The 1964 Impala Was The Last of The X-Frame Behemoths From Chevrolet

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The 1964 Impala Was The Last of The X-Frame Behemoths From Chevrolet

Owned by Tom Chinn, Longview, TX
Text and Photography by David W. Temple

front-mainBeginning with the 1961 model year, Chevrolet and the rest of GM’s automobile divisions went in a new direction in terms of styling. GM Design was under the direction of Bill Mitchell when the 1961s were on the drawing board. He replaced the legendary Harley Earl at the end of 1958. Earl’s sense of style brought forth tail fins and heavy use of bright trim and chrome plating. This formula worked very well, but by the late 1950s, it was beginning to have run its course. Styling was distinctly different under Mitchell.

rear-mainUnder the leadership of Mitchell came new full-sized Chevrolets for the 1961 model year. They were shorter, narrower, and lower. Sporty appointments became a new trend, which was popular with car buyers in the early 1960s. Introduced during that model year was the Impala Super Sport (SS). Ordering the SS option got the buyer a 348 V8 ranging in output from 305 to 350hp (though 142 409 powered cars were also built), tachometer, passenger grab bar, special wheel covers with simulated knock-off hubs, padded instrument panel, 8.00×14” four-ply narrow-band whitewall tires, power steering, power brakes, sintered metallic brake linings, a heavy-duty suspension, SS identification badges, plus a choice of a 4-speed transmission with a floor-mounted shifter. Ostensibly it was offered for any Impala model, but only two-door hardtops and convertibles are known to have been built with the SS package– costing a mere $53.80 extra.

detail-2The SS option for ’62 added bucket seats and a console with shifter along with all-vinyl upholstery. New sheet metal for the new cars did away with the so-called “bubbletop” roof for the two-door hardtop versions of the Impala. Instead, a more formal notchback design with a shape simulating a convertible top was employed. The roof design carried forward through the 1964 model year– the last one to use the ’61 platform. For 1964– as in the years prior– major sheet metal changes to the full-size Chevrolets gave the lineup a freshened look. From the time the Impala debuted for the 1958 model year, a convertible was offered. Sales of the drop top version had been on a bit of an up-tick since 1962, but stayed about steady for ’64 with 81,897 being produced that model year. Undoubtedly, the new mid-size Chevelle model took away some sales from the Impala lineup. A total of 99,751 Impala hardtops and 19,415 convertibles (summing to 119,166 units) were reportedly equipped with the SS option, though other references claim a total of 185,325 Impala Super Sports were built. Regardless of the true figure, those like the car shown here certainly were and are uncommon– an Ermine White car with a white convertible top and an Oyster interior. This pristine 1964 Impala SS convertible is owned by Tom Chinn of Longview, Texas. It was restored some years ago by a resident of Washington State, and Chinn later purchased the car through an auction.

Our subject car is equipped with the extra-cost 300 hp 327, Powerglide transmission, power brakes, power steering, AM-radio, and the dealer-installed accessory tissue dispenser.

Many may be surprised to learn that a V8 was not standard issue with the SS package. Even though nearly all 1964 Super Sports were equipped with a V8 (the 195 hp 283, or one of three 327s ranging from 250 hp to 340, or one of two 409s rated at 400 and 425hp) the 140 hp, 230 cubic-inch six-cylinder was sometimes under the hood of an Impala Super Sport. Chevrolet split the Impala line into six- and eight-cylinder series and the SS package was offered for both lines of cars. The 283 was the base engine for the Impala eight-cylinder series. This is somewhat surprising considering the model-for-model competition between Chevrolet and Ford. Ford’s comparable bucket seat and console-equipped Galaxie 500/XL did come standard with a V8 (the 289) through 1968. Even so, the Impala SS was still produced in greater numbers.

Underneath the squared lines of the 1964 Impala body was a chassis design in its seventh and final year of use. The X-frame with four cross members and box girder side rails was a bit behind the times by this point, though buyers did not seem to care. The independent coil spring suspension of the Impala did not provide Corvette-like handling, but it did offer a “Jet Smooth Ride” or “Jet Smooth Luxury” according to Chevrolet’s print advertising. “Body by Fisher and full coil suspension cushion insulate you from every road shock and noise. Even the transmissions are smoother and quieter,” said one magazine ad for the ’64s.

Owner Tom Chinn has owned and sold a number of cars over the past few years, but has chosen to keep this Super Sport because it of its excellent restoration and “jet smooth ride.”

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