Thursday, November 29, 2012

The 2014 Chevrolet SS recalls the full-sized, rear-wheel-drive Super Sports of the past

Thursday, Chevrolet took the wraps off of the much-anticipated, 2013 SS NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The car will be based on the upcoming, Australian-built, 2014 Chevrolet SS. This is pretty big news for bowtie loyalists, because it marks the return of full-sized, rear-wheel-drive performance to the Chevrolet lineup. But it certainly isn’t their first foray into this market segment. When people think of the SS badge, images of ’69 Camaro 396s and ’70 Chevelles with 454s might come to mind. But the SS badge was born on Chevy’s full-sized offerings.

1961 was the first year of the vaunted Impala “SS” model. SS stood for Super Sport, and everything from the floor-mounted gearshift to the bucket seats drove that point home. In fact, the SS badge continued to, and still continues to be seen on Chevrolet’s performance offerings. When equipped with the famous 409-c.i. V8, a ’61 SS was capable of quarter miles in the 15’s.

Performance and popularity of the Impala SS grew throughout the 60’s (make mine a ’68 SS 427 coupe, please), but the SS disappeared after the ’69 model year. As the 70’s wore on, governmental regulations and gas shortages transformed the Impala to more of an affordable family car, while the up-level Caprice added a little luxury to the mix. The days of indulgent performance were gone. The entire line was drastically downsized in 1977, and in the next few years, the Caprice was the consumer’s choice. The Impala, which had been relegated mostly to fleet applications, finally faded away after 1985.

In 1991, Chevrolet introduced a new rounder Caprice body-style, complete with floaty ride and “skirted” rear wheel wells. They were nice cars, but even the sportier LTZ option didn’t scream performance. That didn’t stop the hot-rodders, though, and soon Caprices were turning up with custom wheels and lowered suspensions. In 1993, Chevy radiused the Caprice’s rear wheel wells, a styling cue that drastically changed the bulbous looks the Caprice was known for.

There was some definite hot rod potential hidden within that new B-Body platform. In 1992, GM designer and performance aficionado John Moss brought a factory customized Caprice to the Detroit Auto Show. It looked, well, just about like the Impala SS that went into production two years later, and reportedly had a "powerful Corvette engine". But at the time, it was just a concept meant to gauge public interest and the attention of the aftermarket. At least that's the way GM put it.

It seems that the Impala SS really was slated for production, however, when the LT1 V8, formerly only available in Corvettes and Z-28 Camaros, found its way into the big sedans. This opened the door for the Impala SS, which featured special seats, lowered suspension, and fat rubber. The SS was only available in black that first year, but Dark Green-Grey Metallic and Dark Cherry Metallic were added for ’95 and ’96.

There are a few other ways to tell the three years apart. '94s had a plug in the rear quarter window that housed the chrome Impala emblem. This was a somewhat hasty way designers converted the pointed side glass on the Caprice. The feature became so popular that the kink was built into the sheet metal of all Impalas and Caprices for '95 and '96. '94 was also the only year the Impala had the smaller, pod type side mirrors attached to the doors. After that, larger mirrors were fastened to the window area.

And of course, 1996 was the first and only year for the floor-mounted gear selector and analog gauge cluster with tachometer. In '94 and '95, they used a digital speedometer taken straight from the police package, and the gear selector was mounted on the steering column. These features were a real sticking point with magazine reviewers during the first two years, but they only made it one year before the Impala was discontinued.

’96 was the last year for the rear-wheel-drive Impala SS, because the Arlington, TX plant that built the GM B- and D-Body lines was converted to truck and SUV production.

After 1996, the Impala name went on hiatus, while the Lumina filled Chevrolet’s full-sized needs. But in 2000, the Impala returned, this time as a front-wheel-drive sedan. The newest Impala may not have appealed to enthusiasts, but sales skyrocketed, as the bread-and-butter consumer appreciated the Impala’s simple, reliable platform.

The Impala SS returned in 2004, this time equipped with a supercharged version of GM’s venerable 3800 V6. And some people might think I’m crazy, but I believe the LT1 V8 that came in the ’94-’96 Impalas, and the 3800 that was in many, many GM applications, are two of the best engines ever built.

The current Impala went into production in 2006. Still based on the W-Body platform like the previous generation, Chevrolet went to great lengths to improve fit, finish, materials, and quality throughout the car. The latest Impala takes quite a bit of heat because of its bland appearance, but that doesn’t stop millions of people from buying them. They are a great value, and like the Accords and Camrys of the world, they aren’t so extroverted that people will be scared away.

There was also an SS model during the current generation (now discontinued), that was equipped with a 5.3-liter, 303-hp V8. And if you ever have a chance to drive one of these, I recommend it. Let’s just say, the performance of this car will surprise you.

For the past couple of years, Chevrolet has been offering a rear-wheel-drive Caprice for police applications. This car is essentially a stretched-out version of the discontinued Pontiac G8, but it also serves as the jumping-off point for the latest full-sized Chevrolet SS. It is built on GM’s Zeta platform, which was developed by Holden in Australia. That should be pretty exciting news for enthusiasts, because essentially what we’re looking at here is a Camaro with four doors. Of course, this new civilian SS is a lot less commercial than the cop car version, and follows the buttoned-up, luxurious examples of virtually all the new cars coming out of Detroit.

The latest Chevrolet SS racecar is one of the new-style cars that NASCAR is implementing for the 2013 season. It joins the 2013 Ford Fusion and the 2013 Toyota Camry with a look that is supposed to recall the cars that actually drive on the street. Of course, it is nothing like a street car, as these are purpose-built tube chassis race cars, but at least it helps justify manufacturer involvement in the eyes of NASCAR fans. And in a bit of irony, Dodge was actually the first company to reveal their new 2013 Charger race car, but later announced that they would end their involvement in the racing series.

The slideshow below contains manufacturer photos of all of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars. There are studio shots, camouflage pictures from the Talladega and Kansas Speedway, product reveals, and more. As a NASCAR fan and a car guy, I actually like the looks of this new car. The current Sprint Cup car is an ugly thing, but of course, I still watch the races. As far as I’m concerned, this will make the experience that much more enjoyable. Check them out for yourself below or at this link.

1 comment:

  1. SS Impalas are some of my faves ; I like the 68s too! 61 and 62 hafta lead the way though.
    Trivia - the first use of the label 'Super Sport' by GM was not on the 61 Impala tho - that honour goes to Oldsmobile. In 1927. [as I remember] Driven by Louis Chevrolet in the promos...