DYING BREED: IMPALA SS CAUGHT IN DEMISE OF GM'S REAR-WHEEL-DRIVES by Richard Truett (Chicago Tribune 7/16/95)




   It's hot.



   It's sexy. 



   And it's about to die.



   It's the Chevrolet Impala SS.



   For the most part, few tears were shed over GM's recent

decision to phase out its full-size, rear-wheel-drive cars-the

Chevrolet Caprice, Buick Roadmaster and Cadillac Fleetwood

Brougham-after the 1996 model year.



   Perhaps, in fact, sooner. There was speculation last week that

1995 may be the end of the road for the big cars. But a General

Motors spokesman quickly denied published reports that the

Arlington, Texas, plant that makes the models may be converted

sooner than previously planned to make more popular selling

trucks and sport-utility vehicles.



   Whenever it vanishes, the Impala, which has the same

underpinnings as the Caprice, is not long for this world.

Further, it is the car in the mix that many auto enthusiasts and

Chevy dealers will miss.



   The dark Impala SS burst onto the scene in the spring of 1994,

packing a Corvette LT-1 engine, special interior and dark

exterior trim, dual exhausts, unique wheels and a police car

suspension system.



   It's a muscle car, a sports sedan and a hit.



   Dealers and customers have been scrambling for-and special

ordering-Impalas since the big, powerful sedan hit the street.



   Chevy officials thought they might sell 5,000 Impalas in the

car's first year, but buyers snapped up nearly 12,000 of the

in-your-face machines. Chevy is on track to sell 15,000 to 20,000

1995 models.



   Though there is a strong demand for the $23,000 car, it is

almost certain that no more Impalas in the current body style

will be built after the 1996 model year. Chevy hasn't decided how

many Impalas will be built before production closes down,

presumably next August; a spokesman said priority would go to

filling orders for police cars, based on the Caprice.



   Customers, dealers and those familiar with the Impala SS are

in awe of the car, for its looks, performance or value-or all

three.



   "When you look at that car and what it has and when you look

at its window sticker, it's awesome. It could be one of the great

American values on the road," said Alan Starling of Starling

Chevrolet in Kissimmee, Fla.



   The Impala SS comes with a leather interior; four-wheel,

anti-lock disc brakes; dual air bags; a full menu of power

accessories; and fat 17-inch performance tires. The base price of

$23,210 is about the same as a nicely equipped 4-cylinder Honda

Accord or Toyota Camry.



   "I just liked the looks," Patsy Mellen, 74, of St. Cloud,

Fla., said of her black 1995 Impala. "It's a very stylish car. I

like the way it was made, and it's very comfortable."



   Mellen said that she is stopped frequently by teenagers who

comment on the Impala's brawny good looks. She says that the

car's performance reminds her of vehicles her family owned when

she was growing up.



   The small number of Impalas built probably means that the car

will become a collectible, said classic car expert Robert Rader

of Rader's Relics in Winter Park. He believes the Impala SS has

the potential to be worth more than its purchase price.



   A few weeks ago Jerry Longbrake, 57, heard that GM planned to

discontinue the Impala, so he bolted to the nearest Chevy dealer

and bought one.



   Just days after Longbrake bought his Impala, the Kissimmee man

drove it for 21 hours to Ohio. At 6 feet 3 inches and 240 pounds,

Longbrake, owner of a collection of performance Chevrolets,

considers the full-size Impala to be very comfortable for larger

drivers.



   Longbrake fits the profile of the typical Impala SS

buyer-mostly middle-age men.



   "They remember the days of the (Pontiac) GTO and the

(original) Impala SS," said Starling, the Kissimmee Chevy dealer.

"Those were the cars they aspired to own. This gives us a second

shot."



   Art Pyler of Orlando, a Chevy enthusiast and former race car

driver, concurs.



   "It's a four-door Corvette. The LT-1 is a well-proven engine.

Because of the horsepower rating, the car flies. I like the speed

and 0- to 60-mph time (which Chevy lists at 6.5 seconds). It's

fantastic," said Pyler, 57.



   Pyler said he owns a restored 1958 Impala and plans to buy one

of the last Impalas built next year: "I talk to people who own

(new Impalas) all the time. It turns heads everywhere."



   After the Impala is dropped, buyers likely won't find an

alternative, because neither Ford nor Chrysler offers anything

like it.



   Ford's soft-riding Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis is

neither sporty nor muscular. Chrysler doesn't build a

V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive sedan.  And there are no

performance V-8 powered-imported sedans that sell for near the

Impala's $23,000 price.



   Chevy officials don't want to see the Impala go any more than

dealers and customers. But there is little they can do.



   Because GM doesn't sell enough Caprices, Roadmasters and

Fleetwoods, which share many parts, Chevy can't dedicate one

factory to keep the Impala SS in production, said division

spokesman Mark Leddy.



   Improvements scheduled for the Impala SS, such as moving the

gear shifter to the floor console and adding a tachometer, have

been scrapped, say Chevy officials. Changes for the 1996 models

will be cosmetic only.



   Though it's the end of the road for this Impala, Chevy would

like to offer a performance sedan with the Impala

nameplate-someday.



   "We are looking at a lot of different possibilities for the

Impala; it's a powerful name in the marketplace. We have no

intention of walking away from the car," Leddy said.



   Leddy said GM could hire an outside company to build the

Impala SS, move production to a smaller factory or use the Impala

SS name on another car, such as a performance version of the

Lumina/Monte Carlo. "We'd like to continue the name after 1996,

but right now there are no firm plans," he said.



   John Moss, Chevy's manager for special vehicles, said an

independent contractor has approached GM management with a

proposal to continue the Impala. But Moss said GM is concerned

that a small company wouldn't be able to meet GM's quality

standards. No action has been taken on the proposal, Moss said.



   A new Impala SS could be part of the upcoming replacements for

the Corsica/Beretta, front-wheel-drive cars scheduled for the

1997 model year.



GRAPHIC: PHOTO: Despite its popularity among full-size-car fans,

the 1995 Chevrolet Impala SS won't be around much longer.