Cars

The 90s Chevy Impala SS Was a GM Diamond in the Rough

In the 90s, GM, like the other American automakers, wasn’t necessarily known for quality. True, GM did release some fondly-remembered cars, like the GMC Syclone. But this is long before the days of the C8 Corvette. And one of the cars that suffered most in the Malaise Era was the Chevy Impala. It had gone from a stylish, near-luxury rear-wheel-drive car into a front-wheel-drive forgettable sedan. And while it did come in 2000, GM’s sedan-culling means it’s once again gone for good. But in the early 90s, the nameplate briefly reappeared on a worthy car: the Chevy Impala SS.

What made the Chevy Impala SS cool?

1996 Chevrolet Impala SS front
1996 Chevrolet Impala SS front | Bring a Trailer

In 1994, there was no Cadillac V-Series. The thought of putting a Corvette engine into an ordinary RWD sedan was completely out of the box. And yet, as Hagerty explains, that’s exactly what Chevy did to make the Impala SS out of the Caprice sedan. In a way, the Impala SS was like the American Lotus Carlton.

1996 Chevrolet Impala SS engine bay
1996 Chevrolet Impala SS engine bay | Bring a Trailer

Under the hood is a 5.7-liter V8 pulled from the contemporary Corvette. It has some modifications, such as cast-iron heads instead of aluminum ones, Car and Driver reports. And different exhaust and intake manifolds for less noise. But it still put out 260 hp and 330 lb-ft, Autoweek reports and was linked to a 4-speed automatic. 0-60, Autotrader reports, came in 6.5 seconds. Although not necessarily fast today, that was roughly 0.5 seconds faster than the contemporary BMW 5-Series. It was also faster than that other sporty American sedan of the time, the Ford Taurus SHO.

However, the Chevy Impala SS wasn’t only about straight-line speed. The big sedan also received several components from the Caprice police car. It got an anti-roll bar, strengthened suspension, and lower ride height. The brakes were larger, and the power steering quicker. The Impala SS also got front bucket seats, instead of the standard bench. And there was a limited-slip differential in the rear.

Driving the Chevy Impala SS

Doug Demuro recently spent some time with a 1996 Chevy Impala SS. And overall, he came away impressed.

True, the large sedan has its quirks. The gas cap, for example, is hidden underneath the license plate, in a throwback to the 70s. The rear seat is somewhat smaller than you’d expect, in order to make the trunk as large as possible. Although, Automobile Magazine reports even 6-foot-tall passengers can sit back there without discomfort.

Demuro also reports that the Caprice-derived automatic couldn’t really handle the V8’s torque and power. As such, quite a few Impala SS’ suffered blown transmissions or were converted to manuals.

However, flooring it on the road reveals the Chevy Impala SS is fairly quick. And while the ride is stiffer than expected, it’s still a comfortable driver. Plus, while there is body roll—this is a 90s GM sedan, after all—the steering is remarkably precise and quick.

True, the Impala SS can’t really keep up with the latest muscle cars. But then again, the 60s legends can’t, either.

Pricing and availability

Although Chevy did make an Impala SS in the 2000s, that was a purely FWD car. The RWD version, meanwhile, was only made from 1994-1996. You can tell the 1994 models apart, Hot Rod reports, due to a modified C-pillar window design and different side-view mirrors. In addition, for 1996, the car swapped out its column-mounted shifter for a floor-mounted one. The ’96 model also got analog gauges, instead of the digital ones, though the swap did add a tachometer.

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My Happy Place. I gotta wash these beast tonight.

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The most common, and desirable, Chevy Impala SS is the 1996 model. Of the roughly 70,000 made, more than half were ’96s. Unfortunately, because these cars were often modified, raced, crashed, and generally mistreated, finding a clean, relatively-stock one is getting harder. However, even Concours-level examples are still fairly-affordable, Hagerty reports.

The best-kept, low-mileage Impala SS will go for roughly $30,000. But several have sold on Bring a Trailer for closer to $20,000.

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