With the arrival of the muscle car in the
mid-sixties, a new market niche for performance vehicles was firmly in
place in the American auto scene. Prior to the arrival of these mid-size
cars with full-size power, there were big performance cars with names
like Fury, Galaxie, and for Chevrolet fans, Impala. For the
American automotive industry in the early 1960s, big cars were king. The
major players in the low price field, Ford, Plymouth and Chevrolet, were
all trying their best to outdo the other in their efforts to lay claim
as the performance leader.
Horsepower wasn’t the only selling point the car
companies looked at, though. Upscale appointments previously found
only in higher priced cars were becoming just as important.
Plymouth, Ford and Chevy had their fancy bucket seat and console Sport
Fury, XL and Super Sport models, and all received big marketing dollars.
The Big 3 felt that this is where luxury was heading in the 1960s, with
a sporty theme.
However, by the mid-1960s, both Ford and Chevrolet,
along with Plymouth, decided that with the growing popularity of the
muscle cars the performance crowd was turning away from full-size
performance models. By 1965, there was a shift in the market aims
of full-size cars, including Chevrolet. No longer was performance the
big seller, though powerful V8s were still offered. Luxury was now
touted, promoting soft and quiet rides, a new kind of motoring opulence
on a budget. It was in the midst of this developing trend that the
all-new 1965 Chevrolet full-size cars were introduced.
A clear break from the past, the new Chevys were
fresh, sleek and rounded, and even employed curved side glass. Interiors
continued the new and fresh theme, with none of the clutter prevalent in
Ford’s offerings of the year. A huge horizontal speedometer was capped
by two large instrument pods. On the Impala models, chrome accents were
everywhere and upholstery and fabrics were attractive. Overall, it was
pleasant place to be.
|1965 Impala Sport
||1966 Impala SS
||Bucket seat SS
interior, 1965 version
At the start of the model year, Ford brought out
its luxury laden LTD series, and Plymouth countered with the VIP
package. Waiting until the middle of the season, Chevrolet introduced
the Caprice package for the Impala Sport Sedan. Introduced mid-year, the
new Caprice featured all the features of the previous top-line Impalas,
plus extra sound absorbing insulation, plush nylon cloth interiors, and
a redesigned roof line with a padded vinyl top. Even a new, heavy duty
frame was utilized to impart a quieter and more solid ride.
Luxury items were everywhere on the option list:
air conditioning, power windows, power seats, tilt wheel, new sound
systems, cruise control and a vinyl-covered roof were increasingly
finding their way into more and more Impalas and Caprices.
Still, the majority of 1965 Chevrolets were still in the lower lines,
such as Biscayne with its sedans and wagons acting as price-leaders, the
mid-range Belair, also limited to sedans and station wagons, followed by
Impala. This series was the big seller and was offered as a four-door
sedan, two and four-door hardtops, a convertible, and two big four-door
station wagons. Most had power steering, brakes, powerglide and a
Prior to the introduction of the Caprice, the
Impala Super Sport had been Chevy’s top-line offering since 1961.
Featuring a sporty bucket seats and console interior, it was
distinguished outside by less chrome trim than standard Impalas, unique
(and attractive) spinner wheel covers, blacked out rear trim and of
course, SS badging. Also included in the package was a gauge package,
courtesy lighting and other details.
Standard in all full-size Chevrolets models (except
the Caprice) was the tried and true 140hp, 230cid in-line six. Standard
in the Caprice and optional for other models was the small-block 283cid
V8 with 195hp, while a four-barrel version was rated at 220 hp. After
that, a total of seven other V8s, ranging from a 327 cubic inch
small-block with 250 or 300 horses, up to the big-block 409, sporting a
choice of 340 or 400 horsepower, could be ordered. Mid-year brought a
new 396cid V8 with either 325hp or the rare 425hp L78 option. With the
introduction of the 396, the 409 was dropped. Even with the new push for
luxury, performance was still there for those who had the need.
Transmissions ranged from the standard 3-speed
manual (with optional overdrive on base engines), through the ubiquitous
2-speed powerglide and two four-speed manuals, to an an all new 3-speed
Turbo Hydra-matic automatic introduced mid-year. This new, modern
automatic was a welcome addition to the Chevy family.
It was a very good year for Chevrolet, out selling
its rivals, Ford and Plymouth, by a safe margin, with nearly 1.65
million full-size cars rolling off the assembly lines.
Luxury Takes Over
For 1966, the Caprice was already declared a sales
success and the line officially became a full-fledged series in the
Chevrolet family. Styling of the 1966 Biscayne, Belair, Impala and
Caprice series all received a mild facelift, giving the car a more sleek
appearance. Big, bold, and well-engineered, Chevrolet again outsold its
competition by far, with production holding at about 1.6 million units.
With the exception of the Caprice, the model
line-up was the same for the 1966 season. In the new Caprice series, two
and four-door hardtops were available, as well as two new top-line
station wagons, in six or nine passenger capacity, which featured
imitation wood paneling, the first such decoration seen on a Chevy wagon
'65 Impala dash. For '66, the round pods went rectangular.
Styling changes included a smoother looking front,
long rectangular tailights instead of the six individual round units of
the ‘65, and a squared off instrument panel. A new gauge cluster
occupied the space between the console and instrument panel.
There were a number of engine changes. The base
edition of all models except Caprice were equipped with the newly
enlarged in-line six, now at 250cid and rated at 150 horses, while the
base 283V8 continued with 195 horses. The number of engine selections
was down a bit from 1965, most notably missing was the 425 hp 396
big-block and both 409s. Replacing these was the legendary 427, which
came in 390 hp dress (option code L-36), or the mighty 425 hp edition
(option code L-72).
With the aerodynamic looks of these models,
especially the Impala hardtops, it didn’t take long before customizers
were having their way with these cars. The 1965 and 1966 Chevrolet
Impalas, especially the two-door hardtops, have become, for better or
worse, one of the most popular vehicles for low-riders.
These big Chevys do very well at auctions when they
are presented in pure-stock form. Nice examples seem to bring a healthy
premium versus private sales, more so than most popular cars. We’re not
sure why this is, but the market data supports it.
While not as popular with collectors as the 1963-64 models, the 1965 and
1966 Impalas do offer a lot of bang for the buck. Overlooked as
performance vehicles by many collectors, the prices can range from
fifteen to twenty percent less than the 1964 models, which has to be
considered a bargain considering their style and performance.
Lower line models, such as sedans, bring lower
prices than the earlier year models, too. As with many American
full-size station wagons, 1965 and 1966 Chevrolets are becoming quite
popular, and in recent sales have actually been bringing a higher price
than many earlier models. Part of this is due to the introduction of
replica wood paneling on the 1966 Caprice wagons, as well as the car’s
styling and luxury, which lends itself well to the family cruisers.
All models share the benefit of being very easy to
maintain, especially the small-block V8s, and are popular with the
cruising and display crowd. When looking to purchase a Chevrolet
from this era, be on the lookout for the normal items such as rust in
corners and crevices, shoddy repaint and reupholster jobs, and amateur
looking mechanical detailing. The rear quarters are prone to rust, as is
the trunk area.
One of the difficulties in authenticating
performance Chevrolets of this era is that the original engine, aside
from a six cylinder versus a V8, is not indicated in either the vehicle
identification number (VIN), or the body build tag. When looking to buy
a car purported to have been a factory “big-block”, it is worth doing a
little research, such as matching the block numbers to the VIN, (the
last six digits should match), or with original paperwork such as the
sales documents and original window stickers.
What does the future hold for these models?
Obviously, well documented high-performance cars, those with 409 and 427
V8s, will command the top dollars. Convertibles, even the less expensive
base Impala, have seen strong rises in recent months. Current prices are
in the mid teens for base convertibles, with big premiums for 409 or 427
V8s. Exceptionally nice original examples of hardtops should do well,
but as with most American cars from the 1960s, the post sedans will not
keep up with the market.
However, this could be a good thing, as these cars
are great entry level vehicles into the hobby, plus they lend their
originality to other models as “pattern cars”, or what restorers with an
eye to authenticity are striving for. These are great cars for the
casual hobbyist as parts are readily available at reasonable prices,
they are easy to maintain, and deliver a lot of motoring pleasure for
the money. Another thing to consider -- many of these cars served as
“first cars” for lots of teenagers in the 1970s and these people are
just now entering that time of life when they seek to recapture some of
those carefree days of youth.
This profile first appeared in the
July 2002 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide