Back in Black: How the '94-'96 Chevy Impala SS Became One of America's Great Modern Classics
When we look back at some of our favorite cars in history, it’s often the groundbreaking, extreme and bespoke vehicles that have the biggest impact. The cars whose engineers sweated the details and battled the bean counters from start to finish.
But there are also a few examples of great cars that came about as much more straightforward or even “low effort” projects. The 1994-96 Chevrolet Impala SS is one of those cars.
It's a shining example of how few simple tweaks, some parts bin scrounging and an image makeover can create an iconic and unforgettable product.
Small Changes, Big Impact
After first appearing in the form of a concept car at the 1992 Detroit Auto Show, the production version of the Impala SS began rolling off the assembly line in 1994. It was a simple formula. At its core, the Impala SS was a Chevrolet Caprice, wearing the same body and riding on the same "ancient" B-Body platform.
And while the Impala SS packed plenty of mechanical and performance upgrades over the standard Caprice sedan, it wasn't as if GM needed to go far to find them. That's because beneath its refreshed exterior sat what was essentially a police-spec Caprice 9C1.
That meant the Impala SS would get the 9C1's beefier suspension, additional cooling, larger brakes and limited slip rear differential. Also carried over was the 5.7 liter LT1 V8 that was also used in the Corvette and Camaro Z/28 of the time. It made 260hp and 330 pound feet of torque.
All American Sleeper
This gave the Impala SS impressive performance for its time—especially when you consider its large size and heavy curb weight. Not only was it a fine way to bring back the "Impala" name after a nearly 10-year hiatus it was more than worthy of the "SS" badge as well.
Just as much as its performance, the Impala SS was defined by its sinister look. The body changes from the standard issue Caprice were simple: body colored trim, a new front grille and a subtle rear spoiler and badging.
When combined with the lowered stance and the 17" machined five-spoke wheels, the Impala SS had an incredibly badass vibe to it. And for the '94 model year, black was the only color available.
A couple of other color options were added for '95 and '96 but the wicked look remained the same. Not only was the Impala SS quick and mean, it was a uniquely American take on the performance sedan.
Tough & Timeless
1996 would end up being the last year not just for the Impala SS but also for the Caprice and the B-Body platform itself. The Impala would return a few years later but in the form of a front-drive unibody vehicle, and while the SS versions of the newer Impalas would deliver respectable performance, they just weren't the same as the rear-drive V8 machine of the '90s.
Having a distinctly cool image since they were new, there was never really a time when the '94-'96 Impala SS became "cheap" but there was a period when less than mint examples could be found for reasonable prices. By modern standards its performance may leave a lot to be desired, but there's plenty of aftermarket solutions to get more power, including the ubiquitous LS swap. And if you just want to cruise, the old LT1 is still more than serviceable.
Today with the appreciation for 1990s vehicles growing every day, the Impala SS has not surprisingly become a bonafide modern classic. It's unique, memorable and it looks every bit as mean today as it did 25 years ago.
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