The first Impalas are not only one of Chevrolet’s most historic vehicles, but one of America’s as well. For decades it set the standard in comfort and value, and was even considered to stem the American muscle car. First debuting in the 1958 model year, the Impala began as a high-end Bel Air. It’s success as a long, wide, and luxurious family sedan forced Chevy to separate it into its own model, creating what was soon to be America’s best-selling full-size car.
Over the years, the Impala has made many distinct styling impacts with its wild rear ends and iconic grilles. Join us as we go through every year that the Impala was produced, pointing out when and how new trends, new engines, and new looks were born. This is The Complete History of the Chevrolet Impala. 1958.Chevrolet has been in existence 46 years when the legendary Impala was majestically assembled for the first time back in 1957 for the 1958 model year.
The Impala, named after the medium sized African antelopes, was originally introduced as a top-of-the-line Chevy Bel Air, a car that had been in rotation since the 1950 model year. The Bel Air Impala was only built in Sport Coupe or convertible models, and was a departure from typical Chevys at that point with it’s shorter greenhouse, longer rear deck, and lower setting on an X-type frame. The top model added many unique features, including the roof simulator extractor vents, a two-spoke steering wheel, and the iconic three-circle tail lights. Starting at $2,586, consumers had the choice between a 235-cubic-inch Blue Flame I6, 283-cubic-inch Turbo-Fire V8, and a 348-cubic-inch Turbo-Thrust V8. Advertisements said the car, “lets you know you’re the boss,” and for years to come, that’s exactly what it did.
1959.In ’59, the Impala broke away from the Bel Air and became it’s own standing model with a redesign so radical, it’s still one of the most distinct-looking vehicles in American vehicle history. Almost a full two inches longer than the previous model, the new Impala had a rear “bat wing” lid with “cat eye” sideways teardrop tail lights that flowed with the protruding lid, a style that didn’t last long. The front end also got a makeover with a more spaced grille and long drawn-out eyebrow air intakes that no longer leaned over the headlights. Overall, it made for a leaner, more compact look. Chevy stretched the Impala name to a full line, adding a four-door hardtop and four-door sedan.1960.
After just a year, the designers took it down a notch. The cat eyes were gone, going back to the symmetrical triple circle tail lights, and the batwing was noticeably less dramatic, no longer connecting in a center “V.” Growing from nearly 60,000 built in its debut year, more than 490,000 1960 units were moved at a starting price of $2,590, making it America’s No. 1 seller. With the slogan, “Space, Spirit, Splendor,” Chevy was pushing features like the rear grille, a parallel bar striped across the lights above the chrome bar, electric brake parking light, electric clock and backup lights.1961.The 1961 model year is one of the most important and brand-defining years for Chevrolet, and for the auto industry as a whole. It was the year that Chevy introduced the Super Sport, or SS, the 409 engine, and consequently the first true American muscle car.
Marketed as the “highly personalized version” of the Impala, the SS cost $5,380 and had simulated knock-off wheel covers, heavy-duty springs and shocks, metallic brake linings, a padded instrument panel, and a Sun 7,000-rpm tachometer. As the Beach Boys said in the world-famous song, “Nothing can catch her, nothing can touch my 409 …
giddy up, giddy up 409.” The first SSes, of which only 453 were made, came with one of two engines: the 348-cubic-inch V8, or the 409-cubic-inch V8, which had 360 horsepower and could hit 60 mph in seven seconds. This was also the last year we saw an extremely tame version of the bat wing, which smoothed into the rear quarter panels, making them much less shocking.1962.The Impala continued it’s fast-paced evolution in ’62 with another new redesign, this time straying even farther from the flowing curvaceous lines with a more boxy look. Chevy really took pride in the fact that these cars had a “velvet soft and whisper quiet,” which they attributed to four large four large coil springs that “soak up bumps like a sponge,” 725 points of sound and vibration dampening.
Chevy also made it a point to try to reduce maintenance costs for its consumers, so inner front fenders were added to the Body by Fisher to protect from rust, and the muffler was coated with aluminum and zinc to help protect against corrosion. After the Turboglide was eliminated, three-speed synchromesh, overdrive, four-speed synchromesh, and powerglide transmissions were available to go along with six engine options that ranged from 135 horsepower to 409. This was also the first year, the all-transistor deluxe push-button radio was offered as an extra option.
1963.By ’63, the Impala was offered in six models, including six- and nine-passenger wagons. Even in the regular sedans, Chevy prided itself on how much space the consumer had, both in the cabin and in the trunk, seen in the low, long exterior. Luxury and comfort were just as important as sport and style at this point. Don’t think they sacrificed style, though. This is one of the most sought-after models of the Impala, with its pointed front and rear edges, aluminum striped rear, and a sunken instrument panel. The company added “hot or cold” engine lights in the dash,”air-washed” rocker panels, stainless steel mufflers, and “self-adjusting safety-master” brakes to help reduce wear, and introduced all-season air conditioning and Delcotron generators in the Impalas.1964.
This model year became even more smooth. Chevy clipped off the pointy edges and dented in the upper portion of the grille. The tail lights were no longer surrounded by an aluminum strip, but rather trapped in a body color, while the aluminum was bumped above the lights in an upside-down “U” shape spanning the entire rear. Chevy also released refined transmissions this year, making a quieter 3-speed synchromesh, and putting an aluminum housing on an all-helical 4-speed synchromesh. This was the year that the Chevelle was introduced to the world, showing a shift in importance of the muscle car.
1965.Like the Impala designers had ants in their pants, ’65 was another year for a full revamp. The divot in the front grille was stretched to the headlights, the actual lights have a more dominant enclosure, the rear once again has a quarter panel bubble, the hood has a pop-up latch and a winsplit, and it has a tempered rear plate glass window. Chevy also switched from its X-frame to a full-width perimeter base and added a redesigned full-coil suspension. Much like the Impala was created as the highest model Bel Air, the Chevy Caprice was originally introduced as the highest model Impala in ’65, sporting features like wood grain interior and specialty door pulls. This was the year Impala set the all-time industry annual sales record with more than 1 million units sold in America.1966.
Technically speaking, the Impala remained relatively the same in ’66 with a few exterior changes. Three of the most notable are the use of wraparound tail lights, which maintained the three-light tradition in a flat, boxed setting, the thin-lined whitewall tires compared to the earlier thick-striped feet, and a chrome strip across the lower doors to help prevent door dings. Chevy also premiered a 7.0-liter 427-cubic-inch version of the Mark IV V8 this year that could draw up to 425 horsepower. In the Super Sport, which was now scripted on the driver’s side panel, four-way power bucket seats were introduced, as well as vinyl roof covering and a positraction rear axle. 1967.Chevy felt the ’67 Sport Coupe was yet another step up in class. It used an undistracted roofline that flows straight into the lid, complemented by “hop-up” rear fenders.
The tail lights, still boxed up, were much more set off in the ’67 model with a black “cove” and chrome and metal trim surrounding and separating the blocks. This was the first time we saw the wraparound front grille, elongating the lattice through the corners. To keep up with federal regulations, this year saw many new safety improvements, including a fully collapsible steering column, side marker lights and shoulder belts.
1968.The Impala was once again Chevy’s top-selling model in 1968, enticing 710,900 buyers that year. The model took on the Custom Coupe trim that had previously been used for the Caprice with some slight aesthetic changes. The tail lights reverted back to a more circular style, but were encased in horseshoe windows giving it a bit more serious look. This year maintained four different-sized engines and had the option between a two-speed Powerglide automatic trans or a three-speed Turbo Hydramatic. 1969.This was the year the Impala wagon was initially killed off. Like Chevy had it before, the wagons took on their own name, in this case, Kingswood.
This year also saw one of the most unique and rare options on any Chevy vehicle: the “liquid tire chain.” The feature, which spaced traction-inducing and ice-melting juice onto the tires, was only available in this year and was hardly purchased. The unit sat in the trunk, one spray over each tire.
Additionally, the ignition switched moved from the dash to the steering column and offered a new variable-ratio power steering unit. The horseshoe lights didn’t last long, as Chevy reintroduced the three boxy lights at the sides of each rear. 1970.1970 was the final year of the fourth-generation superstar seller for Chevy. The six-cylinder engine was now only available on four-door sedans as a 250-horsepower Turbo-Fire V8 became standard for bigger-engined trims. Dropped from the Impala this year were the floor-mounted four-speed manual and the Strato bucket seats. At this point, buyer interest in larger sport coupes was dwindling (cough, Camaro, cough), so the Super Sport model was cut after the 1969 model year.
1971.The fifth-gen began in ’71 and didn’t change again until ’76. Already a car known for its massive room and comfort, the ’71 Impala was the biggest Chevy ever made at that point and continued to be the best-selling car in the chamber. In preparation for the incorporation of catalytic converters, all engines were configured with lower compression rates that could use both leaded and unleaded fuel. Chevy paralleled some features from the Camaro over to the Impala by including a double panel roof and flush door handles.
1972.The ’72 Impala’s grille was basically shifted down in its new facelift (we know that’s contradictory, but you know what we mean). Instead of a fully aligned block, the grille was offset, showing a bigger presence below the fender. Sadly, this was the last year that Snoop Dogg and Dr.
Dre would be able to purchase an Impala convertible, as that privilege was given to the Caprice Classic. Overall, Chevrolet began to see a decrease in sales of the Impala, as numbers slid below 600,000 for the year. 1973After the convertible moved to the Caprice, this was the first all-closed-body Impala year ever. However, the wagon, which had become the Kingswood, returned to the lineup with its Glide-Away tailgate and power rear window. Standard on all Impalas were hydraulically cushioned front bumpers, protective side-guard beams in the doors, and variable-ratio power steering. This was also the first year that the Impala did not offer a six-cylinder engine, as that was moved to lower Belair and Biscayne models. 1974This was more of a refining year in this historic line.
Although the grille was bumped back up, it was the small changes that were touted. More insulation was added to the interior for a quieter, more comfortable ride, the disc brakes now had wear sensors, and the frame was sprayed with a corrosion-resistant coating.