he Impala was first seen in 1956 at the Chevrolet Motorama — a travelling roadshow that hit New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston. This first Impala was a four-passenger coupé, with a strong connection to its stablemate the Corvette, and aptly named the ‘Corvette Impala’. The car even featured fibreglass construction just like the Corvette.
At that time, the Bel Air was considered to be the finest Chevrolet on the market, but the Impala was about to change that.
When the first production Impala was introduced in 1957, it was only offered as a sport coupé or convertible, giving it a racey image that proved to be hugely successful. The Impala was over 23cm longer, 10cm wider, and 5cm lower than the Bel Air models and also came with some exciting new options, including the new 5.7-litre (348ci) V8 and Level Air suspension system. With Chevrolet’s new engine package, the Impala was quicker than previous Chevys, and this latest suspension system offered a much smoother ride than ever before.
Another major change involved a new X-frame chassis design, which would be built into all new Chevrolets to improve overall stability and comfort.
On the style front, the new Impala certainly looked the part, with chrome accents on the door and instrument panels plus a sport-style steering wheel, all giving the impression that the car was more luxurious than other ’57 Chevrolets.
Early Impala history
In 1958, the Impala was only offered as a two-door coupé or convertible, but, for 1959, there was a full line of Impalas that included two-door hardtops, twodoor convertibles, four-door sedans, and four-door hardtops. The 1959 Impala body was also sleeker and, most importantly, had a more contemporary look, enough for it to overtake the Bel Air in the sales stakes.
Minor cosmetic changes were made to the Impala in 1960, including altering the tail lights from a massive cat’s-eye shape to six separate round lights — which would become a staple look for the Impala over the next few years — while the tail fins on the car were made less radical, as such design curlicues were becoming old hat.
Chevrolet decided to completely change the Impala in 1961. The new model lost the rear fins, and gained an improved instrument-panel layout but hung onto the iconic six-tail-light set-up. Many buyers were still crying out for options like Positraction; a heavy-duty battery; and heavy-duty brakes, springs, and shocks, and these demands finally caused Chevrolet to rethink its strategy, the result being the introduction of a Super Sport, or ‘SS’, package for Impalas. The Impala was the first Chevrolet to be offered with a Super Sport package that could be ordered in any body style; in the future, this option would only be available for sport coupés or convertibles.
Until that point, the Corvette had been regarded as Chevrolet’s sports car, but, now, the Impala SS was right up there with the ’Vette.
Rivalling the Corvette’s performance was simply a matter of optioning an Impala SS with either a
high-performance 5.7-litre (348ci) or the new monster 6.7-litre, 260kw (409ci/350bhp) V8 engine. All this, plus power steering and heavy-duty power brakes, shocks, and springs made for an impressive sports coupé.
Chevrolet introduced its famous 5.35-litre (327ci) engine to the Impala line-up in 1962. This was a good year for the automotive industry, and the Impala SS was running hot nationwide as positive words about its merits started to spread rapidly.
Chevrolet sold an impressive 832,000 Impalas in 1963 — it was, indeed, ‘America’s car’ and right up there with hot dogs and mom’s apple pie. The ’63 Impala didn’t change all that much, and was the only full-size two-door sport coupé and fourdoor sport sedan that Chevrolet offered that year. Chevy’s old big seller, the Bel Air, was now only available in two-door and four-door sedan versions.
In 1964, the Impala changed in several ways. In something akin to Cadillac style, the car received thicker bumpers that made it seem lower and heavier. The 1964 grille had a flatter profile than that of previous models, and other upgrades incorporated an electric clock, emergency brake light, and special sports steering wheel. That year, the Impala SS became its own model line (as opposed to being simply a package of options applied to a standard car), and, incredibly, more than 185,000 Impala SS models were sold, while 890,000 regular Impalas were sold. To put that into perspective, Chevrolet only managed to sell 550,000 Bel Airs during that same period.
One person who is definitely keeping the Impala tradition alive and well with his magnificent 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe is Jeff Matthews. As Valentine’s Day is just around the corner — and the theme for this year’s Intermarque Concours d’elegance is A Classic Love Story — we were delighted when Jeff suggested that his daughter, Hayley, be involved in our photo shoot.