Be sure to check out the test drive videos of these 1967 beauties in action!
Let’s go back in time. It’s the fall of ’66, and you’re ready to buy your first brand-new car. You’re a dedicated Chevrolet man. You finally have a decent job, some cash in the bank, and want to trade-in your used ’60 Bel Air. You want eight cylinders, some style, and maybe—just maybe—a bit of muscle.
You’re off to the local Chevy dealer. Your dad’s been shopping there for years, and they’ve always taken good care of him. Heck, your grandfather bought the Bel Air you’re driving now from them the year before he died. You’re a third-generation customer.
The new ’67 models are in the showroom, and there are so many decisions to be made. You’ve been dreaming of this day for years. All that time spent reading about new cars in Motor Trend and Hot Rod when your mom said you should have been studying. But the reality is, you got your diploma, a good job, and all that hard work is about to turn into Detroit iron.
As you step inside, you’re dazzled by the kaleidoscope of color and chrome. All your favorites are there, in vivid, brilliant hues, accented by acres of chrome and stainless. You are snapped back to reality as a salesman pats you on the back and asks your name. He’s a little older than you, maybe 5 or 10 years older, but as he addresses you, you feel like you can trust him. His hair is just a little longer than that of the rest of the staff, many of whom have probably been pushing sheetmetal here for decades.
“How are you?” he asks. “My name’s Bill. What’ll it be today?”
You respond that you just don’t know yet. You’ve seen that new Mustang fighter Chevy calls Camaro, and you’ve lusted after Corvettes ever since “Route 66” hit the airways, but there’s the allure of the hot SS Chevelles.
“If you’re into performance, you might want to try this Impala here,” Bill states, pointing to the gold-on-gold sport coupe outside. At first you’re aghast. That’s not a performance model, you point out. It’s not, he says, but he’s got a hot SS coming with the 396 porcupine engine. It’s due later that week.
You reluctantly agree to take it for a spin. It’s got an automatic trans, power steering, and a bench seat. It’s several steps above what you drove in with, but it’s too large. You want to step down in size—a lot. You don’t care how much horsepower that 396 makes; this is a lot of steel to move and you want something sportier.
The Real World:
Impala Sport Coupe
Like all the cars in this story, the ’67 Impala you see here belongs to Jim and Rick Schmidt, the owners of National Parts Depot, based in Ocala, Florida. It only had 1,640 miles on the odometer when your author climbed behind the wheel for this story. It’s not an SS, it doesn’t have bucket seats, or a large engine. But what it does have is an honest goodness that is as apparent today as it was to the car buying public in 1967.
The build date is the fifth week of June, and it rolled out of the Janesville, Wisconsin, assembly plant. The simple sport coupe still wears its original Grenada Gold paint and gold cloth and vinyl bench seat. There are not of lot of options, as was the norm back then. Air conditioning was still considered an expensive luxury to many of the blue-collar folks who bought Impalas year after year, and this one does not have it. Among its few extras are the two-speed Powerglide transmission, an AM radio, and power steering. That’s pretty much it. Power comes from a 283 two-barrel V-8 with 195 horsepower.
The ’67 is a pretty sleek automobile, a natural evolution of the ’65-’66 models. Considered slightly over-styled by some, the front and rear fenders have an arch to them that was probably influenced by the ’63-67 Corvette. As was the style in the mid-to-late ’60s, the two-door hardtop wears a stylish fastback roof. The trunk is enormous and the engine bay looks like it could hold another motor.
As I open the door, you can’t miss that distinctive GM interior scent. It’s faint, but it’s still there. Sliding behind the wheel, I’m instantly transported back to my youth, a simpler time for sure. The three-spoke steering wheel is a bit of a sporty touch, as are the three large round dials in front of the driver (l-r: fuel gauge, speedometer, clock). There’s no question that these fullsize Chevys could accommodate a family of six. There’s definitely room for three across seating—in comfort. The only quirk is rear seat legroom. It’s hard to fathom that a vehicle this long could have enough legroom for someone perhaps 5-foot, 7-inches tall, maybe 5-8. I guess if your children were older, you could opt for the four-door and get more space back there.
I pump the gas once, turn the key, and the 283 instantly fires and holds a high idle. Yes, the choke works just fine. Once there’s a little heat in the engine, I kicked the throttle and drop the idle down. Credit Larry Galyean, the Car Collection Coordinator at NPD. He has this car (and all the others) running like it was built last week.
I put the ’glide in reverse, back it out of its space in the warehouse, then pull it into Drive and head out. At first the old bias plies are little flat on one side from sitting. They make themselves known in the cockpit, but after a mile or so, they warm up and return to normal. To use a cliché, it runs like a champ. It’s no speedster, but the 283 pulls strong and true to freeway speeds. There’s no hesitation whatsoever. With the numerically-low rear gearing, you could cruise this car on today’s highways at 75 mph without putting a strain on the 283.
The bias plies make their presence known again in corners. They are just overmatched by the weight of the vehicle and their antique design. Even a simple right turn at speeds under 20 mph and you can feel (and hear) them straining. The steering, on the other hand, is a delightful combination of lightness at low speeds, with a bit of feedback at road speeds. While it’s not sports car tight or firm like a new car, it’s not one-finger light, like an old Mopar. It’s just right.
After a few minutes you can understand why Chevy used to sell its fullsize automobiles by well over a million units a year. They did everything in their mission statement well. While Impalas typically lacked the extravagant accouterments you’d find in a Buick or Cadillac, they delivered a ride that was supremely comfortable, with mass, style, and reliability you’d expect in a far more expensive car. They delivered unsurpassed value in the segment, which is most likely why the Chevy faithful bought one after the other for decades. I can imagine the original owner of this Impala leaving the dealership, his chest swelled with pride. He probably couldn’t wait to show it off to his friends and family. I felt proud just sitting in it at a traffic light.
“It’s just incredible to drive,” noted owner Rick Schmidt. “Everything operates just like it should. It’s a time capsule. I get a lot of joy having it like it was as a new car.”
Back inside the dealership, you ask Bill where all the SS Camaros are. “Sold out. Every SS350 goes out of here as soon as it comes in,” he replies. “The good news is I’m taking orders now on the hottest one yet—there’s a SS396 available now with up to 375-horsepower.
That gets your attention. You’d read about it in Cars, one of the East Coast magazines. The prospect of a 375-horse Camaro with those fancy hideaway headlights has your pulse racing. Add a four-speed and 3.73 gears and you can be the king of the drive-in. There’s a base V-8 Camaro Sport Coupe outside that you can drive. That’s what you do. You’ve not been in one of these new Camaros yet, but if you like it, maybe there’s enough life left in Gramp’s old Bel Air that you can order one and wait for it to arrive. As you walk outside, you go past a Camaro with stripes, but it’s only got a 302 under the hood. Pass-a-dena. Must be something for chicks, you think to yourself.