Back In Black: The 1994-1996 Impala SS

In 1962, you could order an Impala SS with a 283, 327 or a 409. Over 100,000 were sold, although only 15,000 came with the 409. In 1963, the same engines were again offered, but at mid-year, a special option code Z-11 found a 427 W-head engine with 430 horses sitting under the hood. Overall, sales boomed to over 153,000.

In 1964, the SS offered the same engines sans the Z-11, which would soon be replaced by a 396. Sales continued upward, as 185,000 SS coupes and convertibles were sold. In 1965, things really changed as the 283 engine was dropped, a new body style was introduced and you could order a 327, 409 or the new, powerful 396 with up to 425 horses under the hood (Corvette engine L78 option). Sales crept up again, with 239,000 SS Impalas sold.

With the new mid-size Chevelle headlining Chevy muscle cars for 1966, the Impala SS became an afterthought as sales dropped to 119,000, even with an SS427 available. Ditto in 1967 through 1969, as sales dropped to 75,000, then 38,000 and a final 17,000 in 1969. It spelled the end of the line for the Impala SS ... until of course, 1994! This is a car we know well. Not a day goes by that an Impala SS (94-96) does not show up at our doors. The Johnny Cash of Chevy's looking to get just a little badder.

Armed with models featuring Corvette LT1 engines and rear drive platforms, General Motors decided to revive the Impala SS in 1994, thanks to Chevy utilizing high performance engines and suspensions in its police option Caprice style four door. Chevy lowered the body a few inches and installed the hot LT1 Corvette engine, detuned a bit and also used in Trans Am and Camaro models that year.

When Chevrolet brought back the Impala SS after a quarter century, it may have gained two additional doors but it lost little else in curb appeal. History was repeating itself in 1994. Just like 1961, we had a young president in the White House and the Impala was the lone SS in Chevy’s lineup. It was an exciting time and the Impala SS brought the full-size muscle car back to the generation that grew up with the original.

Chevrolet introduced the Impala SS concept in 1993 at the Detroit Auto Show. The car was dressed up in black paint, flashy wheels, and featured a 300 horsepower LT1 engine. The concept was the brainchild of Jon Moss, the manager of General Motors’ Specialty Vehicle Group. The car was such a hit that it went into production for the 1994 model year. It helped spawn the muscle car sedan movement that later brought back other legendary nameplates like the Mercury Marauder and Dodge Charger.

This new iteration of the Impala SS had some pretty big shoes to fill. Its predecessors came equipped with big block horsepower, handsome styling, and plenty of goodies a classy muscle car should have. This time around, the Impala’s big block powerplant was MIA. It was replaced by a 260 horsepower LT1 V8 with sequential-port fuel injection coupled to a 4L60-E four-speed automatic. Torque was rated at 330 foot pounds at 3,200 rpm. Purists screamed for a manual transmission option. It didn’t happen. Not to worry, this 4,200 pound cruiser can still run with the big dogs. Car and Driver flogged the Impala SS for their June 1994 issue and got a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds and quarter mile time of 15 seconds running 92 miles per hour. Not too shabby for a 4,200 pound car. If you think that’s impressive, check this out. The Impala SS is almost half a second faster from 0-60 than the BMW 540i and also slightly quicker in the quarter mile. It’s also worth mentioning that, when new, the SS cost half as much as the Beemer. Also, when compared to the 1961 Impala SS, the 1994 model is half a second faster from 0-60 and can distance the quarter mile equally as fast. No wonder this car moved off the sales floor as quickly as it moved down the highway.

Thanks to many new performance package upgrades to the LT1 motor. Luckily the rare few who own a 1994-1996 Impala SS can far exceed the original 260hp with simple bolt-on’s and engine modifications.

When introduced in 1994, the Impala SS came in any color you wanted as long as it was black. With Bat Black monochromatic exterior paint free of flashy trim and chrome the SS looked like a low slung modern day cry back to the Batmobile. Even the grille, taillight surrounds, and rocker panels were decked out in black.

The Impala SS received body-colored trim, a unique single-bar grille with no hood ornament, and a rear deck spoiler. It was fitted with 17-inch (430 mm) brushed aluminum wheels with 255/50ZR17 all-season Z-rated tires. Inside, the car came with a central console with cup holders (1994 and 1995 models) and a storage compartment, leather seats embroidered with the Impala SS logo, and a standard leather-wrapped steering wheel. For the 1994 model year, it was available only in black with a gray interior. Due to a shortage of the unique five-spoke aluminum wheels, only 6,303 cars were sold. However, the wheel shortage was remedied for the 1995 model year and 21,434 cars were sold.

In 1995, Dark Cherry Metallic and Dark Grey Green were added as exterior color options, and the body paneling on the rear quarter panel was altered to reflect the cosmetic effect formerly achieved by a window insert. Another change from 1994 was the placement of the side mirrors from pods attached to the door to a larger format attached to the 'A' pillar. 1996 was the last year of production with 41,941 units sold. The 1996 Impala SS was also exported to the Middle East as the Caprice SS with the car being identical to its American counterpart except for the side fonts on the rear quarter panel and the badge on the dashboard saying Caprice SS. The 1996 Impala SS production went late into the model year; the last one being produced on December 13, 1996. It saw minor interior alterations, with the digital speedometer being replaced by an analog one, along with a tachometer. The shifter was moved from the column to the center console, and the engine was given an OBD-II computer control system (the camshaft was reground to adjust for the new computer).

Inside, the Impala SS features deeply contoured front bucket seats, leather wrapped steering wheel, and full instrumentation. Amenities such as power windows and seats, tilt-wheel, and AM/FM cassette round out the goodies included with this performance sedan. In 1996, the column shifter was ditched in favor of a floor shifter and a new analog instrument cluster featuring a 160-mph speedometer and tachometer replaced the digital unit.

It goes without saying that the great looks and features mean nothing if the car can’t perform. Chevrolet gave the Impala SS an arsenal of equipment designed to help the car hug the road. Specially-tuned De Carbon shocks and coil springs on each wheel along with the special Ride and Handling Suspension help keep the car firmly planted on those winding country backroads. Quick-ratio power steering and a limited slip differential keep the driver in control when road conditions turn nasty. Large-diameter disc brakes and a four-wheel anti-lock braking system bring the SS to a halt when the ride is over. Just like its predecessors, the SS is a car that has plenty of road manners but, when provoked, can get down to business.

One thing is for sure. The 1994-1996 Impala SS is a car that has retained its value over the years. A quick scan of listings on the web reveals prices close to sticker and above for low mileage examples. If you’re willing to settle for a car with a few nicks and scratches as well as some miles racked up on the odometer, you can get one for around $10,000. That price is fairly reasonable for a V8 performance car.

The entire B-body line, consisting of the Chevrolet Caprice, Impala SS, and Buick Roadmaster, was discontinued, as GM wanted more assembly lines to be able to produce the more profitable SUVs. A ceremony was held at the plant on December 13, 1996, as the last Impala SS was produced. It would take 18 years for Chevrolet to create another rear-wheel drive performance sedan. Simply called the SS, this performance sedan is a worthy successor to the SS name and reputation.

Engine Powerplant: LT1 V8 Displacement: 350 cubic inches Horsepower (net): 260 bhp @ 5,000 rpm

Performance 0 – 60 mph: 6.5 seconds Quarter mile: 15.0 seconds @ 92 mph Braking: 70-0 mph 179 feet

Source: Car and Driver, June 1994

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