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Flashback Fridays: 1959 Chevy Impala

1959 Chevrolet ImpalaThe ’64 Impala may be a favorite among lowriders for its wide, flat look, but that took first took hold when other automakers were challenging each other to build the tallest tailfins and add the most chrome.

The Impala began as a 1956 concept car which added a coupe body to the Corvette. In 1958, the name was used for the top trim level of the Bel Air, merging the family car with elements of the concept. It sold well enough that it was spun off as a separate model in 1959, available as a coupe, two- or four-door hardtop, four-door sedan or convertible. Although the top-of-the-line Chevy, it avoided the extravagant styling of the Cadillac Eldorado and Dodge Custom Royale, going instead for a lower, wider look that would define the early 1960s.


Features on the 1959 Chevy Impala

There were still tailfins, but now they were horizontal, earning the nickname “bat wings.” Rumors abounded that the wings caused aerodynamic lift, potentially flipping the car at high speeds. “Motor Trend” finally put the rumors to rest by testing the car in a modern wind tunnel, concluding that lift was possible, but only if the car was moving backwards. A new X frame chassis allowed the roof to be three inches lower than the previous year’s Chevys. The grill-integrated headlights sat 7 inches lower, allowing the hood to be completely flat. Only the tear-shaped “cat eye” rear lights looked like they belonged on a ’50s car, but they were used for just one model year, replaced by the Impala’s trademark triple tail light design.

The Impala resembles many other GM cars that year thanks to extensive parts sharing, save for one feature: frameless doors. With roll-down corner windows and no B pillar, the car looked even longer and had an open feel, brushing away Googie excesses for something that could have been penned by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Other touches like added chrome and a deep-inset gauge cluster aided the differentiation, but the car could be equipped with anything from a 135 hp Blue Flame straight six to the Corvette’s 315 hp fuel-injected 327 V8. This kept the pricing reasonable, helping it sell 473,000 cars that first year, just ahead of the Bel Air. Chevy’s styling gamble was a success, and its basic look would dominate the car scene until the late 1960s.


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