Mr. Average: The 1967 Chevrolet Impala

If any car deserves to be called the archetypal sixties American automobile, it’s the Chevrolet Impala. In 1965, the peak of its popularity, one in every nine new cars sold in the United States was an Impala. If we add the sales of the mechanically identical Biscayne and Bel Air models, full-size Chevrolets accounted for more than 15% of the U.S. market. By comparison, the best-selling car in the U.S. in 2008, the Toyota Camry, accounted for only about 3%. In today’s fragmentary market, the sheer ubiquity the big Chevys once enjoyed is difficult to grasp. Let’s take a closer look at the 1965-1970 Chevrolet Impala, the most average of average American cars.

1967 Chevrolet Impala rear fender badge © 2009 Aaron Severson


When we talk about the Chevrolet Impala, we’re actually talking about only one subset of what was once considered Chevrolet’s “standard” car line. In the late sixties, Chevrolet offered its full-size cars in five series:

  • The low-line Biscayne, a sparsely trimmed, minimally equipped price leader aimed primarily at the fleet market.
  • The mid-level Bel Air, once Chevrolet’s top-of-the-line model, but now demoted to invisible family-car duty.
  • The Impala, another former line-leader relegated to moderately trimmed middle-child status.
  • The sporty Impala Super Sport, previously an option group for the Impala, promoted to separate series in 1964.
  • The luxury Caprice, Chevrolet’s answer to the popular Ford LTD, introduced as a sub-series of the Impala in 1965 and promoted to full-fledged model status in 1966.

A few years earlier, there had been a separate list of corresponding names for the station wagons — Brookwood, Parkwood, and Nomad — but by 1965, Chevrolet had merged the wagons into the Biscayne, Bel Air, and Impala lines.

This assortment of evocative names, many of them now defunct, described not a range of different cars with different bodies or running gear, but simply gradations in market position, with corresponding variations in price, trim and features, and the availability of certain body styles or optional equipment. You could not, for instance, have a Biscayne hardtop or, by this time, an Impala SS wagon.

Chevrolet’s merchandising strategy in this era, at least as far as model names went, amounted to an elaborate game of musical chairs. From 1950 to 1957, the Bel Air was at the top of the heap. In 1958, Chevrolet added the Impala, initially pitched as the most sporty, luxurious model (although this was really a relative term) and offered only in the most glamorous body styles: the convertible and the hardtop Sport Coupe. In its first year, the Impala was technically part of the Bel Air series, although even contemporary sources seldom described it that way, but it was promoted to a full model series in 1959 and subsequently became the mainstay of the Chevrolet line. The Impala SS, introduced in 1961 as an option package for regular Impalas, supplanted its parent as the top-of-the-line model in 1964 and two years later was in turn supplanted by the luxury-oriented Caprice.

1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible front 3q © 2009 Aaron Severson
The first Chevrolet Impala, released for 1958, was Chevrolet’s top-of-the-line model. The convertible (which for 1958 was only available in the Impala series) was the most expensive variation.

Both the SS and the Caprice were comparatively specialized models and the Impala continued to account for the lion’s share of big-Chevy sales throughout the 1960s. Unlike the Ford Mustang, which was originally targeted at young Baby Boomers just reaching driving age, the Chevrolet Impala was aimed squarely at the stolid midsection of the American middle class. Unlike the flashier Caprice, the Impala had no particular pretense of being a luxury car, but at the same time, its steadily growing girth and thirst had taken it out of the low-price realm; Chevrolet now had the Chevelle/Malibu and Chevy II/Nova for cash-strapped or economy-minded young families.

As Car and Driver editor Brock Yates explained in a pointed 1971 editorial entitled “America’s Two-Dimensional Sweetheart,” the Impala had evolved into a highly specific symbol of class attainment for moderately affluent suburbanites careful to neither understate nor overstep their social position. This seems like a peculiarly narrow demographic for such a popular car, but the Impala’s ongoing sales dominance throughout this period suggests that such values held a strong appeal for a surprisingly large percentage of the contemporary American public. Yates pejoratively characterized such buyers as “underachievers,” but we think “conformists” would be closer to the mark. Maintaining one’s position is different than attaining it, particularly in a nation of definite but hazily defined class boundaries. Compared to the working-class customers then straining their credit limits to afford more conspicuous status symbols like the Cadillac Eldorado or the new Lincoln Continental Mark III, Impala buyers had less to gain and more to lose.

1967 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe side © 2009 Aaron Severson
The big Chevrolet line used the corporate B-body shell, shared with the Pontiac Catalina, Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight, and Buick LeSabre. In the late sixties, the full-sized Chevy was a fraction over 213 inches long (5,415 mm) on a 119-inch (3,023mm) wheelbase, weighing between 3,800 and 4,200 pounds (1,725 and 1,905 kg) depending on engine and equipment. Hardtop Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupes like this one, which started at $2,845, outsold the more prosaic four-door sedans by a significant margin. Although this is a 1967 model, the basic body and chassis were introduced in 1965 and retained with several facelifts and various minor mechanical revisions through 1970.


The conservatism of full-size Chevrolet buyers in this era was matched by the conservative engineering of the cars themselves. As former GM chairman Alfred P. Sloan explained in his 1963 memoir, My Years with General Motors, this was largely by design. Chevrolet’s success did not depend on providing class-leading technology or engineering and the division had more than once gotten its fingers burned attempting something too novel or clever with its mainstream products. The most egregious example from Sloan’s time, the Copper-Cooled Chevrolet debacle of the early twenties, had mostly faded from the public memory, but there were also more recent disappointments like the late-fifties flirtation with air suspension, the ill-fated Turboglide transmission, and of course the still-ongoing Corvair controversy. Chevrolet had not categorically sworn off innovation (although considering some of the disasters yet to come, that might have been prudent), but the division now made sure that its bread-and-butter full-size cars contained no unwelcome surprises.

The big Chevrolet of this period was a model of contemporary orthodoxy. As was still customary in the late sixties, there were seven body styles — two- and four-door sedans, two- and four-door hardtops, six- and nine-passenger station wagons, and a convertible — all sharing the same basic B-body shell. Unlike Chrysler, GM eschewed unitized construction for its full-size cars, but while the big Chevrolets were body-on-frame designs, the body was actually a rigid, welded, semi-unitized structure riding an intentionally flexible perimeter frame. Suspension loads would cause portions of the frame to twist, absorbing vibration and harshness rather than transmitting it to the body structure. To that end, there was no metal-on-metal contact between body and frame; each of the body mounts (of which there were 10 to 14, depending on body style) was isolated by a thick rubber biscuit.

1967 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe rear 3q © 2009 Aaron Severson
1967 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupes had this sleek, semi-fastback roofline while the pricier Caprice had a more conventional notchback profile. By 1968, Chevrolet added an Impala Custom Coupe, which shared the Caprice’s roofline, but not its plusher trim. All the big Chevrolet models were mechanically identical in most respects, differing mainly in styling details, trim, and option availability.

There were two basic chassis designs, one for cars and the other for wagons. As had been Chevrolet’s practice since 1958, coil springs served at all four wheels. The front suspension was a mostly conventional double wishbone arrangement whose sole novelty was that each lower wishbone was actually formed by a control arm and a semi-leading link — commonly known as a radius rod or drag strut — that provided some fore-aft compliance, a trick Ford had introduced on the 1961 Lincoln Continental. There was also a front anti-roll bar of modest diameter. In back, a live axle was located on passenger cars by three trailing arms and a Panhard rod and on station wagons by two trailing and two semi-trailing links. As with the body structure, ride comfort and NVH isolation took priority over handling precision, so the standard springs and shock absorbers tended to the pillow-like, as did the the rubber suspension bushings and body mounts. A slightly stiffer heavy-duty suspension, intended primarily for towing, was available at surprisingly little extra cost; for a bit more, big-engine cars could be had with the still-firmer “special-purpose” suspension that was standard on Impala Super Sports.

GM was slow to adopt disc brakes for its mass-market cars, so through 1970, all full-sized Chevrolets had standard 11-inch (279mm) cast iron drums with lining area that was none too generous for the cars’ mass. A careful reading of the options list revealed the nominal availability of metallic braking linings, although whether the average dealer would be willing to order or install them for non-fleet customers was another matter. Front disc brakes became optional in 1967, accompanied by bigger wheels to clear the calipers, but did not become standard until 1971.

As for engines, you could order as much or as little power as your wallet and driving record could withstand. The cheapest option was the 250 cu. in. (4,095 cc) “Turbo-Thrift Six,” but around 80% of all big Chevrolets had a V8. The base V8 was the “Turbo-Fire” 283 (4,638 cc), a small block engine of 1957 vintage that offered 195 gross horsepower (146 kW). Beyond that were the small block Turbo-Fire 327 (5,354 cc); the big block Turbo-Jet 396 (6,488 cc); and, starting in 1966 for Impala SS models, the Turbo-Jet 427 (6,996 cc) with 385 gross horsepower (287 kW). A few customers even special-ordered the Corvette’s L72 engine, a hotter 427 with a claimed 425 hp (317 kW), although this was not a catalogued option.

1967 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe 327 badge on fender © 2009 Aaron Severson
While many buyers were content with the standard 283 cu. in. (4,638 cc) V8, the 327 cu. in. (5,354 cc) engine was an increasingly popular option for the Chevrolet Impala during this period, offering 275 gross horsepower (205 kW) for a $92.70 premium. An Impala like this one, with 327 and Powerglide, was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in a bit under 10 seconds (about a second quicker than a 283 with the same transmission) and a top speed of around 110 mph (176 km/h). The wire wheel covers and whitewalls were extra-cost options, priced at $55.85 and $35.55 respectively.

From there, you still had to choose a transmission. Although almost 90% of all American buyers now preferred it, automatic transmission still cost extra even on the top-of-the-line Caprice. For sixes and the smaller of the two Turbo-Fire V8s, your only self-shifting choice was the venerable two-speed Powerglide, priced in 1967 at $194.35 with federal excise tax. Powerglide was also available with the 327 and 396, although for a mere $32.10 extra, you could also choose the newer and more flexible three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic. The latter was a new option for the 327 in 1967, although for some reason the 327/THM combination was denied to Biscayne and Bel Air buyers and the three-speed automatic was not yet offered with the smaller engines, which could have used the extra ratio. The Turbo Hydra-Matic was, however, the only automatic available with the Turbo-Fire 427, at least on full-size Chevrolets. If you were determined to shift for yourself — which very few Impala or Caprice buyers were — you had a choice of three-speed, three-speed plus overdrive, or four-speed manual transmission, although the latter cost almost as much as Powerglide, so there weren’t many takers.

1966 Chevrolet Caprice hardtop coupe L72 427 V8 engine © 2010 Aaron Severson
The 425 hp (317 kW) L72 engine was not a regular production option on full-size Chevrolets (although a 385 hp (287 kW) version of the 427 (6,996 cc) engine became optional for 1967), but in those days, many magical things could be accomplished via special order if you had the money and a good enough relationship with the dealer. Remarkably, this L72 is in a 1966 Chevrolet Caprice, a decidedly luxury-oriented model.

That only scratched the surface of a lengthy options list that ranged from power convenience accessories and “appearance groups” to useful mechanical additions like a Positraction limited-slip differential, adjustable rear air shocks, and a special instrument cluster that traded warning lights for proper gauges. (In 1967, the latter even included a legible tachometer, which for once was mounted in an appropriate spot on the instrument panel rather than hidden on the center console, obscured by a clock, or in a bulge atop the hood.) A heater was standard by then, although it could be deleted if you were so inclined, and you had your choice of manually controlled or automatic factory air conditioning or a cheaper under-dash dealer-installed unit.

Further complicating this already convoluted process was the fact that not all of these choices could be combined. For example, both the six and 283 could be ordered with overdrive, but only V8s could have the four-speed. Some of these restrictions were curious indeed: The Turbo-Jet engines technically had no standard transmission, so if you wanted to connect your big V8 to the drive wheels, you were obliged to pay at least $79 extra for an “optional” transmission. (The likely reason for this curious strategy was that Chevrolet’s own three-speed manual transmission did not have the torque capacity for the big block engines, and the heavy-duty three-speed that did was actually purchased from Ford Motor Company — a mildly embarrassing point about which Chevrolet was understandably cagey.) Some normally unavailable combinations could be obtained with a special order form and the help of a sufficiently motivated dealer, but doing that required persistence and presumed that your eyes had not long since rolled back into your head.

1966 Chevrolet Caprice hardtop coupe with 427 front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson
When the Chevrolet Caprice was added to the full-size Chevrolet lineup in 1966, the top engine option was the 6,488 cc Turbo-Jet 396, but this one has the bigger 427 (6,996 cc) — and the L72 Corvette version at that. The roofline of this two-door hardtop was initially a Caprice exclusive, by the way.

Faced with such a broad and confusing array of choices, buyers of big Chevrolets generally responded the way most Americans do when offered an abundance of ice cream flavors: They chose vanilla. The Chevrolet sales organization told Mechanix Illustrated‘s Tom McCahill in 1965 that the median big Chevrolet of this era was an Impala Sport Coupe — a two-door hardtop — with the cheapest of the available V8s (although the 327 would become an increasingly popular option by decade’s end), Powerglide, power steering and brakes, a radio, and whitewall tires. Although full-sized Chevrolets were offered in more than a dozen colors, the most common was white. So equipped, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price was perhaps $3,300, close to the middle of the big Chevrolet’s vast price spread. The equivalent in modern dollars is around $23,000, which, probably not coincidentally, is roughly the list price of today’s four-cylinder Honda Accord LX, Toyota Camry LE, and other popular D-segment family sedans.

1966 Chevrolet Caprice dashboard © 2010 Aaron Severson
In Caprice trim, the interior of a big Chevrolet of this period could be quite fancy. (The woodgrain was a Caprice exclusive.) The “Strato-Buckets” and center console were not altogether uncommon, although they were a fairly expensive option, but your eyes do not deceive you: The console contains a manual shifter for the optional (and exceedingly rare) four-speed transmission.

What did the Impala offer for the money? Adequate but unexceptional performance; mediocre fuel economy; a roomy interior (albeit not as cavernous as the exterior dimensions might imply); a huge trunk; a plush but somewhat floaty ride; and rather soggy handling. Just important for many buyers, the Impala had excellent resale values and was as close to reliable as American cars of this vintage ever got. Furthermore, if it did break down, owners could rest assured that nothing under the hood was likely to mystify any sentient mechanic, even in the wilds of rural America — something that could not be said of most imported cars in those days.

Some of these characteristics varied in degree with the choice of optional equipment, but even a fully loaded $5,500 SS 427 did not feel dramatically different and it’s easy to see why owners wouldn’t necessarily bother even if they had the means. The Impala was the epitome of Alfred Sloan’s philosophy and Yates’ thesis about the target audience: a car that was perfectly comfortable being safely unexceptional.


Despite Chevrolet’s market dominance, powerful dealer network, and $50 million advertising budget, all was not well with America’s most popular automotive brand. Although Chevrolet was still selling more than 2 million cars a year, both market share and profits were eroding. John DeLorean claimed in On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors that by 1969, Chevrolet’s return on investment had fallen to less than one-fifth what it had been in 1964.

GM senior management placed the blame for that decline on Chevrolet’s general manager, DeLorean’s old boss E.M. (Pete) Estes, who had come to Chevrolet from Pontiac in 1965. Estes had made Pontiac No. 3 in the industry, so corporate expected great things from him at Chevrolet. By the end of 1968, however, Estes’ superiors had lost confidence in him. In February 1969, executive vice president Roger Kyes appointed DeLorean (who had succeeded Estes at Pontiac) to replace Estes as general manager of Chevrolet.

1967 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe front 3q © 2009 Aaron Severson
The 1967 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe’s bulging ‘hips’ and flowing roofline were foreshadowed by the 1965 Chevrolet Concours show car. Note the curvature of the side glass — added in 1965, it enabled the seats to be widened, adding more than 3 inches (about 80 mm) of hip and shoulder room compared to the 1964 cars. The consequence was that you could not crack open the windows in the rain without getting wet.

DeLorean had remained on friendly terms with Estes, who was candid about his impressions of Chevrolet’s real problems. Chief among those was sheer size; as you would expect of an organization whose overall production sometimes topped 200,000 units a month, Chevrolet was enormous, with more than 130,000 employees spread across 11 assembly plants and nine regional sales offices. With an organization so vast, the hands-on management style Estes and DeLorean had used with such great success at Pontiac was simply impossible. At Chevrolet, it was a constant struggle just to keep track of what was going on at any given moment.

According to DeLorean, almost no one had a clear handle on the full scope of Chevrolet’s operations, leading to erratic production schedules, constant budget overruns, and a frustrating lack of interdepartmental coordination. Beyond the communication problems, the different departments had developed into their own private fiefdoms, that, like some entrenched government bureaucracies, tended to regard each new administration as a minor and transitory annoyance.

DeLorean also had many criticisms of Chevrolet’s product planning, merchandising, and marketing strategies. Ford had beaten Chevrolet to the punch in nearly every new market segment, from personal luxury cars to pony cars. Chevrolet dealers often had to wait three years or more before receiving comparable products and those products’ marketing and advertising seldom seemed to justify what Chevrolet was spending.

1967 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe front © 2009 Aaron Severson
The GM B-body was as wide as it could be without running afoul of state laws requiring truck-style side marker lights — a hair less than 80 inches (2,030 mm) wide. The Chevrolet Impala’s W-shaped nose is heavily influenced by the styling of 1965–1966 Buicks, a kind of styling “trickle-down” that GM had practiced since the heyday of Harley Earl in the 1930s. This 1967 Impala still lacks the hidden headlights so beloved of contemporary stylists; they would become an option in 1968.

Chevrolet’s bewildering array of options, meanwhile, had created more than 150,000 possible production variations — not included special orders for fleets or preferred customers — which were driving up costs, hurting assembly quality, and exacerbating an already disjointed and chaotic production schedule. Compounding these issues were periodic micromanaging directives from corporate, which was also pushing for greater inter-divisional commonality that, in DeLorean’s view, tended to benefit rival divisions at Chevrolet’s expense. It was little wonder that Chevrolet’s profits were slipping.

DeLorean had some success in boosting Chevrolet’s sales — the division posted its first 3-million-unit year in 1971 — but his political position was becoming increasingly tenuous. Assuming his analysis of Chevrolet’s growing malaise was accurate, fixing those problems would have required strong internal and external support and probably an extensive divisional housecleaning. Little of that was forthcoming; DeLorean’s efforts at internal reform earned him a host of powerful new enemies. At the same time, he was having frequent clashes with Roger Kyes and GM president Ed Cole, who had never been entirely comfortable with DeLorean’s personality or style.

In the summer of 1972, DeLorean was appointed group executive in charge of domestic car and truck operations, but the nominal promotion only added to his sense of frustration and his feeling that he was being marginalized; he resigned in April 1973. The problems he had tried to address at Chevrolet, he later claimed, were never fixed and continued to snowball after his departure.

1967 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe side windows © 2009 Aaron Severson
The pillarless hardtop, so popular in the fifties and sixties, faded away in the mid-1970s, at least in the U.S., done in by changing tastes and concerns about new federal roof crush safety standards. The last year for the Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe was 1975, when it accounted for just 21,333 sales.


Chevrolet remained No. 1 in domestic sales until the mid-eighties, sustained by its reputation, the strength of its dealers, and sheer inertia. Nonetheless, the division was now challenged from above and below; Oldsmobile was gradually encroaching on the middle-class territory the Impala had once owned while at the other end of the scale, frustrations with quality control and problematic small cars like the Vega and the later X-body Citation were driving a growing number of customers to imports like Volkswagen, Toyota, and Honda.

Sales of the full-size Chevrolet, which was looking rather bloated by the early seventies, nosedived in the wake of the OPEC embargo, falling below 350,000 units for 1975. By the standards of any manufacturer but Chevrolet, that was still respectable, but compared to the Impala’s late-sixties heights, such figures were grim tidings. Fortunately, sales of the B-body Chevrolets were resuscitated for a time by the well-crafted 1977 redesign, which shed needless bulk without sacrificing the big cars’ customary stature.

1969 Chevrolet Impala Custom Coupe side © 2008 Aaron Severson
By the end of the sixties, the sporty flair that big Chevrolets had once cultivated was fading in favor of luxury. This 1969 Chevrolet Impala Custom Coupe features the roofline previously exclusive to the pricier, better-trimmed Chevrolet Caprice, complete with the increasingly popular vinyl roof covering.

Nonetheless, their audience was shrinking; the buyers to which the Impala of the late sixties and early seventies had appealed so strongly were aging and younger buyers were not taking their place. By the mid-eighties, sales were again on the decline. The Impala name was dropped after 1985, but the 1977 Caprice survived through 1990 with relatively minor changes. The controversial 1991 redesign managed to alienate traditional buyers without attracting new ones. After a brief revival of the Impala Super Sport in 1994, GM finally decided to pull the plug. The Impala name would return, but the B-body cars were discontinued in 1996 so that their plant capacity could be used for trucks.

In their declining years, the B-body Chevrolets became niche items, selling to fleet buyers and a shrinking pool of brand loyalists. The market that the Impala dominated four decades ago still exists, at least in the U.S., but many of those buyers now choose cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord for the same reasons people once bought big Chevrolets: reliability, comfort, and resale value. As familiar as those priorities are, Chevrolet has had a great deal of trouble reasserting itself in that segment or even challenging domestic rivals like the 1986-1994 Ford Taurus, against which Chevrolet could offer only the lackluster Lumina. It’s only been very recently that the Chevrolet Malibu has emerged as a credible challenger and it remains to be seen whether it will be able to remain above water against its better-established competition.

We don’t think that Chevrolet will ever regain its former dominance; the world has moved on and the market has become far more balkanized than it was 50 years ago. However, the major players in that segment shouldn’t get too cocky. Indeed, Toyota’s rapid growth over the past decade has already led it to make some of the same mistakes Chevrolet did, including a worrisome conservatism in product development and design and a perceptible erosion of perceived quality. Those trends have not yet harmed Toyota’s reputation or resale value, but Toyota would be well advised to study Chevrolet’s example, lest they go the same way.



Our account of Chevrolet’s late-sixties woes comes from from John DeLorean’s infamous profile by Robert Flowers in For Men Only June 1969, pp. 32-33, 67-69; J. Patrick Wright, On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors: John Z. DeLorean’s Look Inside the Automotive Giant (Chicago, IL: Avon Books, 1980); and Brock Yates’ editorial “America’s Two-Dimensional Sweetheart” from the March 1971 issue of Car and Driver, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1996). Alfred P. Sloan’s oft-cited remarks about marketing and innovation come from his memoir, My Years with General Motors (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964).

Basic details on the 1967–1970 Impala came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); John Bolster, “John Bolster tries the Chevrolet Impala,” Autosport 26 November 1965, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, p. 82; “Chevrolet Caprice: where does this top of the line car stand?” Road Test July 1966, reprinted in Chevrolet Muscle Cars 1966-1971, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1989), pp. 15–19; Chevrolet Division of General Motors Corporation, “Discover all the facts and features about the beautiful full-size Chevrolet ’66” [brochure], 1965; and “1967 Chevrolet” [brochure D35083, c. October 1966]; “Chevrolet Impala: A Car in August,” Motor Trend Vol. 20, No. 11 (November 1968), reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 104–105; “Chevrolet Impala,” Car and Driver October 1970, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 76–79; “Chevrolet Impala SS,” Car Life March 1965, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 71–75; John Ethridge, “Caprice ‘427’ Road Test,” Motor Trend Vol. 18, No. 4 (April 1966), pp. 54–55, and “It’s White Tie & Tails for Chevy Caprice ‘396,’” Motor Trend Vol. 17, No. 6 (June 1965), pp. 48–53; Art Evans, “Chevrolet Super Sport Owner’s Report,” Road Test March 1966, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 83–85; John Gunnell, ed. Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Rev. 4th Ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Bryan Hanrahan, “The Imperial Impala,” Modern Motor February 1966, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 90–92; “Impala 427: Is a Chevrolet Worth $5000? Ask a Swinging Family!” Car Life May 1967, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 98–101; Tom McCahill, “Tom McCahill Tests the World’s Most Popular Car,” Mechanix Illustrated February 1965, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 80–81; “No. 1 USA,” Road Test April 1972, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 133–137; the Old Car Brochures website,; “PM Owners Report: Chevrolet Impala,” Popular Mechanics August 1969, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 110–111; Dick Scritchfield, “Impala with Appeal,” Car Craft May 1967, reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 93–97; “Sporty Cars,” Motor Trend Vol. 19, No. 5 (May 1967), pp. 41–42; B.T. Van Kirk, “1967-70 Chevrolet: The Last ‘Regular’ American Cars,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 17, No. 4 (December 2000), pp. 8-21; and C. Van Tune, “Chevrolet Impala SS 1961-1969,” Motor Trend Vol. 45, No. 10 (October 1993), reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972, pp. 138–140.

Some additional background came from “Cadillac Eldorado: Still Wanted But Worth It?” Road Test April 1970; “Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado: Ownership is not a symbol of success, but success itself,” Car and Driver April 1970; and Bill Hartford, “Too Rough a Ride for the Soft Life,” Popular Mechanics July 1969, all of which are reprinted in Cadillac Eldorado Performance Portfolio 1967-1978, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000); “1958 Chevrolet Impala Road Test,” Motor Life January 1958; “1958 Consumer Analysis: Chevrolet,” Car Life January 1958; and Chuck Nerpel, “Hot Chevy,” Motor Trend September 1961, which are reprinted in Impala & SS Muscle Portfolio 1958-1972; Tim Howley, “SIA comparisonReport: ’58 vs. ’59 Chevrolet: What a Difference a Year Makes,” Special Interest Autos #140 (March-April 1994), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Postwar Chevrolets: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001); and Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors Corporation, “Chevrolet 1958: It Goes Big…With Spectacular New Shape!” [brochure, c. October 1957].


Add a Comment
  1. Great article.

    I am a huge Chevy fan, almost exclusively because of my stepdad when I was younger. I sometimes wonder why I still consider myself one.

    This article should be required reading for every Chevy exec. Maybe they could get there again…

  2. Nice article.
    I have two of these great cars,both is 67 SS 2 door hard top with 396/375hp/TH400.I`m seartching for pictures of the assembly line from the factory where these great cars were built.Is it possible to find something like that?Back here in Norway these big block Impalas are rare,so i tryes to keep mine in top conition.


    1. I don’t recall any books off hand with the Chevrolet assembly lines from the sixties. Anthony Young’s book [i]Classic Chevy Hot Ones 1955-1957[/i] has pictures and information about Chevrolet factories about a decade earlier. I’m sure some of the semi-official Chevrolet history books would have such pictures (the equivalent official Oldsmobile history by Helen James Earley and James Walkinshaw has a great deal of information like that), but I don’t have any in my personal library. If I think of any, I will leave it an a comment here.

  3. was wondering what other frame would fit a 1966 chevrolet impala 2 door coupe if u can get back to me asap

    1. I’m afraid I’m not able to provide repair or restoration advice — sorry!

    2. Any b body car would work. Catalina Buick le sabre etc. b bodies all share the same frame. The article even says so.

  4. The ’67 Chevy Impala (and most full-sized Chevys from 1965 to 1969)when new had a reputation for poor quality and reliability – almost as bad as most Chrysler products of the same period. Other liability issues that didn’t help Chevrolet much in that era included Ralph Nader’s attack on the Corvair, the continued use of 2-speed Powerglide in its most popular engine/model combos while Ford Galaxie and Plymouth Fury had long ago switched to 3-speed automatics, and the division’s falling behind Ford (as well as GM’s own Pontiac division) in entering new markets and innovations.
    And all these issues would soon pale compared to the ultimate recall of millions of V8-powered Chevys (including Impala, Caprice) from 1965 to 1969 due to failing motor mounts – a result of Chevrolet’s cost-cutting move to continue using a 1958-vintage motor mount designed for smaller 283 and 348 inch V8s as opposed to the 327-350 small block and 396-427 big blocks of later years.
    In 1967, Consumer Reports tested an Impala 4-door sedan with 283/Powerglide against the Ford Galaxie, 289/Cruise-O-Matic; Plymouth Fury, 318/TorqueFlite; Pontiac Catalina, 400/Turbo Hydra-matic; and Rambler Ambassador 290/Flash-O-Matic. The Pontiac and Ford were rated the top two while the Chevrolet was 4th between the Plymouth and Rambler. The Chevy also had a “worse than average” repair record while the Plymouth was “much worse than average” and the Ambassador and Pontiac were average. The Ford was rated as “better than average.”

    1. This recall, now long forgotten was huge at the time. The mount problem stemmed from the fact that it was made as a sandwich of rubber between two metal plates. Nominally, both mounts support the weight of the engine, but the left mount also had to resist the tendency of the engine to lift upward from the reaction of crankshaft torque. While not a huge issue by itself, this same lifting lengthend the distance from the firewall mounting of the the throttle linkage (solid rod, not a flex cable)causing the throttle to be pulled open. The end result was a form of the dreaded “unintended acceleration”. While GM and Chevrolet did respond by recalling several million cars, they did so by taking the absolutely cheapest route possible. They did not replace or repair any of the mounts. What they did do was issue millions of 24″ lengths of 1/4 inch steel cables with U-bolt clamps, and instructed the dealer technicians to loop them around the left exhaust manifold and the inner pivot bar of the left upper control arm of the front suspension. This simply acted as a tether to keep the engine from lifting far enough to pull on the throttle linkage. In 1970 the mount was redesigned with an interlocking design between the metal plates to limit the travel if the mount seperated. The whole afair was just another triumph of cost accounts over engineering every step of the way.

  5. I actually meant that Consumer Reports rated the Impala third among 1967 full-sized sedans behind the Pontiac Catalina and Ford Galaxie 500 rather than fourth as I reported in the previous report above.

    Although the ’67 Chevys didn’t have quite the quality of the early 60s (1961-64) models, they were quite a bit better than the 1965-66 models and the 1968 and 1969 (when the basic body was restyled with a more formal look) were even better, but the 1970 Impala/Caprice was probably the best big Chevy in years thanks to a long development period of the basic ’65 body to finally work out the bugs. Also the engine lineup in 1970 was the best yet including 350 and 400 small-blocks and 454 big block V8s (sixes were now only offered in Impala four-door sedans and low-line Biscayne and Bel Air sedans), along with more common use of the Turbo Hydra-matic (as opposed to the Powerglide, still offered with 250-6 and 350-V8s). Plus, the ’70 big Chevys now had 15-inch wheels instead of the 14-inchers of previous years. And then there were the new and sturdier motor mounts found on all ’70 Chevys.

    Unfortunately, all the improvements to the ’70 Impala/Caprice gave way to the all-new 1971 models which were bigger and heavier and powered by low-compression engines designed for unleaded fuel that had poorer performance and gas mileage. Also, the quality in assembly and materials had dropped again (the ’71 Impala/Caprice dash was notorious for a crack often made a running joke as the GM “Mark of Excellence”) and all cars had black steering wheels and columns, plus less-than-durable cloth or vinyl upholstery trims – plus the station wagon models had that complex disappearing clamshell tailgate that made the cars much bigger and heavier than necessary, but also trouble-prone and costly to repair. Again Ford’s LTD and Galaxie 500 were better cars for the same money and it took Chevy until 1974 or 1975 to get the quality back up to that of the 1970 models.

    1. …. yeah, maybe; but the post-’68 models didn’t have VENT WINDOWS anymore….. and that was a huge mistake, IMO.

  6. Again a very interesting article about one of the most trivial american car !
    Some suggestions for future topics :
    -the ’77 and 90′ Impala/Caprice (and the demise of the B-body)
    -Ford Panther platform and the LTD/Crown Vic
    -Max Hoffmann
    -GM disaster : the W10 cars
    -Ford Pinto
    -’57 Chrysler/Mopar
    -LH/Cab Forward Mopar
    -Saturn history (with EV1)
    -Cord 810/812…

    1. I would definitely like to do the 1977-1990 GM B-bodies at some point. Quite an interesting transition. Most of the others are on the list, and will mostly depend on being able to finding appropriate photos. (I was trying to connect with a local Checker owner to take photos of his car, but fell out of touch with him.) I talked about Maxie Hoffmann a bit in the article on the Mercedes 190SL.

  7. Would love to see you do the 77-90 B bodies. They were the last great American car. Downsized, but still using traditional ideas and styling ideas…it’s odd that they haven’t caught on as collector’s items yet..their popularity seems to be mostly as “Donks”. The two doors would even make good “muscle car” material as they don’t weigh much more than the midsizes of the late 60s….

  8. Interesting article. We owned a 69 Belair from 1971 to 1974. I believe it was equipped with a 327 and it would fly. Same colour as car shown. I also own a 2005 model. Was interesting to hear why most of GM has always been so conservative in innovation and style. However, today some car companies go too far in weird styling and fully loaded subcompacts. I think conservatism and good solid quality is whats needed.

    1. Well-equipped B- and C-segment cars are sensible enough, particularly when you consider that a typical C-segment car (Civic, Focus, Mazda3) runs to US$20,000 and up and is nearly as large as an early-nineties Accord or Camry. For a lot of modern buyers, even a B-segment car (Fit, Fiesta, Yaris) is as big as they really need, but people like MP3 connectivity and the like, and with the typical markup on that stuff, dealers and automakers are happy enough to sell it to them.

      As for styling, the odd thing is that these are such conformist market segments that at any given time, most of the players end up looking very similar. If that’s conservative and relatively upright, as in the late eighties, you get a lot of conservative three-box sedans. If they look like mutant sea creatures, well, for a few years everything looks like a mutant sea creature, until the next fad comes along. As a result, cars of a different era inevitably stand out, even if they were considered derivative or anonymous in their own time.

  9. Your comment about the Camry being the new Impala is dead-on.

    The increasing conservatism of Toyota since the 80s is disappointing, and matches GM’s refusal to truly innovate. I doubt the Camry will successfully outlive its current generation of buyers.

    1. The difference between Toyota and Chevrolet (or GM, in general) is that Toyota has never had the same dependency on a single model. Chevy suffered badly for a long time because GM clearly felt that the big Impala/Caprice was what a Chevrolet [i]should[/i] be, and treated other model lines (particularly anything smaller than the Malibu/Chevelle) as a sideline, a token gesture to buy time until the faithful returned to the big cars.

      As conservative as Toyota is, they haven’t ever suffered the same identification with a single model, and they historically have been more willing than most to explore new product segments. The Prius is an obvious example, but there are also examples like the Lexus RX/Highlander/Versa and the Scion xB. Not all of those ventures work — Scion is looking awfully terminal, and sometimes they come up with answers to questions nobody asked, like the last MR2 Spyder. But if, say, the Avalon and Camry become niche products because the market has moved elsewhere, I don’t see Toyota management resisting that the way Chevy did.

      Still, Toyota needs to be very careful, because their success is based on the market’s assumption that a Toyota is a competent (if not inspired) car that will have appliance-like dependability. Stuff like the sludge problems that plagued their V6 engines have the potential to hurt them far worse than, say, the deep-seated lameness of the Corolla.

      1. Can you elaborate on the sludge issue with the Toyota V6?

  10. I as well as another writer, am looking to replace a 1966 four door chevrolet frame. We live on the east coast and have been looking since 1991, this was my grand fathers car and due a drunk hitting the front end of the the front forks are damaged on the impala. I have no idea where to look for the whole frame or if a 1965 would fit the 1966

    1. All Impalas (2 dr or 4 dr) have the same frame. All Impala frames are the same from 1965-1970. Go online, type in “junkyard 1965-1970 impala” and you will find those vehicles in junkyards across the USA and also Canada. The best frames are from the south (no salted roads) and the western states (dry desert climate). Also, all the rest of those vehicles such as doors, fenders, etc. will be in better condition, usually, at the worst, surface rust which can be sanded down or sandblasted. I was in Tennesee, South Carolina, and North Carolina in May of 2014 and can attest to the high quality of older vehicles. I found a 1968 Ford p/u truck with no rust!! Finally, I own a 1968 Impala SS, bought 12-30-71 with 34000 miles. Red outside, black inside, 327 engine, black vinyl top, fastback roofline. I was offered $15000 for it sight unseen in 2005. I have only seen 3 1968 Impala SS since I have owned mine. I have been to lots of car shows and have never seen a ’68 Impala SS. I am now 65 years old and will die with this car. Good luck with your search for a good frame.

  11. Another fine article. I owned a 67Impala sport sedan. Previous owner had cut it down into a 4dr convertible. Suprisingly the body flex wasn’t too bad. Although the the gap between the rear door & quarter panel all but disappeared when using a bumper jack on the rear.

    Another oddity re Australian assembled Impalas
    was that the ’67 used the Caprice rear bumper.
    And our Aussie Belairs got the Impala rear light treatment. I know my ’63 Belair did-and leather seats to boot!

  12. Great article and other interesting information. In 1968 my parents bought a ’67 Impala SS with the 327 with dual exhausts and Powerglide. Same tan color as in the photo above but with a white top. I learned to drive in that car and a 1970 Ford Maverick. Although off the line the Chevy wasn’t really quick, it was kind of like starting in second gear with the Powerglide – flooring it around 40mph would throw you back in the seat. It sounded great. In 1974 I bought a ’67 Caprice 4-door with the 283 and Powerglide. Very much subdued compared to the Impala. That was black with a black vinyl top. Had to replace the transmission the next year. Aamco did it for $100.

  13. I had a 67 Biscayne the same gold color as pictured. It was stripped down, 250cid six, 3-on-the-tree and didn’t even have switches on the door posts to light the interior light when the doors were opened. Had only 14″ wheels and small drum brakes to match, no power assist.

    Was a great snow car good balance of weight and power finally the rust ate it after 15 Midwest winters of salt.

  14. i have a 67 impala convertible i am rebuilding i need a back seat. i have a seat to a hard top and want to get it sized to fit the convertible. what are the dimensions of both so i can get this done. i am have a hard time finding the specs on this. any help is appreciated.

  15. I find that throwaway line “if you twisted the dealer’s arm enough” quite interesting. As far as I understand it, in the US at the time it was uncommon to order a car as opposed to picking one from the lot, right?

    So if, back in ’66, you had gone into a Chevy dealership with cash to spare and the aim to buy the finest road performer the options list would allow, with top-of-the-line engine, F41 suspension and all that good stuff, would they actually have been reluctant to sell it to you because… it was inconvenient to special-order? Or was there actually some sort of directive from high up to limit the sale of rare options so as to rationalize production or somesuch?

    1. That’s a fair question with a complicated answer. U.S. dealers have always had a significant financial incentive to try to get people to buy the cars on the lot; dealers finance their new-car inventory (what’s called floor plan financing), so each day those cars sit unsold is costing the dealer money. So, I assume most dealers would have at least tried to get a prospective buyer to choose something in inventory.

      However, in the ’60s, the options list was where dealers made much of their profits, particularly since so many features were options. Quite a few relatively cheap cars (including the full-size Chevrolets) could be dressed up with $1,500 or more of optional extras and each of those extras had a built-in margin. So, while it was still good to sell the cars in the showroom, salesmen weren’t going to say no to a serious buyer looking to up the sale price by hundreds of dollars.

      Nonetheless, I suspect the willingness of dealers to special order cars with oddball combinations of features was probably heavily dependent on the dealer, the customer (and the customer’s relationship with the dealership), and the options the customer wanted. One of the risks for the dealer with a special order car is the possibility of the original customer bailing out before taking delivery. If the car was too odd, finding another buyer might be difficult, especially with features like manual transmission or heavy-duty suspension. (“Why does this car ride so rough?”)

      Compounding that was the fact that Chevrolet in the ’60s had so many theoretically possible option combinations that there was no guarantee the car would be exactly what the customer ordered. One punch card notch in the wrong place and the dealer might be stuck trying to talk the customer into buying a car that wasn’t what the customer wanted.

      There were certain options that were deliberately made difficult to get. Metallic brakes, for example, weren’t necessarily on the regular options list; they were still available, if only for the benefit of fleet customers, but if you didn’t ask for them specifically, you might never know. Some performance equipment was also offered only on a limited basis to select customers, although of course GM divisions weren’t supposed to be involved with racing homologation.

      Certain dealers were more knowledgeable than others about performance options and limited-availability stuff. That was very much dependent on the dealer personnel and the dealer’s customer base; some dealers were clueless about the special equipment while others made a big deal of their ability to get performance-minded buyers what they wanted.

      1. At one of the Carlisle Ford Nationals, there was a 1967 Ford Country Squire equipped with the biggest V-8 and a MANUAL transmission with the shifter on the floor. It came that way from the factory. The owner had a letter signed by none other than Lee Iacocca approving the order to build the car with that combination of options.

        One of the muscle car magazines recently featured an all-original 1968 Ford LTD with a manual transmission. Apparently the original buyer backed out of the sale. The person who now owns the car then picked it up for a very sweet price, as it had been sitting on the lot for a long time. He said that the dealer basically gave it away to him in order to get rid of it.

        When I was kid in the early 1970s, another friend had a sister who dated a man with a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner. He had bought the car new from the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer. Our town was a small one, and the dealer had been in business since the Great Depression. Supposedly this dealer refused to order any new cars with the Hemi engine, as he couldn’t sell them if the original buyer backed out of the deal. This is ironic in view of the price such a car now commands!

    2. Simon…. It’s as simple as this. A dealer pays a bank to finance the new cars on his lot until they sell. Thus, the dealer saves a lot of money buy selling something that he has right there, right then. This might have been called, “floor plan”.

      1. Yup. Floor plan financing is also another reason why car salesmen are so insistent about getting you to buy immediately. Some of that is just how salespeople are, of course, but a sale two days from now may actually be worth less, in terms of the dealer’s net proceeds, than one today because of the finance charges on the dealer’s inventory.

  16. I’m restoring a 65 Impala.

    Good article, lots of info here that I didn’t know.

  17. I am trying to find information on a supposedly all original 1967 Chevy Caprice convertible. All the exterior trim and interior trim of the car is indicative of a caprice but the title and vin state Impala. The owner of the car tells a story of the vehicle being specially ordered through a dealer in Nebraska and that specific dealerships could order specific packages for the 1967 Nebraska Centennial that was not offered to the general public. Is there any validity to this or is this just a rebody? It appears to be an original unrestored car.

  18. Chevy had the best looking cars…That’s why they sold well. Toyota’s quality sells its cars today. If you have both – style and quality you are unbeatable.
    Toyota needs to ramp up its style.

    1. Looks definitely were a big part of Chevrolet’s success, there was no question about that. They also benefited in this era from strong resale values and of course from the strength of the dealer network. Chevrolet had more dealers than anyone else, which was an important consideration.

  19. My mother special-ordered a ’66 Biscayne four-door sedan. The car had four options: The hateful Powerglide, a 283 two-barrel, heater, and heavy-duty battery. It may be that the dealer installed an engine heater, although I don’t think that happened as part of the sale.

    There must have been some shipping damage, as the car had paperwork from the dealership body shop for some minor repainting prior to delivery.

    I am reasonably certain that the V-8 was only ordered because the dealership claimed “better resale value” for 8s above 6s.

    Not everyone special-orders a vehicle to get MORE options.

    1. I understand that. When I bought my current car, there were several options I emphatically didn’t want (like a sunroof), to the point that I told the salesmen, “I will not take a car that has that even if you give me the option for free.”

      The dealer was right about the resale values of V-8s versus sixes at that point, although by that logic, a radio and power steering would have been worthwhile too. The heavy-duty battery is interesting — was this somewhere with really cold winters?

  20. I’m doing an LS Swap in a 66 2dr Buick LeSabre Custom myself. I am curious to know if I could swap the frame for a 1991 Caprice to allow the modern suspension and brake upgrades? I’ve done some research and there’s about an inch width difference in the frames but mount locations are the same. Anyone done this?

    1. I can’t help with modifications, sorry!

  21. We had Canadian-supplied, right-hand-drive Impalas in New Zealand during the 60’s. Impalas and the Canadian Pontiac Parisenne and Laurentian were the biggest sedans in NZ at the time. From memory I think they all had the same dashes and instrument clusters(?) I remember in Auckland during the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a taxi company that had a black 4-door 67 Impala for prestigious rides. I remember it because it had professionally done stickers on each door saying “DO NOT SLAM THE DOOR.” Also, old cars like that were incredibly rare by the 1990s. Being an island nation, the very high salt-level air tended to rust cars (and anything metal) into oblivion within 10-15 years. Living in a coastal city like Auckland was disastrous for any motor vehicle. As young fellas we all learned how to “bog” (Bondo) our cars. You’d be lucky if it lasted 6 months.

  22. That was a wonderful article. Some years ago I was “co-owner” of a 1970 Impala 4 doir sedan that to my modern eyes seemed like it was a one-of-a-kind special order car, because of it’s oddball option selection.

    It was indeed an Impala trim car, with the six taillights and added brightwork around the windows – yet it was equipped with the standard “dog-dish” wheel caps. It had power steering and factory A/C – but manual brakes, and those being drums at all corners. It had a V8, a 350 even, but it was a 2-bbl with single exhaust and a 2 speed Powerglide automatic. It all added up, to me at least, as if this was a purpose-built car – but that purpose seemed hard to figure out. A car meant for long highway trips in relative comfort, perhaps? A three-speed automatic or even an overdrive manual would have provided a better experience. Cheap wheels? Why an Impala trim, then, as it seemed closer to a mid level Bel Air or a fancy Biscayne, either of which would have stickered for less. A tow rig for an Airstream? There was no evidence of any towing hitch having ever been installed.

    But in reading this article, I’m simply left with the idea that it was quite simply a middle-of-the-road car, one built in far greater numbers exactly as equipped than I may have realized. Drum brakes were adequate for the day, as was the Powerglide (while tagine by then may as well have been *at least it’s an automatic*.)

    All of which brings me to another point. You mention the over 150,000 possible permutations of option combinations. I recall Iacocca saying something similar in his autobiography, how in the early seventies it was possible to build a Valiant over 100,000 different ways, and how the Japanese manufacturers’ method of grouping options into specific, no-substitutions-allowed packages allowed for more streamlined production. I often see, on televised auto auctions and in the enthusiast-oriented periodicals, how a given car is “1-of-1” and this, somehow, has an effect on value. All I can think is that once past the production breakdown on engine and colour, it’s really a matter of small inconsequential options, any of which could have been added or deleted by owners as the years progressed. Sure, it’s neat to say you own a 1-of-1 Dodge Dart, but if all that means is that yours is the only Slant Six, three-speed equipped yellow four door sedan with the uplevel dash but base cluster and cigarette lighter delete, does that really mean yours is therefore rarer and more valuable than mine, which gasca cigarette lighter and is in a larger group of like-ordered vehicles? Of course not.

    1. Back in the day, if a customer ordered a car with an odd combination of options that wouldn’t appeal to the average buyer, it was common for the dealer to require an especially big deposit, just in case.

    2. … and how the Japanese manufacturers’ method of grouping options into specific, no-substitutions-allowed packages allowed for more streamlined production

      This was a common truism among American auto executives and pundits, reflecting a failure to understand that the way Japanese automakers approached the U.S. market was often quite different from how they operated in the home market. For instance, in the U.S. Toyota sold the original A30 Celica in only one or two specific trim levels (initially ST and later GT), with a limited selection of options, but that was NOT true in Japan, where Corolla Stores (through which the Celica was sold) offered as blinding a range of trim, engine, transmission, and option combinations as you’d find on most contemporary American cars, and encouraged buyers to “build” the car to suit their own tastes. There were certain combinations that weren’t available (just as there were on a Chevelle or a Camaro), but the customizability of the Celica was a central part of its original JDM marketing. That wasn’t the case in export markets, where it made sense for various reasons (merchandising, inventory, parts supply) to offer a more limited range, and where a unique selling point was offering as standard a lot of minor convenience features that were usually extra-cost options on U.S. cars.

      So, what you had was not a difference in production philosophy, but manufacturers adopting different strategies for different markets. I suppose you could probably say that Japanese automakers, even in the home market, were more inclined to group specific combinations of equipment into specific sub-series (whereas in the sixties and seventies, trim level on U.S. cars was basically just trim level, with a lot of extras sold à la carte even on notionally top-of-the-line series like the LTD or Caprice), but for the most part, I think Iacocca’s statement was part of a common ’80s business attitude about Japanese manufacturers. There was this idea that it was vital to discern the secret tricks that supposedly made them successful as Detroit stumbled, which honestly often just boiled down to Orientalism. Also, you’ll note that Iacocca’s comment, typical of his remarks on the Japanese automakers, is something of a backhanded compliment; crediting Japanese carmakers for streamlined production while subtly emphasizing that it came at a cost that either wouldn’t apply or wouldn’t be acceptable here.

      1. I find the American 1980s reaction to the Japanese to be quite fascinating, especially since it has had 40 years to percolate into the public consciousness. I’ve read Toffler’s “PowerShift” and Liker’s “The Toyota Way”, and while I’m given to understand that those titles were required reading for some management types (even though the Liker volume dates to 2003), there’s an undertone, whether intended or not, that the Japanese just do things better and it would behoove the North American exec to copy, in minute detail, their management style.

        On the topic of option packages, it totally makes sense – for a Japanese automaker, selling in the home market allows for individualizaton, but as they live and die on exports, production rationalization gets the metal on the ships faster.

        1. there’s an undertone, whether intended or not, that the Japanese just do things better and it would behoove the North American exec to copy, in minute detail, their management style

          That was certainly the gist, although as I said, much of it (three-fourths?) amounted to blatant Orientalism. There was of course interest in lean manufacturing, but even that was couched in weird racially charged rhetoric based in a xenophobic fear of being supplanted by the Other. It was everywhere in the eighties, and it reads very uncomfortably now, if only because the more recent focus of capitalist xenophobia has shifted (back) to China rather than Japan, making the hysteria of the obsession with Japanese manufacturers easier to perceive for what it was.

          but as they live and die on exports, production rationalization gets the metal on the ships faster

          I would take issue with both of those statements. There’s a widespread misconception that the home market was a minor or trivial part of the Japanese automakers’ success in the seventies and eighties, which for the most part really wasn’t true. It was true that Honda and Mazda managed to become more prominent in some export markets (and in particular in North America) than they were at home, where wresting any market share from Toyota and Nissan was an uphill battle, but the Japanese market was quite large and still growing, so it tended to be the principal focus of Japanese automakers until well after the economic bubble burst in the early nineties. There were cases where they would keep an existing model alive after it had turned out to sell better abroad than domestically (for instance, I’m not at all sure the Celica’s JDM sales would have justified continuing it after the second generation), but for the most part, Japanese automakers were more likely to greenlight a model for domestic consumption that probably wouldn’t sell abroad than they were the reverse. Today, of course, there are Japanese models that exist largely or entirely for markets outside Japan (the Accord and Camry, in particular; I don’t think there’s much demand for big sedans like that in Japan at this point), but that was much less true in earlier eras.

          Second, limiting export variety was fundamentally about merchandising rationalization, which in practice was the opposite of production rationalization. Particularly by the seventies, the export models often represented additional variants of existing models, produced side-by-side on the same assembly lines. In other words, the simplified product lines sold abroad meant significantly greater production complexity, particularly as it became necessary to tailor export models to meet increasingly complex and challenging regulatory requirements for different markets. That the Japanese automakers were able to do so with considerable success reflected the flexibility of their production lines, but flexibility is not at all the same thing as simplicity, nor does it necessarily reflect “rationalization” in the sense Iacocca meant. Toyota, for instance, became adept at building different versions of the same body or platform on the same lines, adding different sheet metal and different front and rear clips to differentiate the “twins and triplets” sold through the different domestic sales channels. If the U.S. or other major export markets demanded something a little different, those variations could be added to the production mix. (For example, the car sold in North America as the Toyota Cressida was a variant of the X platform used by the Japanese Mark II, Chaser, and Cresta, but it was essentially a fourth sibling rather than just a Mark II with different badges.)

  23. Sheer size was also a problem at British Leyland. It was probably worse than at Chevrolet, as BL was an amalgamation of multiple companies. It was just too sprawling for management to get its arms around. What’s less obvious is that it included not only the marques (Austin, Rover, Morris, Triumph, etc.) that normally come to mind, but also a number of supplier companies. I believe the number of companies was well into two digits.

    Of course this wasn’t British Leyland’s only dysfunction by any means, but it was a significant one.

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