Chevrolet Impala SS 1961-1969 by C. Van Tune (Motor Trend 10/93)

    It created a sensation that no other full-size domestic car

could ever match. A combination of street-fighter muscle and

upscale looks propelled it to the top of Chevrolet's sales charts

in short order. It was the Impala Super Sport, or "SS" for short.

An option "kit" that debuted in '61, it was designed to spiff up

the image of Chevy's flagship model.

    More than anything else (even the Corvette), it was the

Impala SS that marked the return of the Bowtie division's

leadership in styling, performance, and winning image. Having

suffered a rare sales loss to Ford two years prior due mainly to

the controversial "batwing" styling of the '59 Biscayne, Bel Air,

and Impala series, Chevrolet's brass was under heavy pressure to

resurrect the car maker's dominance in America's driveways. 

    Though most commonly installed on the two-door Sport Coupe,

the SS package was available on every '61 Impala model, including

the convertible and four-door sedan, and it was a bargain. For a

mere $ 54, you received police-duty suspension and brake

components, power steering and brakes, and special trim inside

and out. Engine choices began with the

348-cubic-inch/305-horsepower V-8, but the one that caught

everyone's attention was the first of the famed 409s.

    With 360 horsepower, the Chevy 409 was the performance car to

be reckoned with. Winning the Stock Eliminator class at the NHRA

Winter nationals drag race in February 1961 was just the

beginning. The June '61 issue of Motor Trend reported that the

(race-prepped) 409's quarter-mile showing of 13.59 seconds at

105.9 mph produced "eye-popping results for the first acid test

of a new engine and is undoubtedly just the start of a long

series of wins for Chevrolet's new Impala." NHRA President Wally

Parks called driver Don Nicholson, "Probably the most popular

racer at the Winter nationals...he received thunderous applause

from the huge crowd every time he brought his (dyno-tuned 409' to

the line."

    As the race wins came, so did the publicity and the resulting

swarm of showroom traffic. Nicholson's dragstrip victories over

the previously unbeatable Pontiacs led to nationwide stompings of

Fords and Mopars. Within months, Chevy 409s were causing grief in

NASCAR, at Pikes Peak, and even at the International Trophy Race

in Silverstone, England. Ford quickly responded with a

401-horsepower "Thunderbird Special" version of its 390

cubic-inch engine, but Chevy had more surprises in store. By '62,

dual four-barrel carbs were added, which bumped output to 1

horse-power per cubic inch. Other changes for '63 increased the

urging to 425 horsepower, though enthusiasts generally consider

the '62 to be the purest expression of 409 magic.

    Beginning in '62, the order form was expanded to include

virtually every engine in Chevy's warehouse--starting with the

lowly 235-cubic-inch inline-six and 283-cubic-inch V-8. This

marketing ploy, combined with ever-better styling, gave the

Impala SS the wide market appeal it needed to become a sales

champ. A total of 99,311 Impala Super Sports were sold in '62;

153,271 in '63, and 185,325 in '64.

    By '65, however, the 409's dominance had waned. Ford's potent

427 V-8,Pontiac's 421, and Chrysler's 426 Max Wedge had caught up

with the now-aging Chevy motor. The obvious answer was to try

something new. Though smaller in displacement, the 396-cubic-inch

V-8 proved to be the perfect alternative. Based on the Mark II

"mystery motor" that made a surreptitious one-time stand at

Daytona in '63 (before being outlawed), this torquey big-block

had the muscle to move the 2-ton Impala (and the new Caprice

model) with verve. In '66, the displacement was upped to 427

cubic inches, where it remained as the top Impala SS motor until

the series' demise in '69.