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Fins, Fleets, and Everything in Between: A Brief History of the Chevrolet Impala

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 1/13/2020 Don Sherman
a car parked in a parking lot: The arrival of the 10th-gen Chevrolet Impala has us looking back at its ancestors. © Provided by Car and Driver The arrival of the 10th-gen Chevrolet Impala has us looking back at its ancestors.

Although production of the Impala has stopped and restarted a couple of times, it remains one of Chevrolet’s most revered nameplates—and America’s annual sales leader at various times. But the highly successful cars of the 1950s and ’60s were followed by a string of uninspired models that largely turned “Impala” into a synonym for “rental.” The all-new 2014 model aims to change that, with a fresh, sculpted design; modern technology; and direct-injected powertrains that include a hybridized four-cylinder. Before checking out our first drive of the ’14, enjoy our brief look at Impalas past.

1 1 a car parked in front of a tree: 1958-Chevrolet-Impala-Sport-Coupe-626x382 1958-Chevrolet-Impala-Sport-Coupe-626x382

Building on a theme presented at the 1956 GM Motoramas, the 1958 Impala wore a sensational Harley Earl–era design, with ample chrome decoration over deeply sculpted fenders, Chevy’s first dual headlamps, and triple taillamps. The major chassis advancement was a move from semi-elliptic leaf springs to coils at the rear.

2 2 a person driving a car: 1959-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382 1959-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382

When Bill Mitchell replaced Earl as GM’s design boss, Impalas received leaner, lower, wider styling highlighted by a radical bat-wing tail motif. Four-door hardtops and sedans joined the first gen’s coupe and convertible body styles.

3 3 a person in a blue car parked in front of a mountain: 1963-Chevrolet-Impala1-626x382 1963-Chevrolet-Impala1-626x382

The redesigned 1961 models showed a conservative streak with a boxier design, tidier dimensions, and a new wagon body style. Kicking off the early muscle-car days, the first SS badge on a production model and the iconic 409-cubic-inch (6.7-liter) big-block arrived at the onset of this generation.

4 4 a car parked on the side of a road: 1965-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382 1965-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382

The sleeker, more classic design that arrived in 1965 boosted the Impala over the 1-million-units-per-year hurdle, a record for a single car line. The Impala Caprice arrived as Chevy’s four-door hardtop flagship. Nine V-8s ranging in displacement from 283 cubic inches (4.6 liters) through 454 cubic inches (7.4 liters) were offered in this generation. The base engine was a 250-cube (4.1-liter) six.

5 5 a car parked on the side of a road: 1971-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382 1971-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382

The last of the biggies introduced for the 1971 model year was the largest Chevrolet ever produced. The advent of unleaded gas in 1972 drove lower compression ratios, reduced power, and diminished performance, and that model year also marked the final time the Impala badge was applied to a convertible. The feds required energy-absorbing bumpers for ’73—a significant setback for style.

6 6 a car parked in a parking lot: 1977-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382 1977-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382

In response to the first energy crisis that began in the fall of 1973, Impalas benefited from a newly downsized format that appeared in 1977 with smaller dimensions, lighter curb weights, larger trunks, and only a modest loss of interior space. The more-practical Chevys leapt to the top sales slot. But demand soon dwindled, in part due to engineering neglect, resulting in the Impala nameplate’s retirement after the 1985 model year. The basic car, however, continued on in sedan and wagon guise as the Caprice.

7 7 a car parked on the side of a road: 1994-Chevrolet-Impala-SS-626x382 1994-Chevrolet-Impala-SS-626x382

The aged Gen VI platform was freshened in 1991 and the Impala was reborn for the 1994 model year exclusively as a four-door, with rounded (some say bloated) exterior design, police underpinnings, and SS badging. Production again ceased at the end of 1996 to clear manufacturing space for the rising SUV wave.

8 8 a car parked on the side of a road: 2000-Chevrolet-Impala-LS-626x382 2000-Chevrolet-Impala-LS-626x382

The Impala nameplate was resurrected in 2000 as a front-drive, V-6–powered, four-door with unibody construction (GM’s W-body platform). It offered six-passenger seating in base trim or five perches in upper models. A supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 producing 240 horsepower energized the 2004–2005 Impala SS.

9 9 a car parked in a parking lot: 2009-Chevrolet-Impala-SS-626x382 2009-Chevrolet-Impala-SS-626x382

This one arrived for 2006. Struggling to keep the Impala SS nameplate kicking, Chevy combined a 5.3-liter small-block V-8 with front-wheel drive for the first time in this reengineered model (now using the third generation of GM’s W-platform). That package lasted three model years, although three other trim levels and police packages carried on with occasional freshening touches. The rear-drive, Australian-built Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle retired the Impala 9C1 in the 2012 model year, but civilian Impalas soldiered on into 2013.

10 10 a car parked on the side of a building: 2014-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382 2014-Chevrolet-Impala-626x382

The all-new 2014 Impala bowed at the 2012 New York auto show and began rolling off assembly lines in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, and Hamtramck, Michigan, this month. The hoary W underpinnings have been replaced by fresh, Opel-designed and -developed Epsilon II components shared with the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS. While there have been minimal changes to interior or exterior dimensions, the 2014 Impala brings plenty of new to the large family-sedan party: the nameplate’s first four-cylinder engines (with and without the mild-hybrid eAssist system), evocative exterior design, upgraded interior trim, and a wealth of modern safety and infotainment features such as the debut of the next-gen MyLink system.


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