The Chevy Impala: Nearly Sixty Years, and Still Going Strong
Ten generations. Dozens of editions. Nearly six decades of high-performance style. The Chevy Impala has been a time-honored tradition of American fine automaking, and continues to offer exceptional power and enviable design through this excellent model line.
Here’s a look back at the history of the Impala, stretching back from the era of tailfins and coke-bottle designs to the sleek, sporty full-size you’ll find at Chevy dealers in KY today.
First Generation (1958)
This is the car that started it all – the 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala, with flared tail fins and X-frame chassis, first built to commemorate Chevy’s 50th anniversary of automaking. This long, low, and wide piece of machinery featured three taillights and, in a first for Chevy, dual headlamps. Because of the success of this early model, Chevrolet was able to reclaim its number one production spot for ’58.
Second Generation (1959 – 1960)
With the success of the ’58 Bel Air Impala, Chevy decided to release the Impala as its own line, beginning with the newly-designed second generation. This model featured significant design updates over its predecessor, including outward-pointed tail fins and “teardrop” style tail lights, plus a lower and wider X-frame chassis on the 1959 model. In 1960, the Impala saw a return of the three-piece taillights. This was also the first Impala to offer cruise control, as well as a six-way power seat. This Impala also featured the short-lived “Speedminder” feature, which would buzz when the driver exceeded a pre-set speed limit.
Third Generation (1961 – 1964)
This third generation saw the Impala’s last brush with the classic tail fin design, as the model gradually moved toward a more subtle, rounded look with each model year. Thanks to increasing sales and a Chevy-inspired Beach Boys song, this model was able to continue carrying the model line through the early 60’s and more fully into the luxury market.
Fourth Generation (1965 – 1970)
The designers at Chevy took a good long look at the Impala and made some fairly notable changes, moving the Impala much more toward the subtle, luxury-oriented design and away from the larger, bulky flared signs of the 50’s. The fourth generation would revolutionize the Impala as America knew it, and would skyrocket this model into its legendary status.
These changes included a shift back from the X-frame chassis and back to a full-perimeter width “B”-frame; curved, frameless side glass; and a sharper angled windshield with newly reshaped vent windows. Along with a redesigned full-coil suspension and enhanced Coke bottle styling, this generation of V8 models sold a record-breaking 1 million units in 1965.
By 1968, the new Impala coupe – featuring dual horseshoe taillights, a newly facelifted front end – exploded onto the market, and would hold a commanding place in sales for a decade.
This generation also saw the rise of the Impala Super Sport, or SS. This powerful hardtop coupe boasted a new 409-cubic-inch engine which was available with up to 425 horsepower, and is currently one of the rarest collector models available, with only 142 vehicles coming off the line in 1961 with the famed 409 engine.
Fifth Generation (1971 – 1976)
This generation was all about going big – with a fairly massive “B”-body that stretched the Impala to near-Cadillac proportions. In keeping with the push for a more luxurious feeling, this V8 received GM’s Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission as standard equipment. Minor tweaks to the suspension and frame gave this generation slightly better handling but slightly worse gas efficiency. Between the heavier curb weight and stricter federal emissions restrictions, the Impala generally lost less and less power each model year but did change over to exclusively unleaded gasoline use. The 1972 Impala was also the last Impala convertible.
Sixth Generation (1977 – 1985)
Due to the changing demands of car consumers and the auto industry, Chevy undertook notable downsizing on the sixth generation Impala. This new model was shorter, lighter, and thinner than its predecessor – and yet still boasted increased headroom and cargo space. As a result, the Impala won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1977. Hardtops were officially ended, and new sheet-metal siding was included by 1980.
Although the Impala continued to sell well through the late 70’s and early 80’s and enjoyed popularity especially among fleets – taxi drivers, police, etc. – Chevy eventually voted to discontinue the Impala in favor of the new base full–size Chevy Caprice.
Seventh Generation (1994 – 1996)
Unseen for almost seven years on the Chevy production line, the Impala was first resurrected by GM designer Jon Moss as a concept car in the 1993 Detroit Auto Show. This led to renewed Impala construction in 1994, based on a sleeker and more modern-looking Impala SS design.
Boasting improvements left over from police packages on prior models – like sport-tuned suspension with reinforced shocks and springs and a standard retuned LT1 5.7-liter (350 cu in) small-block V8 engine – this model helped the Impala come roaring back onto the luxury performance car market both home and abroad in foreign markets. Despite consistently high sales numbers, however, Chevy again decided to retire the Impala after this three-year run.
Eighth Generation (2000 – 2005)
With a new century came another new Impala, this time revolutionized and re-introduced for a 21st-century audience. Now featuring a “W”-type body and a choice of two 3.8L V6 engines or a slightly smaller 3.4L V6 engine, this front-wheel-drive model was the first Impala to completely drop the triple taillight design seen since 1959.
Ninth Generation (2006 – Present)
This updated generation featured a refresh of the W-frame and a 3.5 liter V6 base engine capable of 211 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque. That’s not to mention the amazingly tech-centric interior, boasting an AM/FM stereo with single-disc CD player, auxiliary input jack, and six speakers, keyless entry, air conditioning, cloth seating surfaces, and a choice of two front bucket or a single front bench seat, plus an optional six-disc CD/MP3 changer in the dash and a Bose eight-speaker premium sound system, a power sunroof, security system, and OnStar on higher trim levels.
Tenth Generation (2014 – Present)
For the current model, Chevy opted for even further upgrades to the performance and accessories available in the Impala. This includes the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Capability features, as well as a new 800 cold-cranking amps battery, wireless charging for devices, front and rear splash guards, and lane change alert.
Now available in four trim levels (LS, LT1, LT2, and LTZ2), the new 2016 Chevy Impala represents the latest in what has been an impressive history of powerful vehicles. Thanks to decades of performance testing and upgrades for the future, like the 2015 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel that runs on compressed natural gas and gasoline, this model line has set a standard for luxury full-size models for a long time, and will likely continue to do so for even longer still.