Impala shows nostalgia goes over As a Caprice Classic, nah, but as an Impala SS, this ugly duckling becomes a speedy swan with a truly surprising look and movement by Terry Jackson (Des Moines Register, 12/17/95)

    Nostalgia is a great tool sometimes. Take the Chevrolet

Impala SS for example.  Here is a car based on the Caprice

Classic, which has been one of the major design flops for

Chevrolet this decade.

    The best that could be said for the Caprice was that it made

a great taxi or police cruiser. 

   But as an Impala SS, this ugly duckling of a car becomes a

speedy swan, acquiring a look and movement that is truly


   How is this possible?

   Start with some history. In the 1960s, Detroit was just

discovering that the Baby Boomer generation had an appetite for

performance-oriented cars - or at the very least cars with a

performance look.

   At Chevrolet, the marketing answer to that trend was to create

a performance option package for most of its models that could

take even the most mundane car and make it into something

special. That package was called Super Sport, or SS for short.

   SS Novas, Chevelles, Monte Carlos, Camaros and Impalas - the

latter being the name of the flagship Chevy before the Caprice

came along.

   What an SS designation meant was a car was equipped with

bucket seats, a floor-mounted shifter, some fancy wheels and,

many times, a huge V-8 under the hood.

    At the peak of the 1960s performance craze, Chevrolet was

stuffing cubic-inch V-8s into the SS version of the Nova, a car

that was the equivalent of today's Cavalier. In the Impala, it

was possible to order a 427- cubic-inch V-8 in the SS model,

turning the family car into a real thunderbolt. Today, SS model

Chevys from the 1960s are coveted by collectors and regarded as

possessing a certain cachet.

   Prodded in part by Chevy General Manager Jim Perkins, who is a

collector of vintage Chevrolet performance cars from the 1960s

and '50s, the special products team decided two years ago to

resurrect some of the SS magic for the Caprice Classic.

   The engineers went beyond cosmetic tinkering and created a

true performance car. Where a drive in a Caprice Classic is

patent medicine for insomnia, the 1995 Impala SS delivers a

delightful wake-up call.

   Starting with parts that are included in the Caprice police

package - mostly stiffer suspension pieces - Chevrolet added a

260-horsepower version of the 5.7-liter V-8 found in the Camaro

and Corvette, stylish 17-inch aluminum wheels, quick-ratio power

steering, gas-pressurized shocks and grippy 225/50ZR tires.

   Chevy added a floor-mounted console, leather-wrapped steering

wheel, leather seats, a small rear trunk-lid spoiler and an

"Impala SS" logo along the rear fenders.

   Taken from a visual standpoint, these changes dramatically

transform. It appears to be a very capable road-handler just

sitting still, and the somewhat ungainly look of the Caprice body

is diminished by the way the wheels fill out the large wheel


   But when the V-8 is fired up and the four-speed automatic is

put into gear, the true nature of the Impala SS shines.

   This car is a two-ton sedan that goes and handles like a

Camaro Z28 - which is very faithful to the original Impala SS.

   Flick the key and the V-8 rumbles to life with a deep but

muted roar. The dual exhaust note, as it is on the Z28, is among

the most exciting available in a new car today. Under

acceleration, the V-8 is a real adrenaline rush.

   Versus the Impala SS of yore, this car performs much better in

handling and braking. Those old Impalas went like a rocket in a

straight line, but the suspension and brakes were never the equal

of the big-block V-8s.

   Base sticker price for 1995 models was $ 23,210, and even with

a CD player and power seats the price rose to just $ 24,892. When

you consider that a Toyota Camry V-6 or a Honda V-6 would cost at

least that much - and offer considerably less fun - the value of

the Impala SS becomes obvious.

   Chevrolet is phasing out production of the rear-wheel-drive

Caprice after next year, and the Impala SS in this form will

likely go away because the big V-8 just wouldn't work as well in

a front-wheel-drive format, which is what the Caprice replacement

will be. That may mean we'll all be reminiscing in 30 years about

those great SS models of the 1990s.


7 Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 260 HP at 4,899 rpm

7 Base price: $ 23,210; as tested: $ 24,892

7 Transmission: 4-speed automatic

7 Weight: 4,036 pounds

7 Go power: 0 to 60 mph in 7 seconds

7 Fuel economy: 17-25 mpg

7 Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes