1958-1965 Chevrolet Impala

The development of the 1958 Chevrolet Impala could not have come at a more opportune time. Chevrolet had scheduled a complete makeover of its cars for 1958; little would be carried over from the strong-selling 1955-1957 versions save power plants and some model names.

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A comparison of a 1957 Chevrolet (left) and a 1958
mockup shows how the Chevrolet look evolved.
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Forty-three years after making its debut, the Chevrolet Impala survives. More accurately, the model name does. Nowadays, it is applied to a practical midsized four-door sedan with a corporate V-6 engine driving the front wheels, plus a long list of amenities that make it competitive with cars of similar size and appearance. Buyers choose it for a host of good reasons, but passion isn't likely to be one of them.

This is no criticism of Chevrolet, which, like its rivals, builds “market-driven” cars for 21st century customers, vehicles researched and cliniced to a fare-thee-well before Job One ever rolls off the line. Considering the fierce competition from a host of companies for every sale and the capital investment involved in tooling up for a new car, it's hard to imagine anyone relying today on the intuitive approaches to determining automotive form and content that still worked well four decades ago.


Chevrolet Chief Engineer Harry Barr poses with an
Impala and other examples of the division's models.

To be fair, all manufacturers' cars have come a long way since the late 1950s in virtually every respect. Any company introducing as relatively unsafe and inefficient a beast as the original Impala today — assuming it could get past governmental regulators, a virtual impossibility — would probably see sales figures reach the high triple digits — if they were lucky.

But never mind that. The original 1958 Impala, and those that followed over the next decade or so, were magnificent, impulsive machines, sometimes flamboyant in appearance, and, thanks to a series of thundering V-8 powerplants, capable of leaving long black stripes (from the rear wheels, of course) on the pavement of Eisenhower's wondrous new interstate highway system. To any enthusiast of that era, “Impala” (particularly after the “SS” tag was added in 1961) was a magic name, signifying the rompin', stompin' flagship of the most popular nameplate in American showrooms.

Before the Chevrolet Impala there was a Corvette Impala. The latter was a one-off prepared for the 1956 General Motors Motorama show season. In the mid-1950s, Chevrolet was looking at ways to broaden the Corvette's appeal — necessary, considering early sales of the plastic-bodied two-seater — and used the traveling Motorama events to tease the public with Corvette derivatives like the four-place Impala. The concept didn't make it to production, but its name and several of its styling details ended up being appended to Chevrolet passenger cars.


The Impala name was first used by Chevrolet for
this one-off 1956 Motorama show car.


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