With the new G8 and GTO reminding people that big cars can still be big fun, we thought it was important to step back and remember where the big car craze started; the '95-96 Impala SS.
For many people these are one of the most beloved land yachts of all time. This particular Impala SS belongs to Rob Fisher, the Editor of Circle Track magazine, who purchased the car brand new. Over the years, it has seen every possible driving and weather scenario, spending most of its life as a daily driver in the northeast. Needless to say, time has taken its toll on the suspension, but the car still handled surprisingly well.
Before we made any changes, we decided to head up to Gainesville Raceway and make some laps on its 200-foot skidpad to get a good average lateral g number. Rob Fisher had already replaced the front sway bar endlinks with a polyurethane set (due to the stock ones failing) and had replaced the factory tires with a set of 255/50/17 Nitto NT450 tires. Making three laps in either direction, we obtained .81 g's (using our in-house G-TECH), a very respectable number for such a large car. We did notice a large amount of body roll, which is to be expected with the stock sway bars.
With the stock number in hand, we turned to Matt LaRue of ProFab Performance in Thonotosassa, Florida, to set us up with a much more performance-oriented suspension. Before arriving, we made a few calls to our friends at BMR Fabrication and Summit Racing, who both hooked us up with a slew of new parts. BMR sent us a pair of matching front and rear sway bars, along with its extended upper and lower rear control arms, which not only center the wheel in the well, but also provide much less flex in the rear components. Summit Racing sent over four Bilstein shocks, which this Impala badly needed, and boxes full of frontend rebuild parts including all new upper and lower ball joints and new tie rods.
Heading back to Gainesville, we showed an improvement, now recording.91 g's (though with a different testing method), which was apparent well before we began testing. According to Rob Fisher, "There is a definite difference when getting on the gas. The stock sway bar couldn't handle the hefty torque this car had and I could always feel the car wanting to fishtail if I got a little too confident with my right foot. If I didn't hold the wheel perfectly straight I could get the back end to come out from underneath me. That feeling is gone now. Under hard acceleration the rear stays firmly planted and I get great bite from a dead stop. However, the most noticeable change is when cornering hard. Significant body roll is an understatement when pitching 5,000 pounds of Chevy iron around a corner at speed. The car used to be spongy and if I went too fast I'd feel completely out of control. It's a totally different story now. There is next to zero body roll and I can take 90-degree turns at more than 45 mph with barely a squeal of the tires. Plus the car stays incredibly level. I even left a cup of coffee on the dash, took a corner hard and didn't spill a drop. Nimble and crisp would be the perfect words to describe the handling now. The upgrades have taken all of the drama out of driving this car at the limit." Follow along with Matt LaRue at ProFab as he installs our new suspension parts and shows us some tricks along the way.