It was grand, Impala; GM pulls solid sedan off the road by Dan Scanlan (The Florida Times-Union, 12/14/97)

   Say goodbye to General Motor's dinosaurs.

   The company will cease manufacturing its last rear-wheel-drive

sedans, including the Buick Roadmaster, Cadillac Fleetwood, and

Chevrolet Caprice.

   While the loss of these behemoths may cause a tear for some,

for others, the cars were a bit outdated in design.

Unfortunately, the death knell for the big rear-wheelers also

includes this week's test car, the wonderful Chevy Impala SS.

   As timing would having it, production of the Impala ends this


   Chevy spokesman Mark Leddy said the big rear-wheel-drive

chassis just doesn't make business sense anymore, although the

sporty intent behind it may resurface in something else under the

corporate nameplate.

   'The nameplate and the heritage, we will hold on to. What that

means in the future we will have to see,' he said. 'Right now we

don't see a business case for it. We are looking at different

iterations [of current Chevy's, such as a rear-wheel-drive

Lumina]. But no decision has been made yet.'

   Now, let's go enjoy the SS one last time.

   The original Impala SS carried a 348-cu.inch, 305-hp V-8 as

the base engine, and could be optioned all the way up to the 409,

with 360 hp. It lasted from 1961 to 1969, then died as the gas

crisis killed the muscle car, to be replaced by front-wheel-drive

sedans and sports cars.

   Then in 1993, Chevrolet took the dowdy Caprice, best known for

taxi or police work, gave it some chutzpah and a new/old name,

then showed it at a few select 1992 auto shows. The Impala SS

show car was a hit, and the first ones rolled off the Arlington,

Texas, assembly line in February, 1994.

   Our test car came in the original basic black, all chrome

blacked out, although a dark gray-green metallic and a dark

cherry metallic are offered. Fit and finish was good, except for

a slightly misaligned hood and some loose carpeting at the back

of the driver's seat.

   Changes from the standard Caprice Classic are obvious. The car

hunkers down lower on 17-inch (vs. 16-inch) B.F. Goodrich Comp

T/A tires on five-spoke alloy wheels. The words 'Impala SS' are

embossed in black on the rear fenders. The chrome grille is

replaced by a black nose with a black chicken-wire mesh, and

there is also a little tail spoiler, as well as a stylized

leaping Impala in the C-pillars.

   Inside, an analog gauge package replaces the digital readouts

that this car was saddled with in 1994 and 1995, with a 160-mph

speedometer, a new 7,000-rpm tach, and gas and temperature

gauges. The Impala SS has a new center console with an armrest,

and for the first time, a gearshift moved from the steering

column this year.

   Comfortable leather bucket seats, each with an embroidered SS

logo on the headrest, help with the driving chores, but need more

side bolstering to hold me in on turns. Big, chrome switches on

the wide door panel/armrest power the windows and power seat

controls, but they are not lit at night. There is a single cup

holder/ashtray that slides out from the dash.

   Since the back seat in the Caprice hosts taxi passengers and

police prisoners, the Impala SS's version is just as roomy, made

more luxurious with gray leather sculpted into two semi-buckets

offering great room for two, or adequate room for three. The

glove box is big, the door map pockets are huge, and so is the

trunk, marred by a full-size spare tire bolted right in the

middle of the floor.

   The first time I drove an Impala SS was at the winding Road

Atlanta race track in 1993, and I learned one thing fast -- even

with 4,036 pounds of Detroit iron, the SS's tuned shocks and

stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars, plus the 17-inch tires

allowed me to tackle the hilly track easily.

   After 300 miles of driving in Duval and St. Johns counties,

the 260-hp Corvette-derived engine under the aircraft

carrier-sized hood is just as nice off the track as on. With

330-pound-feet of torque at a nice, low 2,400 rpm, the car shoves

you back in your seat en route to 60 mph in a very quick 7.5

seconds, with quick, smooth shifts and a nice sporty rumble from

the engine.

   Thanks to the firmer suspension, the car doesn't wallow over

bumps, it just shrugs them off with a well-damped feel. In turns,

there isn't much lean, and the huge tires hang in well. The

four-wheel-disc brakes bite quickly, and haul the two-ton car

down quickly, with the help of the ABS system.

   Our test car base price is $24,405, with standard Corvette

engine, 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, leather seats, rear deck

spoiler and sport suspension with limited-slip differential. The

$490 SS option package includes power front seats, while $155

gets the four-speaker AM-FM-CD stereo. With a destination charge,

the total is $25,692.

   What are the hits?

   This is a BIG car that handles very well, accelerates quickly,

and doesn't force you to leave the family at home. The price is

nice, too, if it doesn't command collector price tags yet.

   What are the misses?

   The Comp T/A tires whined a bit on the road. Our ABS warning

light constantly flickered on and off. I checked -- the ABS

system still worked flawlessly, even when the light came on.

   The bottom line -- it's a great family car that could stand a

bit of downsizing, and deserves to stay around.  vehicles on

Northeast Florida's roads, averaging about 200 miles of combined

highway and city traffic in each during a week-long test. The

test vehicles are provided by the manufacturer according to their

schedule, and represent a broad spectrum of sizes and prices. The

prices listed are manufacturer's suggested retail prices.