Every car gets it’s start somewhere. The cars that gloss the magazines or web and get are motors running happen for a reason. In 1964, Ford took a Fairlane, shoved a 427 V8 into it and gave us the Thunderbolt. Chrysler installed the 375 horsepower Hemi into its 300 model. In 1961, Gm took its place in history with the Chevrolet Impala SS 409. This was the first car Chevrolet gave its infamous Super Sport name plate. Yep for a mere $53.80, the SS package could be applied to any Impala that rolled down the assembly line It included Super Sport trim inside and out, chassis reinforcements, stronger springs and shocks, power brakes with metallic linings, spinner-type wheel covers, and one of Chevy's earliest uses of narrow-band whitewall tires. The dashboard gained a Corvette-type passenger grab bar and the steering column got a 7000-rpm tachometer.
You see, 1961 ushered in new styling for the Impala. The fins of the 50’s were tossed off the drawing board and in were sleeker and a little more laid back in design. That doesn’t mean this new car lacked design or style for the street. Nothing could be further from the truth. This new Impala looked as good if not better than anything rolling out of Detroit in 1961.
Drivers who checked off RPO code 240 for the Super Sport package in 1961 got a lot of performance upgrades for their money. Only Chevy's toughest V-8s were offered with the SS kit. The available 348-cid mills ranged from a four-barrel with 305 bhp to a tri-carb with 350. The other choice was the 409. Essentially a larger-displacement 348, its upgrades included forged aluminum pistons, a wilder camshaft, and 11.25:1 compression. A single four-barrel mated to the aluminum manifold. It made 360 bhp. It also made history.
However, what most drivers wanted in the SS was lurking under the hood. Drivers could get a 348 cubic-inch V8 with horsepower ranging from 305 to 350 horsepower. However, those that wanted the real deal opted for the 409 cubic-inch V8 powerhouse.
The 409 was a bored and stroked version of Chevrolet’s 348 V8 engine. It was rated at 360 horsepower and had a 11.25:1 compression ratio. Maximum torque was a massive 409 foot pounds. This brute, also known as the Turbo-Fire 409 came with a single Carter 4-barrel carburetor, aluminum intake, and solid lifter camshaft. The heads and engine block were crafted from cast-iron. Pistons are made from forged aluminum. General Motors new what they were doing, this engine was tuned for performance and speed.
Chevrolet also gave the Impala SS some unique features not offered on other Impalas. Narrow-band 14×8 whitewall tires were exclusive to the SS. In order for the SS to handle and corner like a true muscle car, heavy duty shocks and springs were installed underneath. Also, features such as a chrome shift housing for the 4-speed shifter and tachometer mounted to the steering column are a nice touch.
So, how well did the Impala SS 409 perform at the strip?
The 3.36 equipped car could run from 0-60 in 7.8 seconds and sprint the quarter mile in 15.31 seconds running 94 mph.
The car with the 4.56 rear axle was quite a bit faster. It could dash from 0-60 in 7 seconds and complete the quarter mile in 14.02 seconds running 98 mph.
Chevy built 491,000 Impalas for '61. Only 453 had the SS package and of those, just 142 got the 409. But word spread quickly. Here was a mainstream Chevy V-8 with 409 lb-ft of torque and the ability to turn mid-15-second quarter miles with the standard 3.36:1 rear axle and mandatory four-speed manual. "She's real fine, my 409," sang the Beach Boys, and a legend was born.
Even though the SS package was available on any Impala, including sedans and wagons, it is believed that none of these were fitted with the package. Buyers of a 1961 Impala SS should be extra careful when purchasing one of these rare beasts. Cloning an SS is not that difficult so finding a car with the original window sticker or build sheet is essential.
The SS badge would grace great Chevys into the 1970s before going on an extended hiatus. The 409 lasted only through 1965. It would eventually make as much as 425 bhp and be offered even in stripper Bel Airs and Biscaynes. But a basis design traced to a late-1950s truck engine and incompatibility with serious performance hop-ups doomed it in an era of modern high-performance engines.
Many Chevys over the years have worn an SS badge. However, it seems the one that gets the most attention and recognition is the Impala. It’s the original, the one where it all started, and the one collectors have an obsession for acquiring. So once again we have to say the famous words from the Beach Boys…. She’s real fine my 409!