1994–1996 Impala SS: Probably the Most Underrated American-Built Performance Sedan

Chevrolet Impala SS 12 photos
Photo: Mecum
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Back in the 1990s, Chevrolet chose to revive the iconic Impala SS nameplate and apply it to a tricked-out Caprice. At first, that seemed like a bad idea, but the resulting performance sedan became one of the most impressive factory-built sleepers of the decade.
Named after the graceful African antelope, the Chevrolet Impala debuted as a Corvette-inspired, full-size, two-door show car at the 1956 Motorama.

Two years later, as Chevy was celebrating half a century of production, the Impala made its series debut as a range-topping anniversary edition of the Bel Air.

Although it shared nothing but the full-size, two-door layout with the initial concept car, the model became popular and established itself as a mainstay of the Chevy lineup for years to come.

In 1961, the Impala was available with an all-new performance package called Super Sport (or SS, for short). Highlighted by an exclusive 360-hp 409-ci (6.7-liter) Turbo Thrust big-block V8, the package transformed the Impala from a mellow land yacht into a veritable dragstrip warrior.

For the next eight years, the Impala SS was one of the most sought-after American performance sedans, and its SS package, which was extended to smaller models like the Chevelle, Camaro, or Nova, came to define the most impressive Chevy muscle cars of the era.

Though the Impala nameplate carried on, Chevy ceased to offer a high-performance SS package from 1970 onwards.

In 1985, the Impala was officially discontinued, as Chevy unified all its full-size models under the Caprice nameplate. By then, the high-powered Impala SS versions were a distant memory.

Making a surprising comeback

Chevrolet Impala SS
Photo: Chevrolet
At the 1992 North American International Auto Show held in Detroit, Chevy surprised its performance-addicted fans by unveiling a new Impala SS concept.

The brainchild of hardcore muscle car enthusiast and GM Special Vehicles Group (aka the Toy Box) designer Jon Moss, the show car revived the iconic nameplate and the concept of a high-powered land yacht.

At first, onlookers raised an eyebrow since the new Impala SS was just a blacked-out fourth-generation Caprice sitting lower to the ground on custom wheels.

However, while it looked like the full-size model that was only popular among police departments, cab companies, and grandparents, the show car featured a 300-hp, C4 Corvette-sourced LT1 small-block V8 under the hood that instantly made jaws drop to the floor.

From concept to production

Chevrolet Impala SS
Photo: Chevrolet
The high-powered sleeper became a hit among enthusiasts attending the Detroit auto show, so it was taken to other events in the following months.

Later, it was upgraded with a modified 546-hp Chevy Mark V 90-degree 509-ci (8.3-liter) big-block marine V8 which made it even more outrageous.

By the summer of 1993, more enthusiasts demanded a production version, but they were pessimistic about that happening.

However, Chevy, which was looking to introduce a rival for the Ford Taurus SHO, listened to its fans. In late 1993, the GM division announced that the Caprice-based Impala SS would enter production for the 1994 model year, albeit with a milder powertrain configuration.

Factory-built sleeper looks

Chevrolet Impala SS
Photo: Mecum
A gift for those in love with Chevy performance, the new Impala SS officially went into production on Valentine's Day, 1994.

Like the initial show car, it donned an all-black finish and it was equipped with a series of subtle visual upgrades that helped distinguish it from the Caprice sedan.

The upgrades included a unique single-bar front grille, a rear decklid spoiler, 17-inch brushed aluminum wheels wrapped in 255/50 ZR17 Bf Goodrich rubber, and distinct Impala logos on the decklid and rear quarter panels.

Also borrowed from the show car were several upgrades normally reserved for the 9C1 police interceptor package. These upgrades included a heavy-duty suspension modified to slightly decrease the ride height, a high-capacity cooling system, four-wheel disc brakes, a transmission cooler, a dual exhaust system, and a higher-output electrical system.

Released with a tamer LT1, but still an impressive performance sedan

Chevrolet Impala SS
Photo: Mecum
The series-production Impala SS carried over the LT1 small-block V8 that initially powered the concept. However, it wasn't the Corvette version.

Instead of the four-bolt-main, aluminum-headed 5.7-liter (350-ci) LT1, the Impala SS received the two-bolt-main block version with cast-iron heads and a milder cam, which became optional that year on the Caprice.

Nevertheless, the 260 hp and 330 lb-ft (447 Nm) of torque it delivered was more than enough to enable the 4,221-pound (1,914.6 kg) sleeper to run the quarter mile in 15 seconds at 92 mph, according to a test conducted by Car and Driver magazine in 1994.

That made it just one second slower over the quarter-mile than its iconic, 401-powered ancestor, which was about 500 pounds (226.7 kg) lighter.

Even more impressive, the healthy dose of horsepower and the heavy-duty suspension system made for an awesome combination that enabled the Impala SS to handle far better than its ancestor. In fact, it handled better and outperformed many contemporary sedans, according to many reviews.

After testing the Chevy sleeper, Popular Mechanics magazine said, "The Impala SS costs $65,803 less than our Mercedes-Benz S500. Yet it out-handled and out-accelerated the Mercedes and equaled the big Benz's remarking braking performance."

A resounding success

Chevrolet Impala SS
Photo: Chevrolet
While some Chevy people feared that what was essentially a performance-oriented Caprice wouldn't fare too well on the market, full-size muscle sedan enthusiasts disagreed.

The Impala SS was a huge success right off the bat, with Chevy dealers struggling to meet demand.

Consequently, the GM division continued offering the model for the 1995 model year and added two new exterior colors to the options list (Dark Cherry Metallic and Dark Grey Green).

The Impala SS returned for its last dance in 1996, and by the end of the year, total sales figures reached an impressive 69,768 units.

If Chevy hadn't discontinued the entire B-body line, the Caprice SS would've probably continued to be successful for at least two additional years.

Grossly underrated today

Chevrolet Impala SS
Photo: Mecum
These days, with four-door sedan heavyweights like the Hellcat Charger roaming the roads, the 1994-1996 Impala SS is probably one of the most underrated American-built performance sedans, mainly because of its output ratings, as well as its resemblance to the police cars and cabs that younger enthusiasts grew up with.

Nevertheless, the factory-built sleeper deserves more respect since it was one of the last traditional full-size RWD performance cars built in the US and a surprisingly good all-arounder that's still an absolute joy to drive.

Though prices for a surviving model are on the rise, a pristine, matching-numbers Impala SS with few miles on the odometer is still relatively cheap.

The awesome example pictured above was auctioned off by Mecum earlier this year (2024), fetching $28,600, but there are plenty of cheaper alternatives out there.

For a detailed review of this fascinating ride, we recommend watching the YouTube video below by the one-and-only Doug DeMuro.

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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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