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Wednesday, Jul. 23, 2014 — RUSSELL SPRINGS & JAMESTOWN, KENTUCKY — russellcounty.net
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Cruisin': The birth of the Chevrolet Impala
In April 10 Issue
Russell County News
By Ron Cowell, Columnist

At the dawn of the 1960's, the new frontier was one of technical and marketing innovations for the big three auto makers.

Combining the two became an essential element in the rapidly maturing market. Marketing scored with the invention of youth-oriented cars such as the Mustang and Barracuda.

The engineers hit it big with thin wall casting and improved reciprocating assemblies from the rotating valve lifter to the use of Teflon buttons in pistons to prevent scuffing.

When good engineering and marketing combine, the effect is shattering. The Impala SS of the 1960's was an excellent example.

The Impala had become the top model in '59, replacing Bel-Air.

Over the years, it had grown in wheelbase from 115 inches to 119 inches. The far out styling was immediately toned down for 1960.

A new package had been developed in 1961 to help secure Chevy's sales in the full size market. It was called the Super Sport, or SS, for short.

It was a complete deal, made up of exterior badges against the Impala crest on the quarter panels, bucket seats, floor shift trim plate, a steering mounted tachometer, a passenger dash grab handle, special trim and a modified LPO 111 suspension package, power steering, power brakes, and wheel covers.The 1961 SS Impalas weren't standardized in appearance.

You could order the package on a four-door car, a six-cylinder powered coupe or you could go "top drawer" and get a slant back sports-roof with the hot 348 engine.

Chevy had great options available in short runs, but no easy 1-step option that gave you the basics to go racing. The 1961 SS Impala changed all that.

Previously, there were the Fuel Injected Ramjet and Ramjet Special 283's, but they were gone by the end of '59. At that time you could get metallic brakes, H.D. ball joints, bigger shocks, stiffer springs and better wheel bearings front and back. Available on every model, but certainly not advertised!

The sales of four speed cars had sky rocketed sharply in 1961, guaranteeing the future of the SS. New for '62 was a full-length console and the fancy wheel covers. What did change were the engines.

The 409 was about to have its fifteen minutes of glory. The 409 has been a controversial engine. Doubters call it a truck engine. Fans call it the early sixty's track god. It actually was a little of both.

Starting with the 348 block, Chevrolet changed much of the hardware to create a racing engine to compete against the Ford 390 Interceptor from 1960.

The crankshaft was forged, as were the aluminum pistons.

A performance solid-lifter cam raised compression to 11.25:1 and used a Carter AFB carburetor on an aluminum manifold.

The cylinder heads were different from the 348's and used stiffer springs and heavy-duty pushrods.

1961 SS Impalas were scarce with only 453 made. As for an SS 409, you'd have better luck meeting Elvis because only 142 made it.

The transmissions were either the Powerglide, Warner T-10 or the three-speed standard.

Chevy had great options available in short runs, but no easy 1-step option that gave you the basics to go racing. The 1961 SS Impala changed all that.

Before that, there were the Fuel Injected Ramjet and Ramjet Special 283's, but they vanished by the end of '59.  

This gave you metallic brakes, H.D. ball joints, bigger shocks, stiffer springs and better wheel bearings front and back. Available on every model, but certainly not advertised!

Nineteen sixty-two brought the SS Impala package onboard and the 409 was more obtainable.

Those eager beavers that placed orders for early 62's must have been annoyed when Chevy announced a dual-quad 409. At least the four-barrel engine had been improved with power up to 380 horses.  

As the drag-strip wars heated up, Chevy brought out special aluminum front end Impalas.

But there was no official racing going on, just some "off-road" and "fleet service" parts being sold over the counter.

Nineteen sixty-three brought a facelift to the grille and side panels with two chrome blocks on the fenders and a lower spear resting above the rear wheel well. The badges moved from above the bumper to behind the front wheel.

The beautiful spinner hubcaps changed to a variation of the 1961 Impala model with the SS logo prominently displayed.

Nineteen sixty-four was the final year of this body style Impala.

For the last go-round, Chevy gave us better rear end choices with our four-gear cars and a sharp-edged car that attempted to emulate the new thin gauged sheet metal cars with uni-bodies like the Chryslers and smaller GM offerings that year. Engine-wise, there wasn't anything new to report.

The powers that be made sure car 50,000 000 off the assembly line was an SS 409 Impala.

A whole promotional blitz ensued with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller driving that car off the line while GM brass watched. The car was a four-barrel sports coupe with special-order paint.

This was a 1962 color called anniversary gold used previously to commemorate Chevy's 50th year in business.

If you know someone you would like to see featured in my article or your club has an upcoming event you like to let everyone know about send the information to -djron47@yahoo.com --- and we'll get it in here for you.

With the season coming on, and your group or club is having an event and you would like to have some of the Classic Cars there for display any of the local clubs would be glad to bring their cars out to show, (weather permitting). All information needs to be in at least two weeks before the event.

Until next time, Keep Cruisin’!

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The Times Journal is a weekly newspaper issued on Thursdays. It was first published on October 13, 1949, by Andrew J. and Terry Norfleet.
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P.O. Box 190
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Russell Springs KY 42642
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Russell County News is a weekly newspaper issued on Saturdays, and is mailed free to every address in Russell County, Ky. It was first published on February 1, 1913.
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