The 1961 Chevrolet Impala was destined to become one of the most memorable Chevrolets of the 1960s by mixing full-size luxury with sport, although few realized it as the model year opened. Mid-season not only brought a Super Sport option for the Impala, but the legendary "409" engine as well -- soon to be immortalized in song by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.
Priced at a mere $5,380, the Super Sport was promoted as the "highly personalized version" of Impala body styles. The option group included simulated knock-off wheel covers, heavy-duty springs and shocks, metallic brake linings, padded instrument panel, a Sun 7,000-rpm tachometer on the steering column, and 8x14 narrow-band whitewall tires. The front passenger faced a grab bar, not unlike that in Corvettes, but all occupants resided on bench seats.
Super Sports could have any of three versions of the 348-cubic-inch V-8 engine, with 305 to 350 horsepower. Those ordered with a four-speed earned a special floor-mounted gearshift with a sharply bent lever. Powerglide was limited to the mildest mill. Only 453 Impalas had the SS option, most of them Sport Coupes. Just 142 of those held the big 409-cubic-inch engine. Available in no other model, the 409 breathed through a dual-snorkel air cleaner to whip up 360 horsepower and 409 pounds-feet of torque.
The SS aimed at "customers who like sports car flair and go, teamed with big car elegance." With a 409 and 4.56:1 axle ratio, an Impala SS could hit 60 mph in seven seconds.
Three Impala rooflines were employed this year, including a Sport Coupe with gently sloping front pillars and plenty of glass. Impalas weren't devoid of gaudiness, with creased bodysides, tapered trim strips, and sculptured rear decks. They also wore deluxe wheel discs, plus wide bodyside moldings with contrasting insert panels.
Chevrolet declared Impala "unquestionably the finest car in its field." Production was almost identical to the 1960 total, at 491,000 units (including 64,600 convertibles).
1961 Chevrolet Impala Facts
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