Had someone, 25 years ago, said that SUVs would be the be all and end all of the automotive industry, they’d have been packed off into the boot of a large saloon and sent to the loony bin… But, saloons don’t rule anymore — in fact, they’re on the verge of extinction. We’ve recently lost Ford’s Taurus and Fusion, Chrysler’s 200, Chevrolet’s Malibu and Cruze and now another model from the gold bowtie is being shown the door — the Impala. General Motors will terminate production of the full-size saloon early in 2020 so what better time to look back at one of the hottest American cars of all time — the stunning third generation model produced between 1961 and 1964.
The Impala made its debut in 1958 (the year of General Motors’ 50th anniversary) starting out as the top trim level for the Bel Air before becoming a model of its own in 1959. The third-gen lost the tailfins of earlier years, and had a more rocket-like look with smoother lines. It could be had in several body styles including a convertible, two-door saloon, four-door saloon and four-door station wagon. The sport coupe variant (pictured) was commonly referred to as a ‘Bubble Top’ due to its rounded roofline and expansive windows and was one of the most popular. Design wise, it was a stylish bridge between the heavily chromed and finned cars of the Fifties and the more muscular cars Impalas would become later. It featured clean lines and an elegant cabin with the pillarless ‘Bubble Top’ giving the interior an airy, open feel. The front end retained the eyebrow-like line that swooped up around the corners to open up the fascia (with the ‘Chevrolet’ name spelled out on the edge of the bonnet) while around the back the teardrop taillights had been replaced with the traditional setup of six taillights — three on either side — making a return. The Impala also had a bit more of a compact appearance about it and shorter front overhangs too. It was smaller but it was also still classified as a full-size saloon and it could easily accomodate six adults in the bench seats. The interior itself was rather eye-catching what with a two-tone combo to match the exterior.
Of the 491,000 Impalas produced in 1961, the vast majority got the 4.6-litre V8 making 230bhp V8 mated to a two-speed Powerglide auto (a three-speed synchromesh manual transmission was also available), but there was also a 5.7-litre V8 which made 330bhp however, the one to have was the 6.7-litre big-block which was available with the SS package. Just 142 Impala’s got the 360bhp 409-powered V8 fed via a quad-barrel carburetor that year. Overall, the car handled better than most made in the US during this era thanks to a chassis with coilover suspension in all four corners.
It’s the 409 V8 cars enthusiasts hope to come across these days, they are genuine collector’s items and worth a pretty penny.