Motown Muscle: Tradition, Looks, Speed Drive Impala SS by Ed Rochette & Dan Jedlicka (Chicago Sun-Times, 4/21/96)




   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

items.



   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"

badging.



   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

stopping ability.



   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

police equipment.



   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

year.



   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

current model.



   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

December.



   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.