DYING BREED: IMPALA SS CAUGHT IN DEMISE OF GM'S
REAR-WHEEL-DRIVES by Richard Truett (Chicago Tribune
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
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
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
"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
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
Art Pyler of Orlando, a Chevy enthusiast and former race car
"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
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
"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.