1961-1964 Chevrolet Impala – All Things for All People

There’s no doubt Chevrolet has produced during its lifetime many legendary automobiles, so many in fact, they would be too numerous to mention. However the third generation 1961-1964 Chevrolet Impala proved to be one Chevrolet’s best automobiles of the golden era. During the 1961-1964 model years the full-size Chevrolet Impala easily beat in sales Ford’s full-size Galaxie which was its main competitor. No other car brand in the U.S. could touch Chevrolet in terms of sales at this time, it was numero uno.

The great appeal of the 1961-1964 Chevrolet Impala was the fact it was a lot of car for the money. For a full-size car it was extremely sporty. With its long and beautiful flowing lines, it was easy to see that nothing was an afterthought pertaining to its exterior styling. A lot of work by Chevrolet’s stylists went into making sure the exterior body panels were unique and flowed well. Chevrolet also made sure that it made substantial exterior styling updates every year which gave the Impala unique exterior styling during each of these four model years. This increased the occurrence of repeat buyers who were willing to trade up to a new Impala every two years or even every year which helped to boost sales. The Impala’s exterior had a low stance and beautiful long stylish body panels with all four model years having four headlights and 6 round taillights.

The 1961-1964 Chevrolet Impala’s interior was more uniform with only slight changes from year to year. It was very modern for its day, had attractive accents, had a modern looking dash with plenty of padding, and comfortable seating for its day. Starting with the 1961 model year, a more upscale version with a sporty appearance package was born, it was called the Impala Super Sport (SS). The Impala SS would soon take on legendary status because some of Chevrolet’s best high-performance V8s would be available in the Impala SS from 1961 to 1969.

The Impala was available in the following configurations: 2-door sedan, 2-door sports coupe, 4-door sedan, 4-door sports sedan, and 2-door convertible. Starting in 1962, a station wagon was added to the Impala lineup. Chevrolet in its advertising literature touted the Impala’s jet-smooth ride. They didn’t lie, the Impala had a smooth big car ride which was good enough to please most luxury car buyers at the time. The Impala SS on the other hand with its upgraded suspension was geared toward the performance buyer who wanted an Impala that could conquer the tight turns and twisty roads better than the regular Impala.

The 1961-1964 Impala was available with a wide array of engines. At the bottom of the scale was the 230 cubic-inch Turbo Thrift inline-6 cylinder engine and 235 cubic-inch Hi-Thrift inline-6 cylinder engine. Also available were Chevrolet’s very popular 283 cubic-inch and 327 cubic-inch small block V8s. Early in the third generation Impala’s production run was Chevrolet’s W-series 348 cubic-inch big block V8. The larger displacement W-series 409 cubic-inch big-block V8 which debuted in 1961 became the third generation Impala’s most revered engine, it produced 340-425 gross horsepower depending on model year and application. It was the higher horsepower versions of the 409 which were optional in the Impala SS that made the 409 powered Impala SS one of the best performance cars of this era. Even the high-performance Corvette was never available with this legendary performance engine. There were 4 transmissions available in the 1961-1964 Impala: a 3-speed manual, 4-speed manual, 2-speed Powerglide automatic, and only for 1961 the 3-speed Turboglide automatic.

Chevrolet even offered in the 1963 Impala SS a genuine race car motor, the W-series 427 cubic-inch V8, it had the same engine bore as the 409 and a slightly large engine stroke and an incredible 13.5:1 compression ratio. It was rated at 430 gross horsepower but the true rating was closer to 500 gross-horsepower. To get this engine a buyer had to select the Z11 package. The result was 0-60 mph in just 4.3 seconds and the quarter mile in 10.8 seconds at 120 mph for the 1963 Z11 Impala SS. These figures are super fast even today more than 60 years later. The Z11 was standard with a floor mounted 4-speed manual transmission.

What made the 1961-1964 Impala so very popular was that it was a extremely affordable full-size car that had modern, elegant, and sporty styling. The Impala gave buyers more standard features and available options for the money than a vast majority of new cars at the time. In other words, it was one of the best values a buyer was going to find during this era. Add to that, the Impala was one of the best looking new cars on the road at the time. And when the Impala was ordered from the factory with a healthy dose of options, the Impala easily fit the bill as a reasonably priced luxury car. However the main reason for 1961-1964 Impala’s great success was it could be all things to all people. It could be a thrifty budget car, a reliable family car, a sporty car, a luxury car, or a serious performance car, it all depended on which Impala was ordered and the options selected – in other words the buyer picked which Impala persona that buyer wanted.


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