Saturday, August 1, 2015

2015 ISSCA Nationals in Bowling Green

Most people don’t really consider the mid-1990s to be a high-water mark in the history of the automobile. It’s an era of bland, jellybean-shaped appliances and soulless Toyota Camrys. V8, rear-wheel-drive performance cars were out, and the word “horsepower” was being replaced with “fuel economy.” Luckily, General Motors was quietly building cars under the radar that bucked the trends of the time. The 1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala SS was a holdout from another era. It was big. It sat on a full frame. It had a 260-hp V8 when 100-hp four-bangers were the norm. Its sinister, monochromatic looks were like a big middle finger to the wheezy turd-mobiles with which it shared the road.

Every year, a dedicated group of Impala SS enthusiasts meet from all over the country to celebrate the Impala SS and its platform mates, the Chevy Caprice, the Buick Roadmaster, and the Cadillac Fleetwood. For 2015, they got together in Bowling Green, Ky., for the Impala SS Club of America (ISSCA) Nationals. And it wasn’t just a car show. These guys thrash these cars. Events include road coarse racing and autocross events at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park, drag racing at Beech Bend Dragway, a road rally, Corvette Assembly Plant tours, and much more. This thing is five days long, and they pack something into every minute of it.

Here’s one we can use as a baseline. It’s a ’96 Impala SS owned by James York, and it’s one of only two Impalas in the lot that qualified for the “stock” class. And it even had an aftermarket pinstripe on it. Untouched examples of these cars are getting harder and harder to find. It’s understandable. As time passed, even non-performance cars got more horsepower, better handling, and nicer interiors than these came with. Stock collector cars never go out of style, though. They were easy to like when they were new, and a nice example like this is no less easy to like now. If I were going to buy one for myself, I’d want it to look about like this. In fact, I’ve owned two just like it over the years.

This one’s a little less-stock.  Tom Dinkel’s 1996 Impala SS is mildly modified, with lots of chrome and billet bits under the hood, ’61 Impala SS quarter panel emblems on the front fenders, and a very pretty set of chrome-plated stock Impala SS wheels. Really what impressed me about this car was how clean it was. Black paint is horrible to try and keep nice, but if you can manage to polish it up like this one, you’re really got something. Few things are more impressive than this much black paint polished up this perfect. I could barely take a picture of it because it was so freakin’ shiny.

A lot of people don’t know this, but the Roadmaster was very similar to the Impala SS under the skin. Aside from the suspension, which was tuned for a more refined ride, these had the same 260-hp LT1 engine as the Impala SS, the same transmission, the same frame, darned near the same everything. Ernie Reck’s ’95 Roadmaster looked like something that emerged from a climate controlled bubble and had never been driven before it came to the show. In fact, it had more than 130,000 miles on the clock. This car was just exceptionally well maintained. I never used to love the looks on these Roadmaster sedans, but they’re getting better with time. I thought this old car, with its dark red leather and no vinyl roof, really looked great sitting there.

Bill DeBlasio drove his ’95 Impala SS to the Nationals all the way from Long Island, N.Y. Bill is the original owner of this car, as well as the president of the ISSCA. This car is drag raced regularly, and participated in every event at the show. Of course, saying he’s the original owner of this car is a little like saying he owns George Washington’s axe. Virtually every part of it has been either cosmetically or mechanically replaced or upgraded. It was painted blue after it barely survived a fire. Everything from the interior to the engine has been built or beefed up. It’s a good car, though, because no matter how hard he runs it, it still manages to make these 16 hour trips with the air conditioner running. He’ll have this car until the day he dies.

The Impala is still going strong today. This is my wife’s 2014 Impala LT, and it was a very nice way to travel to the show. It has 305-hp, which is 45-hp more than a stock B-Body. Chevrolet designers couldn’t even conceive an interior as nice as this car has 25 years ago. It’s smaller on the outside, bigger on the inside, more reliable, has better brakes, and handles better than the old ones. It does not have the swagger of the old Impala. It does not sound as cool as an old Impala. There’s something about rear-wheel-drive that cannot be replicated with a front-wheel-drive car. And trying to modify a new Impala usually does not make it cooler. It’s a different car for a different time. I miss the old cars, but I also understand why today’s consumer wants them to be like this one.

From a nostalgic, emotional standpoint, you can’t beat those big old Impala SSs from 1994 to 1996. I love the old things, and I always will. That’s why I was excited to go hang out for a while at the 2015 ISSCA Nationals in Bowling Green. I took 178 pictures at the car show. You can see them in the slideshow below, or click this link for a nicer version.


  1. LOVE the new one! Thanks for adding it even though it doesn't rank. :-)

  2. Thanks for the excellent recap of the event. I was very disappointed to miss this years event. Great group of people and awesome rides. Lance from Virginia.

  3. Were you driving north on I-75 between Perrysburg and Rossford? I was on my motorcycle and saw the ISSCA car. Cool car :-)