Detroit-Hamtramck Plant’s final Chevrolet Impala
The Chevrolet Impala is officially dead. After nearly six full decades, one of Chevy’s best-known nameplates is being put out to pasture… again. GM will repurpose the Detroit-Hamtramck facility where it was built as an assembly plant for future electric vehicles, marking the end of one era and ushering in a new one.
Join us as we take a look back at the big Chevy, starting from the beginning.
1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe
Impala was born as an upscale variant of the Chevy Bel Air. The name was introduced as part of a schemed to celebrate 50 years of GM vehicle production by creating top-trim offshoots with similar styling cues. This initiative gave birth to two other names that would go on to future production models: the Cadillac Eldorado Seville and the Buick Roadmaster Riviera.
1959-1960 Chevrolet Impala
Only a year after introducing the new nameplate, Chevrolet went in a different direction. A new chassis underpinned the 1959 and 1960 Chevys; it was lower, wider, and bigger. The second-generation car was probably the earliest sign of what Impala was to eventually become. Per GM, the 2013 Impala was the last North American passenger car in the industry with an available front bench seat.
It would be decades before the Impala we know today truly took shape, but this vestige of its roots remained almost until the end.
1961-1964 Chevrolet Impala
The rapid pace of change continued unabated into the early 1960s. 1961 represented yet another significant update, as the Impala got its first significant update after migrating to the GM B platform. The third-generation Impala was the first to wear an SS badge, which helped launch the nameplate into pop culture stardom. The Beach Boys were on board early with “409,” and there are plenty of references to third-gen Impalas in hip hop chart-toppers. What, you thought a six-deuce was a Mazda? For shame. ’64 was the final year for this generation.
1965-1970 Chevrolet Impala
As the 1960s cruised along, model generations started to elongate. The fourth-gen Impala ran from 1965 to 1970, and saw the end of the iconic 409 V8s. The big coupe wasn’t hurting for horsepower, though. This generation saw both the 427 and 454 cubic inch Turbo-Jet big block engines, both of which remain iconic today.
This was the first generation of the Impala to overlap with the smaller Camaro, which was introduced in 1967. Sales were also cannibalized by the smaller Chevelle (also available with big-block options), the Caprice, and sister brand Pontiac’s GTO, as enthusiasts began to favor these better-performing models.
1971-1976 Chevrolet Impala
The 1970s were challenging years for the U.S. auto industry. While the Impala remained Chevrolet’s top-selling model throughout its fifth generation (1971-1976), both its performance and its volume slacked as the decade dragged on.
There are some highlights, however. As safety standards and emissions began to enter the public consciousness, GM began experimenting with new technology. This was the first generation of the Impala to be fitted with airbags. It was also the last to be fitted with the Turbo-Jet 454.
1977-1985 Chevrolet Impala
For 1977, the sixth-generation Impala got smaller, slicker, and more efficient. This generation bore the brunt of the mayhem inflicted on Detroit by the mandate of emissions controls, along with waning support of domestic manufacturers by a fickle public eager for more fuel-efficient, compact options. The largest engine offered in this generation was 350 cubic inch small block; it was also available with a diesel. We try not to talk about that fiasco.
At the end of its eight-year run (the longest of any Impala to that point), GM decided Chevrolet couldn’t sustain two full-size nameplates. The Caprice, which was the higher-end full-sizer, was spared the axe. Thus, after the 1985 model year the Impala was killed off.
It wouldn’t be the last time.
1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala
Our story leaps ahead nearly decade. The Caprice is Chevrolet’s full-sized sedan du juor, and Chevrolet is eager to revive its performance nameplates on the B platform. Rather than simply introducing a hotted-up Caprice, GM decided to bring back the Impala.
A Caprice in everything but name, the 1994-1996 Impala SS was effectively a halo sedan for General Motors. It boasted legitimate performance credentials thanks to a standard Corvette-sourced 5.7L (350 ci) V8 and a limited-slip differential. It also sat lower than the Caprice and was fitted with a beefed-up suspension. A Callaway-tuned SS was offered with more than 400 horsepower. Sadly, the factory SS’s detuned 5.7L made only 260.
This is one of the shortest-running generations of the Impala, and it was also capped off with yet another moment of bitter finality: In December, 1996, GM axed the entire B-Body lineup, ending its legacy of full-size, rear-wheel-drive sedans under mainstream nameplates.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one, but GM axed the Impala, Caprice, and Roadmaster to make room for — wait for it — higher-margin SUVs.
2000-2005 Chevrolet Impala
In 2000, GM revived the Impala nameplate yet again, this time on a large front-wheel drive platform. It was offered with various V6 engines throughout its run, but never a V8. It was fairly anonymous, and if it hadn’t been outfitted as a police vehicle, it probably wouldn’t have ever landed on any enthusiast’s radar (sorry).
While it bore the Impala name, the sixth-generation car was really no more than a Lumina with a new badge. It was a meager gesture for a forgettable car.
2006-2016 Chevrolet Impala SS
In 2006, GM redesigned the Impala on an updated W platform. It got a bit larger, a bit nicer, but not really any more exciting to look at. It also served as one of the most unlikely foundations for a performance line in GM’s history.
Yes, the SS returned, and yes, it had a V8 shared with the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP. The only problem? Both were front-wheel drive. Chevy shoehorned a 303-horsepower 5.3L small block between the front wheels, which wore wider rubber than the rears so they could pull double duty as both propulsion and steering implements.
The SS lasted only through 2010 — probably longer than it should have, given the fuel prices of the pre-recession 2000s — and the base car survived until 2016, overlapping with the 10th-generation car for two model years as a fleet-only offering.
2014-2020 Chevrolet Impala
2014 marked the introduction of the tenth — and perhaps truly final — generation of the Impala. Offered with both 4- and 6-cylinder engines (and not as an SS variant), the most recent Impala didn’t share a whole lot with its distant ancestors, but it was a pleasant, comfortable, reasonably efficient cruiser capable of holding four adults in comfort.
But sadly, that’s not enough for today’s consumers. The Detroit-Hamtramck facility may be slated to produce electric cars, but that’s not what killed GM’s full-sizer; crossovers did. As in 1996, GM is looking for profit, and it’s found in bigger, taller, longer, heavier, less-efficient SUVs.
And so, we say “so long” to Chevrolet’s on-again, off-again staple full-size sedan, at least until its time comes again.