The Chevy Impala, first introduced in 1958, is Chevrolet’s full-sized car. The Impala name was taken from a medium-sized African antelope. The Impala was Chevrolet’s highest priced passenger car from 1958 all the way through the 1965 model year. This was the era when full-sized cars led the American automobile market, and the Chevy Impala was the number one seller during this era, beating out the Plymouth Fury and the Ford Galaxie 500. Chevrolet’s primary engineer, Ed Cole, described the Chevy Impala as a “prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen.”
The Chevy Impala was discontinued in 1985 and the Caprice became the full-sized Chevrolet base model. Chevrolet reintroduced the Impala in 1994 as the Chevy Impala SS. The Impala was once again discontinued in 1996, along with the Caprice as well as the Buick Roadmaster. General Motors was devoting more and more assembly lines to sport utility vehicles. Chevrolet resurrected the Impala name once again in 2000, this time to replace the failure known as the Chevy Lumina.
The 1959 Chevy Impala was a relatively dramatic change from the previous year’s model. The new body shell was shared with Pontiacs, Buicks, and Oldsmobiles. This was a move by General Motors to save money, and it was moves like this that led in part to the decline of the US automobile industry.
The wheel base for the 1959 Chevy Impala was 1.5 inches longer than the 1958 model. The chassis for the 1959 Impala was built on an updated X-frame chassis. The body of the car was two inches wider than on the 1958 model, and the roof was three inches lower. Unlike other cars of the time, the fins on the ’59 Chevy Impala didn’t protrude upward. Instead they protroded outward. Along with the large teardrop-shaped taillights, this gave the car a very distinctive appearance. Due to the look of the rear of the car and the taillights specifically, the 1959 Impala was called by some the “Eyebrow Chevy.” Other nicknames for parts of the car were “cat’s eye taillights” and “bat wing fins” The car also had a very long decklid, long enough, according to some, to land a small airplane.
The 1959 Impala became a separate series of cars. The following body styles were available in the series:
- Four-door sedan (distinguished by the B-pillar)
- Four-door hardtop (distinguished by the absence of a B-pillar)
- Two-door Sport Coupe
The two-door Sport Coupe was distinguished by a wrap-around rear window and a reduced roof line. The rear window provided a better, almost unlimited rear view. The front of the car featured a compound windshield that also provided a better view out of the front. The four-door hardtop, also called the Sport Sedan, had a pillar-free rear window that was enormous, and an overhanging “flying wing” roof line.
The base engine for the 1959 Impala was a conservative 235 cubic inch inline six cylinder that produced 145 horsepower. With the six cylinder engine, the sticker price for the car was $2849. Chevrolet provided plenty of other engine options including the following:
- 283 cubic inch carbureted small block V8 producing 170 horsepower
- 283 cubic inch carbureted small block V8 producing 185 horsepower
- 283 cubic inch carbureted small block V8 producing 230 horsepower
- 283 cubic inch fuel injected small block V8 producing 250 horsepower
- 283 cubic inch fuel injected small block V8 producing 290 horsepower
- 348 cubic inch carbureted big block V8 producing 320 horsepower
- 348 cubic inch carbureted big block V8 producing 335 horsepower
The interior of the 1959 Impala was high-class, featuring the following luxuries:
- Dual sliding sun visors
- Electric clock
- Crank-operated front wing windows
- Front and rear arm rests
- Six-way power seat
The interior also featured deep-set gauges in a contoured instrument panel. The gauges were hooded to prevent glare, making them visible even on the sunniest mornings and evenings. Also included was a gadget called the “Speedminder.” The operator could set a needle to a specific maximum speed and a warning buzzer would sound if the speed was exceeded.
My favorite things about the 1959 Chevy Impala are the fins, the curves, the lines, and the chrome, and I also have to mention those tear drop taillights. The fins are unique in that they are horizontal while all other fins were vertical. The lines and curves of the 1959 Impala are most impressive around fin and deck lid area. I really like the way that the deck lid curves in toward the middle, and is accented by the strip of chrome all the way down the middle of the deck lid. The chrome comes to apoint at the rear of the deck lid, meeting the chrome trim along the rear edge. At the point where they meet is the badge with stars and the Chevrolet chevron in the center, just above the key insert. The front and rear glass, the overhanging flying wing roof line… there are a lot of unique lines and curves on this car, particularly on the rear.
While the Chevy Impala is still made today, it now looks very similar to every other car made by every other automobile manufacturer. It’s disappointing that the Amercian automobile industry has fallen to this after making some of the highest quality and most impressive looking machines during the post-war era.