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New Zealand Classic Car - - 1985 Lamborghini Countach Lp5000s -

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.

Chevy con­nec­tion

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.

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