Initially conceived as something of a full-size Corvette, the Impala concept car first appeared in 1956. That family sedan-sports car combination has made the Impala an enduring symbol of American prosperity. In fact, with just a few brief interruptions, Impalas have been in production almost constantly since 1958.
No matter how many of these vehicles roll off the assembly line, the 1950s and 1960s Impalas will still have a very special place in American vehicle lore. Although the original Impala went through an additional two years of development after that 1956 appearance, it kept the same heart and soul.
First Generation (1958)
This was the 50th anniversary of the General Motors car. To celebrate, the Impala was essentially a top-of-the-line Bel Air. SOme first-time features included dual headlamps and sculpted fenders in lieu of tailfins. GM claimed that the new X-shaped frame made the car more solid, but it may not have withstood side-impact crashes as well as a traditional symmetrical frame.
Upgraded coil suspension systems came standard along with V8 engines. Available options included air-ride suspension, turbocharger, and fuel injector. Unlike the Bel Air, the Impala also came in convertibles. Strong overall Impala sales helped put GM back in the number one position.
Second Generation (1959-60)
The tailfins returned in 1959, although the Impala was much sleeker and more rectangular than its predecessor GM cars. Wider bodies increased vehicle weight, and a new chassis lowered the roof. 1959 was also the first year of the Impala as a separate vehicle line. It was no longer just an extra-nice Bel Air. Four-door configurations were available for the first time as well. These redesigned Impalas were not just popular in the United States. GM exported large numbers to South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand from a plant in Ontario.
In terms of options, Chevrolet abandoned the fuel injector. It was still the age of the carburetor. Some popular options included cruise control (brand new for 1959), six-way power seats, and a “Speedminder” buzzer alert when the car exceeded a predetermined velocity.
Third Generation (1961-64)
These Impalas were a bit boxier and less rectangular.As vehicle traffic increased and roads got better, drivers demanded cars that were a bit more maneuverable yet were still very large. Impala Sport Coupes features bubble-style hardtop roofs. But the style did not catch on and the bubbles were discontinued.
GM Continued tinkering with the body style, moving to C-style frames in 1962. Some of these cars also had larger-than-life 409 cubic foot engines. The Beach Boys single, 409, was essentially about an Impala. Owners who wanted automatic transmission no longer had to settle for unreliable Turboglide transmissions, as GM used the old reliable Powerglide transmissions instead.
1964 Impalas had a slightly rounder look which became the trademark in the next generation.
Fourth Generation (1965-70)
These good-looking Impalas were the first million unit sellers. Curved side windows accentuated the rounded frame, and redesigned suspension gave the cars a more energetic look even when standing still.
Under the hood, a range of powertrains were available. Owners could choose from a redesigned 409 or a slightly smaller 396.
Impala Super Sport models were quite popular as well. The upgraded SS helped the Impala eventually become the fourth largest-selling automobile in history.