Impala SS is a bullet BY John Gilbert (Star
Remember the Chevrolet Impala SS cruisers of the 1960s?
Remember the Oldsmobile Bravada of the late 1980s?
The Impala disappeared from the auto scene in the troubled
'70s, and the Bravada almost disappeared a couple of years ago.
In fact, there were more reports that the Bravada would be
dropped than there were that the most under-appreciated member of
the growing sports-utility market would survive.
The Impala SS has been reborn out of the Chevrolet Caprice,
and the Bravada is alive and well. The timing to consider both of
them is ideal because automotive nostalgia will be celebrated in
two events this in the Twin Cities.
The 1994 Great American Race, complete with vintage cars en
route from Huntington Beach, Calif., to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., stops
over in Bloomington this weekend. The vintage racers are
scheduled to arrive from Albert Lea at about 3 p.m. Sunday at the
Met Center parking lot, where a classic car show will be under
way. The show starts at noon and is free and open to the public.
Among the "vehicles" involved are some horse-drawn wagons
built by Studebaker, which later manufactured automobiles.
The wagons' visit to the Twin Cities coincides with the
week-long gathering of the Studebaker Drivers Club, the Antique
Studebaker Club and the Avanti Club. They will be headquartered
at the Radisson South hotel, at Interstate Hwy.494 and Hwy. 100,
opening their displays of historical vehicles and artifacts at
noon Sunday. Events will run through next Friday, and concourse
judging will finish on Thursday. Brooke Stevens, who designed the
Studebaker Hawks of the early 1960s, as well as the early Jeep
Wagoneers, will speak at 9 a.m. Monday at the Radisson South.
So how much automotive nostalgia can you handle at once?
The Chevrolet Caprice is an enormous car, and it has become a
staple for police departments all over the country. So, a year
ago, Chevy folks decided to trick up a big Caprice for the
civilian market. The result was a loo-ooo-oong and
sinister-looking monster - all black with slightly altered lines
and bright silver five-spoke alloy wheels.
The challenge was to make such a big car perform in a capable
manner.Chevy's solution was to stick the high-performance LT-1
Corvette engine (the venerable 350-cubic-inch V8) under the hood
of the prototype Caprice. And thus, the 1994 Impala SS was born.
In the 1960s, you could get an Impala SS with a
409-cubic-inch V8("Giddy-up, giddy-up, 409," sang the Beach
Boys), and later a 427-cubic-inch V8. Those engines' horsepower
ranged from 340 to 400, back when hardly anybody worried about
fuel economy, exhaust emissions or the sound of tires screeching
on city streets.
The Caprice's size, handling and general purpose have been
widely criticized, although I have always excused cars of that
size for people who need large cars. So this experience is
something of a phenomenon.
The '94 Impala SS is a piece of work. It will snap nostalgia
buffs to attention because the LT-1 engine develops 260
horsepower. But its reason for being in the car is because,
race-bred or not, its emissions are comparatively low.
That engine probably is not going to get near 20 miles per
gallon, EPA estimates notwithstanding, but it makes the big SS
get up and snort. At 4,221 pounds, the car is hefty by any year's
standards, but such equipment as the police package suspension,
special shock absorbers and monstrous 255/50ZR BF Goodrich
Comp/TA tires on 17-inch alloy wheels help the huge car go like a
street-racer of old but corner and handle with amazing dexterity.
For all its size and power, the Impala is subtle in many
ways. The wheels stand out, but the oval emblem with its leaping
Impala on the rear-door pillar and the rear deck lid are
tastefully understated. The Chevy bow-tie emblem on the grille
and the headlights are the only non-black parts visible from the
The adjustable leather bucket seats are tastefully gray.
Instrumentation includes an electronic digital speedometer
combined with analog gauges, and with that huge engine and
four-speed automatic, a tachometer seems superfluous.
Naturally, there is considerable room in the rear seat and
My opinion of large cars remains constant: If it's larger
than you need for 90 percent of your driving, then it's too
large. It would be spectacular to see this engine and drivetrain
in a 3,000-pound car instead of a 4,200-pound beast. But in the
meantime, those who want a huge car might as well choose one that
offers the advantages of great stability and potent acceleration
for $ 23,000.
Turn-on/ Long, lean and sinister-looking with ample room front
and back, and it comes in any color - so long as it's black.
Turn-off/ It feels more like a sports car than a barge, but
why does it have to be so heavy and large?
Bright idea/ Beneath the skin is a Corvette V8, which makes
its performance far from sedate.
Subtle touch/ Black-on-black trim without chrome appliques
provides proof that old hot-rodders do mature at Chevrolet.
Bottom line/ Sticker price: $ 23,355.