CATCH MIGHTY IMPALA BEFORE IT PASSES by Larry Printz (The Morning Call, 6/22/96)

   May we have a moment of silence, please?

   It's just for the passing of an old automotive acquaintance,

the Chevrolet Impala SS.

   The growing popularity of trucks and the declining popularity

of GM's traditional rear-drive behemoths (including the Buick

Roadmaster, Cadillac Fleetwood and Chevrolet Caprice) signal the

last road trip for this model.

   Too big? Certainly. Outrageous? Of course. Too fast? Never.

   It's easy enough to spot the Impala among a herd of Caprices.

Aside from the classic chrome Impala badge, the SS gets

monochromatic paint, body color molding, door handles and grille,

rear deck lid spoiler and fat P255/50ZR-17 speed-rated tires with

sharp five-spoke cast alloy wheels. Colors are limited to dark

cherry, dark green-gray or black. Add in a dual exhaust and you

haven't got a car -- you have the devil's parade float.

   Mechanically, this is nothing more than Chevy's police

package. Power is derived from Chevy's classic small block, here

displacing 5.7 liters and pumping out a healthy 260 horsepower at

5,000 rpm and a whopping 330 pound-feet of torque at 2,400 rpm

(it's only 200 horses and 240 pound-feet of torque in the

standard Caprice). The engine is mated to an electronically

controlled, four-speed automatic transmission. Impalas also get a

3.08:1 final drive ratio and a limited slip differential. Toss in

quicker power steering (12.7:1 vs. 15.3:1 for the Caprice) and

DeCarbon gas shocks with front and rear stabilizer bars, and you

have a snubbed-down suspension equal to the task at hand.

   The engine burbles as you slip the car into drive. Smash the

loud pedal to the floor and hang on to grandma -- this is one

automotive dinosaur that knows how to party. Whip it through

corners, the back end will let go. But taming this squirrelly

beast at obscene speeds is half the fun, although caution is

called for if driving in nasty weather. Hit a bump and the

body-on-frame Impala will shudder, but it's tighter than the one

your uncle let you drive as a kid and a lot more fun than some

fancy-pants European sedan. There are more refined cars, but none

as much fun to drive.

   Of course, getting Big Bertha to tango through tight parking

spaces is another automotive challenge. This Chevy wide-body

barely fit in my carport. But all this width translates into a

truly gargantuan interior.

   The bucket seats are comfy -- but wide. Spirited cornering

might find you sliding around a bit. But they are supportive

enough for long stints down the highway (the Impala excels as a

highway cruiser, albeit a very fast one). The dashboard is

cleanly designed and easy to understand and operate, although

some chrome switches heat up quickly in the sun, so be careful.

The center console holds the transmission lever, an improvement

over previous models.

   The body-sized trunk is, well, body-sized. Maybe we can stuff

it with the bean counter who decided to tease enthusiasts by

bringing back such a great package, only to snuff it out a couple

years later. This car is too much fun to lie dormant.

   But the market constantly sees changes, and with them comes

this bit of irony. In the year the automobile turns 100, we find

GM's ultimate statement, its pre-eminent, most fully realized

image of self, disappearing along with the automotive century

that created it.

At least you can buy one last sample before the century ends.

Chevrolet Impala SS

Standard: 5.7-liter 260-horsepower V-8, four-speed automatic

transmission, leather bucket seats with full floor console, dual

airbags, six-way power drivers seat, leather wrapped steering

wheel, power four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, custom

ornamentation, full-size spare, 17-inch aluminum wheels,

all-season 17-inch blackwall tires, AM/FM stereo with cassette,

intermittent wipers, power windows, power locks, power steering,

cargo net, tilt wheel, rear deck lid spoiler, DeCarbon shocks,

heavy duty cooling, ride and drive suspension, limited slip

differential, leather interior.

Optional: Four-speaker AM/FM stereo with CD player and digital

clock, windshield heat reflector, SS Preferred Equipment Group

(six-way power passenger seat, auto day-night rearview mirror,

illuminated vanity mirror, twilight sentinel).

Base price: $24,405

As tested: $25,692

EPA rating: 17 mpg city, 26 highway

Test mileage: 13 mpg