tail pipe. Performance was back on the rise, as the Second American Muscle Car Era began in earnest. GM really crossed the line in 1993 when they introduced a new family of small block V8s, given a time-honored small-block name: the LT1 (all 1970 Chevy Camaro Z28s and some Corvettes had 350 LT1 V8s). It offered good fuel economy, very clean emissions, and prodigious power, 375hp in the 1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, and 400hp in the 1993 Corvette. It took a year for the red hot LT1 to land under the hood of a 1994 Chevrolet Caprice, and the decision was made to revive another time-honored name from the annals of Chevrolet Muscle Car history: Impala SS. And the old Chevy Impala SS mojo picked right up again, with lots of happy buyers. It only lasted for 3 model years however, 1994, 1995 and 1996. Subsequent Impala SS models were spun off of the 8th-gen and later front-wheel-drive Impalas, and no offense, but those aren’t the kinds of American Muscle Cars that this site is all about.
The Tri-Five Chevys were a tough act to follow, but the new Impala nameplate too styling in a whole new direction. Quad headlights, and a Wider-Lower-Longer stance led the way for the entire industry, well into the 60s.
The last Impala wildly decorated with 50’s-style chrome trim. A stand-alone design, unique to this year. Starting the following year, cars would only get a major redesign every two years, rather than every year. A classic then and now.