Wednesday January 2, 2019
Quad headlamps. Quad side lights (the outer units doubled as indicators) and sculptured tail fins with individual lamps. A choice of engines that included a 5.7-litre “Turbo Thrust” V8 with “Ramjet” fuel injection and the chance to specify “Turbo-Glide” gears. A list of options that ranged from “Level-Air” rear suspension, “Safety Plate glass” to electric windows. Yes, if you bought a Chevrolet Impala Hardtop or Convertible in 1958, you had truly “arrived”, piloting a car that resembled a road-going spacecraft along Route 66.
This commercial shows how the Impala was the perfect prom transport for a “teenage couple” who look approximately 33
while ‘nothing on land’ could apparently equate with the Sport Coupe -
The Impala was originally devised as one of the five “anniversary models” built by the five marques of General Motors to commemorate a half-century of car production. It debuted in late 1957, and as compared with the existing Bel Air, the new Chevrolet was considerably lower with a roof height of 4 ½ feet and boasted a longer wheelbase.
There were only two choices of body – Convertible and Coupe and the sales copy claimed that ‘curves where before there were lines’. The X-frame chassis and the rear suspension were new while for anyone who wished to overtake a Thunderbird there was the optional “Positraction” limited slip differential. As for the fake air scoops on the side panels, both matched the “sports” steering wheel and emphasised the performance image of a car named after an Antelope.
The Impala was intended, in the words of Chevrolet’s chief engineer Ed Cole, to be a ‘prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen’ and one that would win sales from Ford and Plymouth. By the end of 1959, it was the company’s best-selling model-line. A top of the range Convertible was priced at $2,841 and although a fully specified Impala would cost nearer $4,000 it was still within reach of the average GP or accountant. GM promised such buyers ‘quick, eager-to-please handling that lets you know you're the boss’.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, motorists, spivs, Teddy Boys and anyone who had learned the chords to A White Sport Coat could only marvel at the Impala. In 1958, it was still possible to buy a new British car that was devoid of indicators, a second windscreen wiper and even a boot floor.
In the USA, the Impala was a car for the prosperous middle-classes but in the UK ownership of a privately imported Chevrolet was reserved for rock and roll stars who topped the bill at the Streatham Empire. The average UK motorist could only read of how ‘Excitement Rides With You’; a car with a heater was about as far as their dreams extended.
By 1959 and the advent of the second-generation version, the Impala was a model in its own right as opposed to a top-line Bel Air, but few Chevrolets made the impact of the original “’58”. And ever since this writer saw American Graffiti when he was at Sixth Form College, he has craved an Impala Coupe for the past 31 years…