Chevrolet Impala SS
Definitely not to be confused with the plain Impala, Chevrolet's Impala SS was the first of the 1960s muscle cars...and the best, many would argue. Chevrolet then revived the name in the 1990s for a modern version of a muscle car...perhaps the last of the Michigan muscle cars.
The story of the 1960s Impala SS actually begins in the 1958 model year, when Chevrolet debuted the Impala name as the top trim line available on the Bel Air coupe and convertible. The Impala package was popular enough that, for 1959, Chevy produced a new model called the Impala, available in coupe and convertible versions, both with really, really wide tailfins.
For the 1961 model year, Chevrolet introduced the Super Sport option package on the Impala, or in shorthand, the Impala SS. The package cost $53.80 extra with the Impala's standard 348 cubic inch engine, but came standard with the new top of the line Chevy engine, the legendary 409.
Fewer than 500 Impala SS's were made and sold in 1961, but production was drastically ramped up in 1962. 100,000 SS's were produced in 1962, about 15,000 of them with the 409 engine, which had been improved to put out 409 horsepower, up from 1961's 375. The 409 Impala SS was a hit at the drag strip, with times in the quarter mile of about 15 seconds.
The Bel Air coupe was discontinued in 1963, leaving the Impala as Chevy's only coupe option, so sales increased further that year. About 150,000 Impala SS's were produced in 1963, with the average Joe preferring the new 340 cubic inch engine with Powerglide automatic transmission, but performance enthusiasts sticking with the 409.
In 1964, the Impala SS became a completely separate model from the Impala. Over 185,000 were built during the model year, about 8,600 of those with the 409 engine. Meanwhile, Pontiac introduced its smaller and lighter muscle car, the GTO, which turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Impala SS.
The body of the Impala SS was redesigned for 1965, and halfway through the model year, the 409 engine was replaced by the new Mark IV, which had a 396 cubic inch displacement, although it still provided plenty of power, rated at 425 horsepower. This was the largest production year for the Impala SS, with about 239,500 produced.
Meanwhile, on the regular 1965 Impala sedan, a new top of the line option package was available, named Caprice. In 1966, the Caprice was spun off as a separate model, and it began to cannibalize sales of full-size Chevrolets from the Impala and the Impala SS. Meanwhile, drag racers increasingly went with the Pontiac GTO and other smaller performance cars, despite a new 427 cubic inch engine being available as an option on the Impala SS.
Production of the SS was about 119,000 in 1966, and 75,000 in 1967. In 1968, the Impala SS lost its status as a separate model, returning to being a mere option package on the Impala, available on only about 5% of the 710,000 Impalas produced that year. 1969 was the last year for the Impala SS package, now available only with the 427 engine; only 2,425 were produced in the final year.
Chevrolet continued the Impala model through most of the 1970s, and the Caprice continued as a high-end full-size sedan into...
In 1994, the Impala SS name returned. Chevrolet no longer made an Impala, and so the new Impala SS became the top trim line on the Caprice. Available in any color as long as it was black, the Impala SS boasted a Corvette-type 350 cubic inch engine (5.7 liters) putting out 260 horsepower, plus the suspension and power steering from the Caprice's police car package. There were also, of course, features unimaginable in the days of the original SS, such as antilock brakes and an electronic speedometer. The Caprice name appeared nowhere on the Impala SS, just the Chevrolet logo on the front grille, Impala logos on the trunk lid and rearmost roof pillars, and "Impala SS" on the rear fenders. It was completely different from the original Impala SS, and yet had a traceable lineage.
The Impala SS went through only minor cosmetic changes in 1995 and 1996, and was now also available in dark green and what Chevrolet called dark cherry but was actually a weird shade of purple. The biggest changes were in 1996, when the instrument panel went analog and the shifter moved to the console.
1996 was the final model year for the Caprice, and with it went the new Impala SS. The Caprice was a victim of declining sales for full-size cars as potential buyers went with minivans or SUVs. Total production of the new Impala SS over its 3-year history was about 70,000.
For the 2000 model year, Chevrolet introduced a new medium-size sedan carrying the Impala name. A version of this car with the Impala SS name is expected to appear in the 2004 model year, but with only a 3.8 liter V6 engine (horsepower rating to be determined) instead of the V8's of Impala SS's past.
- musclecarclub.com, impalaclub.com, and edmunds.com
- My father's black 1996 Impala SS, which he's actually let me drive from time to time; it's a little faster from 0 to 60 than my Nissan Altima