Motown Muscle: Tradition, Looks, Speed Drive
Impala SS by Ed Rochette & Dan Jedlicka (Chicago Sun-Times,
The Chevrolet Impala SS is one of the great Cinderella stories
of the 1990s.
The $ 24,905 Impala SS (Super Sport) is a rather stylish, hot
rod version of Chevrolet's $ 19,905-$ 21,905 Caprice family
sedan. It's a big, fast, good-handling four-door with a firm
ride, great brakes and a tough appearance.
This Chevy, which I recently tested, feels much like a refugee
from the 1960s -- an old-style performance car with a 1990s edge
that hits 60 m.p.h. in just 7.3 seconds and can reach 145 m.p.h.
The 4,036-pound auto feels big and clunky when off highways.
Its power steering is vague in the on-center wheel position, and
the driveline tunnel seriously eats into back-seat room. The
leather-clad seats look good, but are too soft and offer scant
lateral support during sporty driving. But there is nothing else
like this car.
Chevy was famous in the 1960s for creating desirable hot rod
versions of bland family cars. The SS name was on many of the
quickest, most stylish autos Chevy sold from 1961 to 1969. That
expertise came in handy when creating the 1990s Impala SS.
The current generation rear-drive Caprice flopped badly after
it was restyled in 1991 because it looked somewhat peculiar and
the trend was to trimmer, lighter, more economical front-drive
sedans that offered the same -- or more -- interior room.
But taxi companies and police departments loved the Caprice.
Unconcerned about appearance, they wanted the car's size and
liked its toughness when it was fitted with optional heavy-duty
The situation was a blow to Chevy, which wanted the Caprice to
appeal to a fairly large civilian audience. The market for big
rear-drive sedans was much smaller than in past decades. But
popularity of Caprice rivals, such as Ford's Crown Victoria, made
the Caprice look silly.
Enter Jim Perkins, who recently retired as Chevy's general
manager. An old hot rodder, Perkins approved plans to make a
modified version of the Caprice. It would wear the Impala SS name
from the 1960s.
To test reaction, Chevy displayed the car at U.S. auto shows
in early 1994. The Impala SS got such a warm reception from the
media and public that a production version debuted in mid-1994.
Chevy didn't have lots of money to create the Impala SS, but
managed to make it distinctive.
The SS looked racier, with items such as a blacked-out grille,
monochromatic black paint, body-colored door handles and subtly
reshaped rear quarter windows. Of course, it had "Impala SS"
The car's wide 50-series tires lowered its height and worked
with a sport suspension and gas shock absorbers to make it handle
better. Four-wheel disc brakes and the performance tires helped
Under the hood was a 5.7-liter, 260-horsepower version of the
Chevy Corvette V-8, which was quite a jump from the Caprice's
4.3-liter, 200-horsepower V-8.
The interior was disappointing because there was no tachometer
on the dash and the shift lever was on the steering column -- as
it was in the mom-and-pop Caprice -- not on the floor, where it
was in the old Chevy SS models.
Basically, the Impala SS was a specially painted Caprice with
But dealers couldn't keep the limited-production car in stock.
Despite a late start, Impala SS sales in the 1994 model year
totaled a respectable 6,081 units. Sales jumped to 18,643 units
in the 1995 model year -- along with 59,690 regular Caprice
models. Impala SS sales are expected to top the 20,000 mark this
For 1995, Chevy added dark cherry and dark green-gray exterior
colors, and car buffs finally got a tachometer and a floor
shifter for the smooth four-speed automatic transmission in the
Chevy will make a few more bucks with the Impala SS because it
has added $ 500 to the 1996 model's price since its debut. That
model will be the most valuable in the resale market. And many
are buying the Impala SS as a collector's item and will try to
sell to the highest bidder after the car's production ceases in
The Impala SS dies with all GM big rear-drive cars this year
to make room for more truck production. Only heaven and GM know
when the next "SS" Chevy model arrives. The Impala SS might be a
good thing to have until that day arrives.