First rock 'n' roll, now this - the 1994 Chevrolet Impala SS.

Well, not quite. Rock 'n' roll was, indeed, first. But rock 'n'

roll paying tribute to the Impala came a little later.

   The Impala name first appeared as an uptrim version of the

1958 Bel Air. It became its own car model the next year. Then, in

1961, we got the first Impala SS - a performance spinoff of the

Impala Coupe that lasted as long as the '60s. 

   Two decades of quadrupling gas prices, filthied air and major

safety paranoia interrupted the flow of the Impala SS. But now,

available in only one color, with only one engine and one

transmission choice, is a tweaked twist of the Caprice.

   The color is black. So are the emblems, body-colored moldings,

grille, rear deck spoiler and window trim. With those kinds of

cosmetics, you could even make the Goodyear Blimp look sleek.

   The engine is the LT1 Corvette V-8, said by Chevrolet to be

"free-breathing" but only to deliver 260 horses, not the 275 it

does for the Camaro Z28 or the 300 it provides for the Corvette.

   The transmission is the electronically controlled 4L60-E

four-speed lockup automatic.

   The ABS brakes are discs, vented front and rear. The

suspension is stiff, with performance gas shocks and heavy duty

coils at all corners and a sway bar at the rear, and the steering

is about 25 percent quicker than on the standard Caprice.

   And just to make you feel better about the money you've spent,

the interior is leather.

   The Impala SS is a much-better handling and performance

package than the stock Caprice. Zero-to-60 acceleration in the

seven-eight second range isn't hard to get, and there's precious

little of the lurching and diving found when the standard car is

asked to do much beyond going straight on a freeway.

   The Impala SS does transmit a lot more information through the

steering wheel and SOP (seat of the pants) - too much,

undoubtedly, for the likes of the standard Caprice buyer who'd

probably want as little as possible. But for the SS's targeted

market, it's probably just fine.

   That market is the male ages 35-55, probably married and prone

to big domestic rigs, having some college education and income

levels in the $50,000-$75,000 range, according to Chevrolet

research. Sounds about right.

   Pricing starts with $21,920 for the Impala SS package on the

Caprice, which includes the engine, the transmission, the

disc-ABS setup, the appearance package, the wheels, the spoiler,

the so-called "ride and drive" suspension and the inevitable

limited-slip differential.

   Like its Caprice starting point, the Impala SS is big and

roomy inside its four doors. Lots of space up front, big trunk

all the way back (20.4 cubic feet) and big tank beneath (23

gallons). Mileage is 17 city, 25 highway, and if you have a

feather foot you can approach those upper limits.

   The seats are cushy, but "sporting" is not the next word that

comes to mind. And, in this day of rev counters for every little

four-cylinder slushbox, how can a muscle machine like this be

without a tach, but have a digital speedo?

   Well, a good bet would be that a healthy slice of buyers will

put their own tach on the dash and their own cash on the counter

for the car.

   So far, a lot of them have: Chevy had more than 5,000 dealer

orders when the first Impala SS rolled off the line in Arlington,

Texas, earlier in the year.

   Window sticker Chevrolet Impala SS

   Engine: LT1 Corvette V-8 260 horsepower

   EPA mileage: 17-25 mpg

   Base price: $21,920