CHEVROLET BISCAYNE/BEL AIR/IMPALA/CAPRICE (CLASSIC)

 

Introduced in autumn 1957, the Impala, named after the concept car shown at the January 1956 Motorama show, was in its first year part of the Bel Air line, initially marketed as ‘Chevrolet Bel Air Impala’, later as ‘Chevrolet Impala’, with its own body styles, a convertible or a unique 2-door hardtop roof (shared with the Pontiac Bonneville) that was shorter and lower than that of the Bel Air.  The Impala could be easily identified by triple tail lights resulting in a smaller lower deck lid opening, while the wings were more pronounced, a sign of things to come.  

most popular nameplate of the three

When by 1959 an Impala 4-door sedan and 4-door hardtop arrived, it had a share of over one third in Chevrolet full size US production, while the 2-door hardtop and convertible body style were exclusive to the Impala and by 1960 it became the most popular nameplate of the three series (Biscayne, Bel Air, Impala), accounting for over half by 1962, though the 2-door hardtop body was again granted in these years to the Bel Air, which had been the name for this body style when it appeared back in 1950.  This share rose to well over two third in 1965, after which the Impala was joined by the Caprice that would eventually overhaul the Impala’s share at the downsizing in 1977, and replaced it by 1986.  In 1959 and 1960, an impressive number of nine body styles was available in the Chevrolet full size series: 2- and 4-dr sedans, hardtops and wagons, a convertible, a 2-door panel van, and a pick-up El Camino.

tail lights

By 1960 model year, replacing the cat’s eye tail lights of the 1959 models, the Impala series reverted to its triple light distinction.  This resulted in a 10% higher pie slice of the Impala the next year to nearly half, growing to over two third in 1965.  In Australia, 1962 through 1965 assembled Bel Air (sedans) had triple instead of dual tail lights, using Impala deck lids with the additional two lights.  Just by 1965 arrived the Impala here as well.

convertible

By 1960, one out of every six Impalas was a convertible, dropping to one out of ten in 1963, one out of twenty by 1967, and to under 1% from 1969, after which the Caprice Classic took over from 1973 until 1975.  The 6-cylinder engine was deleted by 1968, urging the Benelux importer to switch to the V8. 

station wagon

In 1958, the wagons were called Yeoman (2 or 4-door) with Del Ray trim, Brookwood with Biscayne trim and Nomad with Bel Air trim.  By 1959, the entry-level model became the Brookwood,  also as a 2-door wagon, while with Bel Air trim the 4-door wagon was called Parkwood or (9-pass.) Kingswood, and the Nomad now had Impala trim.  In 1961, the 2-door was deleted and both Bel Air based wagons were called Parkwood, selling over half of the wagons, the Nomad 15%.  Hereafter the wagon namings were deleted, creating the first Impala wagon, receiving three tail lights by 1963, and again by 1965.  Then, from 1969 till 1972, the Biscayne wagon was called Brookwood again, the Bel Air wagon was now called Townsman (a name also used in the 1950s), the Impala Kingswood and the Caprice Kingswood Estate.  The Kingswood sold about half of the wagons, with the Kingswood Estate growing to one third.  From 1980 on the Caprice Classic wagon outsold the Impala wagon, which was finally deleted in 1982.

1965 models

Only in 1961 model year an Impala 2-door sedan was offered, and while the 2-door hardtop comprised less than one third of the US Impala production, the more solid 1962 roof lifted this to over 40%, and the striking 1965 sweepline to over half, making the Impala (incl. the Super Sport) sell almost 1.1 million units in a single market in this calendar year, the only time that a given nameplate ever exceeded the million mark.  The Chevrolet full size series sold over 1 million units annually in the United States nearly each year from 1949 till 1972.  The Impala had 12% of the US market in 1965, 12.5% incl. the V8 Caprice, actually an Impala option package, introduced in February 1965 in response to Ford’s LTD.  The full-sized Chevrolet line sold nearly 1.7 million units in 1965, a new single-year sales record, that was 18.2% of the market.  GM had half of the US market that year, Chevrolet over a quarter.  By 1963 model year, Buick had re-issued the upwards curving rear fender shape with the Riviera.

formal roof

For 1966, with only cosmetic changes to the bodies, the 2-door hardtop portion would be shared with the Caprice formal roof models, while the Super Sport part halved, reducing the 2-door hardtop share among the Impala again to under half.  Over 3 million of the 1965/66 full size models were built, with almost one third the 2-door Sport Coupe, as the Impala 2-door hardtop was called.  This 1966 Caprice 2-door formal roof, called Custom Coupe, had an upstanding rear side window appearance, and was not used at the other GM full size models.  A vinyl top was optional, as it was for the Sport Coupe.

most produced nameplate

The Impala became the most produced nameplate worldwide with 7.5 million units by 1967, overtaking the Bel Air, the year after which assembling generally stopped outside North America.  Cumulatively the Impala would be the world leader for 25 years until 1992, though on a yearly basis the (second generation) Corolla had beaten the Impala from 1971.  

1967 models

For 1967, the Sport Coupe roof adopted a semi-fastback line, and by 1968, the Custom Coupe, became also available for the Impala, even with the Super Sport option pack till 1969.  Among the full size 1965~1968 GM B-body models, the Oldsmobile Jetstar I up to 1965, the Oldsmobile Starfire up to 1966, and the Pontiac Grand Prix up to 1968 all used the same 2-door hardtop roof with a concave backlight  that was denied to Chevrolet, but not to the 1966 and 1967 Canadian 2-door Grande Parisienne (an answer to the Caprice) on the shorter Chevrolet chassis with the Grand Prix body and the front wheel wells set 2 inches backward.  The emerged rear flank kickups for 1967 didn’t match to this roof, inciting Pontiac to integrate roof, rear fender and sloping deck lid by 1968, urging Canada to use the sweepline roof for the Grande Parisienne, after production by Fisher of the earlier configuration had stopped, guarding the Grand Prix from losing its widest front track, as Canada then used Chevy’s wagon treads. 

1969 models

By 1969 the sweepline look was ‘out’ and the Chevrolet 2-door Sport Coupe models now had a more regular modest appearance.  Among the full size 1969/70 GM B-body models, the Impala/Caprice Custom Coupe were the only models with their own 2-door hardtop roof, changed as well for this year, though the Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale had the regular roof, ‘semi-formal’ with a smaller backlight, while Pontiac wasn’t able to design another roof good enough to distinguish its Grand Prix, coming up with the idea to put it on the stretched four-door A-body chassis, the extra space granted to the hood, rather than to the interior, creating the successful G-body, an idea that was copied the next year by Chevrolet for its Monte Carlo, which was also planned as a convertible that even made it to the accessory brochure, and after two years almost halved sales of the Grand Prix, itself again available in Canada after six years, the first year next to the less costly but roomier B-body Grande Parisienne.

1965~1970 GM full size

With over 15 million built, total production of the 1965~1970 GM full size B-body models exceeded that of the Ford Model T, and that of the Zhiguli, when counting in the stretched C- (and D-) body varieties.  But have a look at top 3 production cars.

1971 models

At the 1971 remodeling, the B-body Pontiac Grand Ville had its own distinctive 2-door hardtop roof yet, next to the Impala/Caprice Custom Coupe with the usual upstanding rear window appearance, while the Impala Sport Coupe (mated to a Bel Air in Canada since 1970) got a more common look, selling fewer each year, with in 1973 one out of every five 2-door hardtops a Sport Coupe, after which this body style reverted to a more formal appearance, while the Custom Coupe lost its traditional hardtop body, and eventually the Sport Coupe was abandoned altogether by 1976, when the Impala Custom Coupe became the entry-level model, priced below the 4-door Sedan.  The Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale semi-formal roof with the smaller backlight was now shared with the Buick Centurion.  By 1975, ten years after the takeover by the sweepline 2-door hardtop, the 4-door sedan again became the most popular body style in the Chevrolet full size series, and now for the Impala series as well. 

2-door share

In the US auto industry as well, the 2-door hardtop body style had become the most popular by 1965 with a share of over one third, growing to over 45% by 1968, while a year earlier the total 2-door share exceeded that of the 4-door for the first time since 1955, when the 2-door hardtop was on half that level.  In 1974 the total 2-door share reached nearly two third.  In 1971, the 4-door sedan share was on a minimum level of about one fifth.

Bel Air

The Biscayne was skipped for the 1973 model year, but in Canada it stayed through 1975.  Also by 1973, the Caprice was renamed Caprice Classic.  When the Bel Air was renamed Impala S in the United States by 1976 (for one year), the Bel Air continued in Canada, also after the 1977 downsizing.  It outlived the 1980 remodeling as well and was laid to rest after the 1981 model year.  This meant that with over 31 years it became the longest continuously running Chevrolet passenger car nameplate, but it was beaten with some months by the Caprice (Classic), ceasing production in December 1996.    By 1986, the ‘Chevrolet Caprice’ had succeeded on the Impala.

Pontiac Parisienne

When by 1982 model year the Pontiac full size model was deleted in the United States, the Canadians used the Caprice Classic body to continue their large Pontiacs, to be sold in the USA as well by 1983.  By 1985, the rear quarter Pontiac panel with skirts was used again for the sedan, but with the Chevrolet front fender (both models used the same center body section).  These Pontiacs used the Parisienne name, initiated at Pontiac Canada for 1958, as was Impala for Chevrolet.  At the 1953 Motorama show a Pontiac ‘La Parisienne’ (a female Parisian) was presented.

Europe

Impalas were assembled in Belgium and Switzerland through the 1960s, and sold in the Benelux up to the 1980s, and in Switzerland until the 1977 downsizing, when the Caprice Classic took over.  In both markets, Bel Air rather than Impala 4-door sedans were marketed, and upon the arrival of the Chevelle in 1964, the Bel Airs and 6-cylinder Impalas were deleted in Switzerland, while in the Benelux the Impala sedan became available in 1971 and 1972 (next to the Bel Air), after the V8 engine had become obligatory for the 4-door hardtop models, and by 1973 for all Impalas.  Impala wagons were normally not marketed in the Benelux.  In Scandinavia all Impala body styles were sold for various years in the 1960s.  The last Impala for France was the V8 convertible from 1968 to 1970.

right-hand-drive markets

In left-driving countries, such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Impala assembling and sales ended in the later 1960s.  In South Africa, the Caprice succeeded on the Impala 4-door hardtop from 1968 and lasted until 1969.  Earlier, the Biscayne sedan was pushed out by the Chevelle in 1964.  Market penetration of the Impala was here around 1%, and 2% for the Chevelle.  In Australia, the Impala came only by 1965 as a 4-door hardtop, accompanying the Bel Air sedan, and succeeding it for 1967, retaining the hardtop, both lasting for another year.

Latin America

Mexico initially assembled Impalas and then manufactured them till 1975 as 2- and 4-door hardtop, after which the Caprice took over.  The large-stroke 292 Chevy 6-in-line engine with high compression was used from the later 1960s until 1973, avoiding using a V8.  Likewise, the early 1980s Impalas in Venezuela were fitted the 252 V6 Buick engine, and by 1981 the Caprice Classic as well.  Here, the Impala V8 4-door hardtop was assembled until 1966, after which V8 Biscayne and Caprice were the choices and then Impala again from 1975 until 1985.  Peru assembled Impalas in the 1960s.  Chile imported the Impala up to the 1980s.  Imports to Brazil and Argentina ceased after 1962, after which import restrictions started.

Far East markets

Assembling took place until 1970 in Singapore (right-hand-drive) and the Philippines (6-cyl. sedan).   In Japan, the Impala was available as sedan, 2- and 4-door hardtop, in 1970 also as Kingswood, and was replaced by the Caprice Classic in the early 1970s.  In South Korea, the Impala only appeared in 2015.  Impalas were not sold in China and Taiwan.

Front-Wheel-Drive

The 2000 front-wheel-drive Impala actually was the successor to the Lumina, after the Malibu had been resurrected less than three years earlier, succeeding on the Corsica.  There were now four round taillights, two at each side.  Canadian-built, with assembling in Venezuela and exports to Mexico and Chile, it was more international than the 2006 model on the same platform, built until 2016 as Impala Limited, overlapping the Epsilon II based Impala since April 2013.

selected deviating Impala engine specifications worldwide

body style

cyl

cubic-inch

bore

stroke

liter

cm3

bore

stroke

compr.

gross hp

rpm

lb-ft

kgm

rpm

bl

number

built

Switzerland

1958

convertible

L6

235.5

235.5

3.5625

3.9375

3.9

3859

90.5

100.0

7.5

135

4200

29.2

2200

1

1958

4-dr hardtop; conv.

V8

283

283.0

3.875

3

4.6

4638

98.4

76.2

8.1

170

4600

37.3

2200

2

Benelux

1965

2-dr hardtop; conv.

V8

327

326.7

4

3.25

5.4

5354

101.6

82.6

9.5

290

5000

27.9

2000

4

Super Sport

Peru

1960s

V8

283

283.0

3.875

3

4.6

4638

98.4

76.2

7.6

170

4200

2

South Africa

1963~1964

4-dr hardtop

V8

327

326.7

4

3.25

5.4

5354

101.6

82.6

8.6

230

4400

330

2800

4

>1000 per year

1965~1967

4-dr hardtop

V8

327

326.7

4

3.25

5.4

5354

101.6

82.6

8.75

230

4400

330

2800

4

<1000 per year

Australia

1965~1966

4-dr hardtop

V8

327

326.7

4

3.25

5.4

5354

101.6

82.6

8.75

230

4400

4

1967

4-dr sedan/hardtop

V8

327

326.7

4

3.25

5.4

5354

101.6

82.6

8.75

240

4800

325

3200

4

Mexico

1968~1970

2/4-dr hardtop

L6

292

291.9

3.875

4.125

4.8

4783

98.4

104.8

9.75

190

4200

1

1971~1973

2/4-dr hardtop

L6

292

291.9

3.875

4.125

4.8

4783

98.4

104.8

9.25

190

4200

1

1973

6508

1973

2/4-dr hardtop

V8

350

349.8

4

3.48

5.7

5733

101.6

88.4

8.5

245

4800

2

1974

3412

1973~1975

2/4-dr hardtop

V8

350

349.8

4

3.48

5.7

5733

101.6

88.4

8.5

270

4800

360

49.8

3200

4

1975

3171

Venezuela

net hp

1980~1984

4-dr sedan

V6

252

251.9

3.965

3.4

4.1

4128

100.7

86.4

8.0

125

4000

205

2000

4

1980

3476

(incl Caprice)

 

Chevrolet Impala   April 2013 - 2020, export to South Korea from September 2015 till February 2019

The 2014 Impala actually is the 14th generation, counting the 1963, 1967, 1969 and 1980 sheet metal changes separately, although the 1958 Impala was listed as a Bel Air and the 1994 Impala SS as a Caprice Classic.  The 1961 models by the way used 1959/60 carryover engineering with the same front and rear tread width, but with a narrower body, reducing the wheel to fender gap with over one inch.

GM Media reported in 2012 that “sculpted coves in the body sides add to the Impala’s design drama, with a signature cue in the rear fenders that acknowledges classic Impala designs. The long greenhouse area enhances the sleek look of the car while maintaining excellent visibility.”

Sales of the Impala in the United States fell off every year since 2010, even when this new generation had arrived in 2013, and the market share diminished to under 1% by 2014.  Sales in Canada rose from 2015 to 2018 with 15%, but market penetration was far lower than in the USA.

In South Korea, where the Impala was imported from September 2015, with possible assembling canceled later, it had 1% of the market in the first months.  The V6 model sold only marginally.

Production of the Impala will cease next January with about half as much built as each of the previous generations.

platform:

Epsilon II

Impala

GM

GM

GM

rear suspension:

4-link independent, coil springs

L850

L850

HF6

curb weight from:

1669

kg

4 cyl.

4 cyl.

V6

wheelbase (cm):

283.7

DOHC

DOHC

DOHC

length from (cm):

511.3

cc:

2384

2457

3564

cc

width (cm):

185.4

dir. inj.

dir. inj.

dir. inj.

eAssist

market:

USA/CDN

April 2013

13-14

13-20

13-20

3.6 export to Middle East

fwd

fwd

fwd

6A

6A

6A

kW

136+11

145

172'~227

kW

hp

182+15

196

230'~305

hp

' 14-16 CNG

South Korea

import

December 2015

15-19

15-19

fwd

fwd

6A

6A

146

227

kW

199

309

hp

 

Output data are approximate.

                                                        

                                                         with thanks to Ward’s Automotive Yearbooks and oldcarbrochures.com

For more historical information on GM Body and Platform Listing, see:
On a Global Mission: The Automobiles of General Motors International

           

 

Far East Auto Literature

16 August, 2019