Chevrolet Impala SS revisits muscle days

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When one thinks back to the “muscle car” era, it’s hard not to include the Super Sport (SS) models from Chevrolet. Since 1961, Camaros, Chevelles, Novas, El Caminos and other models, including the Impala, have worn this coveted badge.

Back in the 1960s, having a SS model meant you had the tools to do battle at stoplights and at the drag strip. These were true performance machines, with packages available that could push ratings up to 425 horsepower. Special springs, shocks and brakes, and unique styling cues rounded out the enhancements on these popular models.

Liability concerns, high insurance rates and the energy crisis emasculated the performance and desirability of muscle cars during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, the last Impala SS of the muscle-car era was the 1969 SS427 big block. The 1980s saw “performance” versions of “muscle cars” from American manufacturers that with a few exceptions were mere shadows of their former selves.

Fast forward to 1994, the year Chevrolet decided to resurrect the Impala SS with a car worthy of wearing the vaunted moniker. The 1994-1996 Impala SS was a huge car, based on the rear-wheel-drive Impala/Caprice “B” platform popular with taxi cab, livery and police car fleets.

Using police package mechanicals as its base, the Impala SS was outfitted with larger brakes, dual exhaust, increased cooling capacity, a high-output electrical system, suspension upgrades, and a limited slip differential.

With a retuned Corvette/Camaro LT1 5.7-liter small block V-8 as standard equipment, the SS made 260 horsepower and an impressive 330 foot-pounds of torque.

Outside, the new Impala SS differed from its base stablemates with special paint and trim. Aluminum wheels with 255 section rubber gave the SS a hunkered-down appearance. Interior treatments bearing the SS logo were also standard.

It’s safe to say that GM had a huge hit on its hands with the SS. Starting modestly with just more than 6,000 units sold in 1994, the SS model accounted for nearly 42,000 sales in 1996.

Then, in a decision that had many scratching their heads, Chevrolet parent General Motors pulled the plug on all of its B platform RWD models. The switch to front-wheel drive (FWD) was on. The new cars featured better packaging and fuel economy, but high-horsepower technology had not yet caught up to FWD platforms, so the Impala SS was dead again.

That was until the introduction of the 2006 Impala SS. The new model marks the first use of GM’s Generation IV small block V-8 in a front-wheel-drive Chevrolet. Making 303 horsepower, the new Impala SS moves out with authority that would make its ancestors proud.

The appearance of the new SS is impressive. Wearing gorgeous black paint, a rear spoiler, and shod with highly polished 18-inch wheels and 235 section performance tires, it looks ready to rumble. And rumble it did when I fired up the 5.3-liter “Displacement on Demand” engine with dual stainless-steel exhaust.

With the exception of the mild cam timing on the 2006, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference in sound between this new SS and the monsters of the muscle-car era. Chevrolet’s Displacement on Demand technology deactivates four cylinders when the SS is not being asked to perform at a serious level to help conserve fuel.

I don’t think I ever got into four-cylinder mode as this is a car that enjoys being pushed. Engine power is channeled through a four-speed automatic transmission, and handling is enhanced with an upgraded suspension.

Inside, I found things I liked, and things I did not. The Impala SS is well equipped, even at the base level. Seating is comfortable and leg and headroom sufficient front and rear. I really like GM’s use of friendly computer technology on some of its vehicles, including the SS.

A comprehensive trip computer can give you tire-pressure readings on all four wheels, let you know condition of your engine oil, and give you a host of other parameters. Audio and cruise control functions can be adjusted on the steering wheel or on the center console display unit.

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