By on January 29, 2010

I wasn’t going to do this car today. But venting my spleen on yesterday’s 1971 Ford Galaxie 500 and all the discussion it prompted forces the issue: what was the best of the big popular-priced big cars of the era? Having handily eliminated the Ford from the running leaves a tough choice: The Plymouth Fury/Dodge Polara, or the Chevy Impala. Now I have a pretty major soft spot for the big Mopars of the era, and I wrote quite the paean to a ’69 Fury here. But that memorable ride was colored by the circumstances of the day. Truth be told, both the big GM and Mopars had it all over the Fords, but there were a few crucial differences between the two; one in particular.

I had three driving experiences with 1970 Chevys, each quite different, yet they were all in four-door sedans. Well, those were the driving ones. There was another, as a worshiper and passenger, and we might as well get that out of the way first. In the fall of 1969 at Towson Senior High, a brand new dark green ’70 Impala convertible with a white top and interior, sporting Rally wheels and the numbers 454 on the front fender appeared on the parking lot, daily. Who the hell would buy their kid that; I thought to myself as I walked to school each morning. Life is truly cruel.

Even more so, when I saw who the driver was: an Italian-American…well, I can’t quite summon up the word “girl” to describe her, because she looked/seemed at least twice as old as my pathetic late-blooming self. Very much a Linda Vaughn “Miss Hurst” type, but her bee-hive was (still) black. Not my cup of tea, and I wouldn’t have had the guts to get within ten feet of her. Daddy bought the Impala for her; he was probably in the sanitation business.

But one day a couple of us juniors were hooking classes at mid-day and walking out the parking lot, and there she comes, off to her afternoon job (she was in some marketing program that let her do that). We stuck out our thumbs, and against all hope and odds she stopped. Of course we goaded her to floor it, and sure enough, she obliged us with a fairly short but highly memorable blast. She might as well have been opening her most intimate orifices to us as the giant secondary venturies on the Quadrajet  carb kicked in and sucked the fresh spring air. It was probably the lo-po 365 hp version, but who cared? I should never have told this impressionable preamble, because now you’re convinced I’m lacking any impartiality (or taste).

In that summer of 1970, I finally became a legal driver after almost three years of illicit preparation. I made up some BS story to the driver’s ed teacher that I had lived in Iowa and had legally driven there. So he skipped the parking lot preliminaries with me, and told me to just get in and drive out to Loch Raven Reservoir and back. A brand-new 1970 Impala sedan beckoned, and off we went. And almost immediately, I discovered the main reason why this is a better car than the Chrysler products: the steering.

I had never driven a big American car with power steering like this. The Saginaw unit had a variable ratio, was surprisingly accurate, with a modicum of actual feedback. Who knew that existed? Not this seventeen-year old. And GM’s suspension guys were a little less sleepy than the competition too. Yes, the Mopars might have been a tad more buttoned down, which in some circumstance gave it an edge, perhaps, in cornering. But lets not forget, the mission of these cars was maximum comfort, quiet and refinement. And in that equation, the Chevy had them beat.

It didn’t end with a leisurely but impressionable cruise around Loch Raven, though. That very summer I started hanging out with a girl in my neighborhood whose parents had just bought the same spec Impala sedan, with the standard 350 V8 and Turbo-Hydramatic. We drove it out to go skinny-dipping in the Gunpowder many a hot night. And I was driving big Fords during the day at work. I was conducting the most prolonged comparison test in history.

Lets start with the basic structure: the 1970 was the last year of the perimeter-framed generation that started in 1965. By 1970, it benefited from what any car (usually) does after having been made for six years: build quality was the best. The Ford was a distant third, and the new fuselage Mopars felt a little short on development time, at least the first year ’69 I drove. The Chevy was impeccably quiet, refined and smooth. It’s engine started and ran smoother than the other two too. Chryslers, like our own ’65 Coronet, were notorious stallers and ran rough in rainy weather until electronic ignition came along. The Fords didn’t start as effortlessly. GM’s Rochester carbs seemed to be better sorted out.

Chevy small blocks were always velvety runners, the 327 being a real gem. The 350, with its longer stroke, couldn’t quite equal it, but its extra torque was welcome. The level of standard V8 power, with 250 hp, was a substantial improvement over the 283 that had to huff and puff through the Powerslide just a few years earlier. The Turbo-Hydramatic was undoubtedly the best autobox in the world at the time terms of smoothness. Here’s the deal: in 1970, the standard engine/automatic combo of this plain-Jane pedestrian sedan was a good as any in the world in terms of its mission.  You’d have to go to a Mercedes 6.3 for competition, and its transmission was a lot harsher. Never mind its price.

And by 1970, the Chevy finally had decent sized 15″ wheels and tires, compared the absurd little 14″ donuts they were putting on these cars a few years earlier. And disc brakes! The improvement from 1964 to 1970 was pretty remarkable, and made 1970 was a high water mark for the big American sedan, for at least another seven years anyway. The 1971 big GM cars had a shocking drop in quality of build and materials, and were drastically bigger and less efficient. A giant step backwards from the comfortable but fairly-reasonable sized 1970s.

Yes, the 1970 Chevy was the pinnacle of its genre. It was supremely refined, quiet, reasonably well built, comfortable, and if ordered with the available HD suspension, was a decent handling and steering car considering its size. Mopar steering was utterly devoid of any feel or sensation, and the Torque-Flite was rugged and efficient, but didn’t shift as smoothly. And as hard-charging as the 383 and 440 were, they still couldn’t hold a candle to the Chevy rat motors.

I almost forgot; my third and very much final ’70 Chevy sedan experience. It was mostly the polar opposite of the others so far, but it still earned my grudging respect. In 1976, I got a job with Yellow Cab of San Diego driving a taxi (obviously). As the newest driver, I got the oldest car: a totally clapped out ’70 Chevy with probably well over a half-million miles on it. And it was the beneficiary of GM’s willingness to accommodate any wish of its fleet buyers: it had a tired 250 CI six backed up by the ancient two-speed Powerglide, manual (!) steering, and un-assisted drum brakes. 1950 technology was just an RPO away.

I drove this poor thing mercilessly, tearing up and down I-5 at eighty-five, and ripping through San Diego’s endless canyons with the tires howling. Speaking of which, these were tires unlike any I’d ever seen before or again: special taxi-cab rubber that was unusually wide, like a wide-oval, but the tread was totally smooth except a series of straight cuts, that would be re-cut when the “tread” got low. It looked exactly like the F1 tires now in use. Bizarre.

One day, after weeks of the most extreme abuse, I was leaving the garage and stopped a tad harder than average for a light, at about 25 mph. The left front wheel sheared off, thanks to a ball joint that gave out then instead of the un-guard-railed  canyon curve I had been screeching down the day before. It was like a racehorse stumbling out of the gate, and it had to be put down. They gave me a 1971 fat-boy, still with a six and Powerglide, but Chevy finally put a stop to the manual steering for 1971. But I hated it compared to the ’70; the body was a bucket of clattering junk, and the rear seat bottom cushion wasn’t even attached anymore. The ’70 felt lithe and lively compared to this heap of jello, even with a six and biceps-building steering.

What a beginning and end to my ’70 Chevy rides, from that lust-object 454 convertible to that tired smoking taxi. They’re not exactly what I day-dream about these days, but if I could have a time warp shopping spree of  any big sedan from that era, it would be a black ’70 Impala four door, with the 454, HD suspension, Rally wheels…a lot like the one in the picture here. Sorry, Mopar fans, but those wide hips don’t quite cut it compared to a mean, lean, clean-steering Chevy.

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94 Comments on “Curbside Classic: The Best Big Car Of Its Time: 1970 Chevrolet Impala...”


  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Ahh, fleet CPO’s…

    I believe that, through 1972, Chevrolet still offered the super-strippo Biscayne model at the bottom of the line. Even if not, the Bel Air was the fleet step-down from Impala, which was lower than Caprice.

    Not only that, but if a Fleet Buyer was *really* cheap, he could order the Stovebolt I-6 complete with three-on-the-tree!

    My dad was a Fleet Buyer, for a sales staff of several hundred. He was nice, though. His sales reps got V-8 and Turbohydramatic.

    He leased ‘em, which was probably why. The sweet kickback on a 200+ car lease deal? We always had a brand new Cadillac in the driveway, gratis ;)

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Ayup. My mom had a friend who had a ’72 Bel Air with three on the tree. I thought it still had manual steering too but I could be wrong about that. I remember back then Consumer Reports always suggested to go the dealer and start with the base Biscayne and only order the specific options you wanted.

    • 0 avatar
      potter660

      Actually, Consumer Reports in 1971 recommended that the long-term buyer looking for basic transportation at low cost consider a Biscayne or Bel Air over an Impala, but cautioned on the lack of amenities such as sound deadener, cushioned seats and an Early Depression interior. For most buyers, particularly those who trade cars often or want the comforts, they recommended the Impala with the standard 350 V8, Turbo Hydramatic, power steering, radio, A/C and vinyl roof (power front disc brakes were standard on all 71 big Chevys). And they said basically the same thing for 1972.
      During this period, Consumer Reports noted that full-sized Chevys had a worse-than-average repair record as they had each year since 1965.
      However, they also considered the Ford Galaxie a good buy with 351 V8, Cruise-O-Matic, power steering and power front disc brakes. The big Fords had an average repair record at that time.
       
      As usual at the time, they gave the Plymouth Fury a lower grade due to higher noise levels, lousy build quality and a much-worse-than-average repair record.

    • 0 avatar
      RAJ72

      I bought my 1970 Impala sport coupe as a poor teenager in 1990 with only $750.00 to spare (worked part time at a golf course for $4.50 an hour minimum wage). Before hand,I always had admiration for the 1970 Impala due to my Uncle (in my avatar) owned fathom blue sedan back in ’71 to ’79 in Los Angeles. Funny, that my parents owned a 1965 Mustang and 1969 Mustang Mach 1 new as well as a 1970 Chevelle (all my moms cars,my dad drove Gran Torinos and Galaxies). I never cared about those cars, just an admiration for the big Chevy’s when they were everywhere (shows how old I am now). Amazingly, I still own my ’70 Impala to this day, drove her through college and never let me down (except for a timing chain letting go at 240K in the parking lot). Had it restored, and now hardly driven,parked next to the 2002 BMW 3-series in my garage (the odd couple)

      photos:
      http://i891.photobucket.com/albums/ac115/FUREDDY70/FULLSIZER/70impala-12Small.jpg
      http://i891.photobucket.com/albums/ac115/FUREDDY70/FULLSIZER/70engine.jpg
      http://i891.photobucket.com/albums/ac115/FUREDDY70/FULLSIZER/70impala-05Small.jpg

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    I’ll go ahead and disagree. My favorite large car of that era was the Mercury Marquis. We had one for several years and did some serious cross continent cruising. Nary a problem was seen.

    http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.mercuryarchive.com/1969to1972/1970Marquis.JPG&imgrefurl=http://www.mercuryarchive.com/1969to1972/&usg=__sOkIrC9l_BoQ6Fhqmk4DaCRye-8=&h=222&w=427&sz=27&hl=en&start=5&tbnid=XjFmtqD-RUHcOM:&tbnh=66&tbnw=126&prev=/images%3Fq%3D1970%2BMercury%2BMarquis%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den

  • avatar
    skor

    AHHHHHHH!!! PUKE GREEN! PUKE GREEN!

  • avatar
    geeber

    Okay, I’m convinced! You’ve made the case for that generation of Chevrolet as the best big American car.

    My uncle had a 1970 Caprice four-door hardtop in the color combination of the hardtop coupe. It was a very plush car for the price.

    My parents had a 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air wagon – the first year of this generation. Let’s just say that it didn’t uphold Chevrolet’s reputation for quality very well. Their next car was a used 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 Holiday sedan, and it seemed to be a HUGE leap in quality and refinement (not to mention reliability) over the 1965 Chevrolet. I guess GM had a lot of bugs to work out of its all-new 1965 full-size cars. The 1965 Chevrolet is a very handsome car – one of the best-looking cars of the 1960s, especially in two-door hardtop form.

    GM’s 1971 full-size cars were definite step backward from the refined 1970s – I always thought it was most evident in the Cadillacs of that year.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      The 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont was also known as the Submarine Kennedy, in honor of it’s famous(infamous) captain, Ted Kennedy.

    • 0 avatar
      amca

      Submarine Kennedy, commanded by Admiral Oldsmobile!

    • 0 avatar
      potter660

      The ’71 Impalas and Caprices had instrument panels that would crack after just a few years, particularly one crack that was often a “running joke” as the General Motors “Mark of Excellence.”
      They were to some degree cheapened in some ways as the chromed pedal trim was no longer found in Caprices or certain Impala models such as the Sport Sedan, Custom Coupe and convertible; and black steering wheels and steering columns were found in all 71-72 models while all cars of other GM divisions had color-keyed wheels and columns as did all the big Fords and Plymouths from the Custom to LTD Brougham in Dearborn and the Fury I to the Gran Sedan from Highland Park. Caprices did get color-keyed steering wheels and columns starting in 1973 and Impalas did in 1974.
      Also, the ’71 Caprice upholstery though nice for a Chevrolet just didn’t look as good as the ’70 trims. Impala interiors for ’71 were also somewhat lower in quality than their ’70 counterparts though the all-vinyl trims were now perforated but reportedly not that durable.
      Of course the engines of ’71 and later models were considerably detuned compared to ’70 and earlier due to emission controls and the GM edict for ’71 to run on low-octane gasolines in preparation for ’75s catalytic converters and “unleaded fuel only” requirements.
      The ’70 models were much better than the 65-69s due to only minor facelifting and no design changes, the introduction of the new motor mounts that were far sturdier than previous years (and not affected by the big recall). The engine lineup was probably the best to date as the old Stovebolt six was now limited to low-line Bel Air and Biscayne sedans, and the Impala sedan and Sport Coupe; while the base V8 for all was the 250-horsepower 350 2-barrel and optional motors included the 300-horse 350 4-bbl, 265-horse 400 2-bbl and two versions of the 454 4-bbl rated at 345 and 390 horses (the latter was basically the LS-5 option from the Chevelle SS and Monte Carlo SS that was rated at 360 horses in the mid-sized cars).
      In 1970, Consumer Reports tested a loaded Impala 4-door sedan with the 345-horse 454, Turbo 400, power steering, power front disc brakes, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, cruise control and heavy-duty suspension. This was a break from normal practice of ordering cars with standard V8s and basic options. The other ’70 big cars they ordered and tested included a Pontiac Catalina with the 455, Ford Galaxie 500 with a 429 and a Plymouth Fury III with the 440 Magnum.
      About the Impala, the magazine reported that the cruise control button on the turn-signal switch was not marked, the AM/FM stereo really wasn’t such due to speaker position and noted the windshield antenna’s lousy reception. In the end Consumer Reports recommended the typical buyer order his Impala with the optional 400 2-bbl regular-fuel engine (citing that the 400 had better performance and gas mileage than the standard 350 2-bbl), Turbo Hydramatic, power steering, power front disc brakes, and stick with the standard suspension and AM radio.
      Overall, Consumer Reports in its 1970 big-car test recommended the Ford Galaxie over the Impala, Catalina and Fury, citing better quality than the Plymouth and Chevy, more comfortable seats than the Pontiac, and a much better repair record than Chevy and Plymouth.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    This is one of about a dozen cars I’d love to have sitting in the backyard under a full custom car cover waiting for a sunny Saturday to beckon. Love the green one with dual exhausts, I think dual exhausts ought to be legally mandated for any vehicle with a V or flat configuration.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Holy Crap, I just remembered that my grandparents were driving a green 1970 Impala sedan when they ran over my dog on my 4th birthday in 1982, and I still love these cars! It looked almost exactly like this http://www.automotivehistoryonline.com/1970%20Chevrolet%20Impala%204%20dr.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Holy crap, you were thinking about this car/CC for 3 hours between postings!

      Hope the dog wasn’t the birthday present! Else it would bring a whole new meaning to:

      “Cruel to be kind,
      in the right fashion,
      cruel to be kind,
      it’s a very good sign,
      cruel to be kind,
      means that I love you,
      baby… – Happy Birthday Danny -
      you’ve got to be cruel,
      you’ve got to be cruel,
      to be kind!”

      BTW, I always thought the side marker lights were very well done on these cars … integrated into the FF steel bumper, with the same theme on the RR 1/4, although that was often a source of corrosion where it should not have been, namely where the bezel for the RR side marker nicked or rubbed thru the paint on the sheet metal and started rust …

  • avatar
    Syke

    In my family it was mom’s ’70 Caprice wagon, in all it’s wood paneled glory. Dad had been out of the car business five years at this point, but was still a Chevrolet loyalist – with good reason. We kept that Chevy for eight years (an insane amount of time, given dad was of the every-three-years-new type of customer) doing all sorts of hauling with it. Next to dad’s silver-blue ’65 Impala SS two door hardtop, this is the family Chevy I remember the best. And they’re all good memories.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      My uncle sold residental real-estate in Los Angeles (realator to the stars kind of thing), and always had a Cadillac for himself and a full-size Chevy for his wife.

      Although she preceded him in death by quite a margin, but he didn’t sell her last car until shortly before he died in 1985, the same kind of sky-blue Impalla-SS you mention. It was 20 years old and cherry.

      He told me that when he took it out, all the hispanic guys would show up with a fistfull of cash and try to buy it … for a low-rider makeover. So much unwanted attention made him nervous so he finally sold it. (I think he had been planning to give it to me, but just shortly before I had bought a low-miles ’69 XR7, and I think he thought I didn’t need two new timer at such a young age.)

      I’d bet this car is still loved and cruising in the bario somewhere doing a hydraulically-assisted hipity-hop dance!

  • avatar
    threeer

    ahhh…memories! My aunt and uncle had an Impala that looked very similar (though it was the brown/bronze metallic with matching brown interior). They kept that car well into it’s teens (I think they finally gave it up after something like 13 years)…and even though we bought a new 1976 Mercury Montego (back then, we had either a Mercury for my mother, or an Opel for my father…we stayed in Germany for a very, very long time!) which was by then at least a good six to seven years newer than the Impala, the Impala always came across as the more graceful, powerful and desireable of the two. And now almost all of the family owns either Toyota or Honda…kind of a shame…

  • avatar
    Verbal

    I had a near-death experience in one back in the early 80′s. A bunch of us were riding home from a movie in my girl friend’s brother’s ’70 Caprice. Coming off the freeway, the light at the end of the ramp was green, but he slowed to a stop. Suddenly out of nowhere, a car comes screaming through the intersection across our path, right through its red light. The Caprice driver later said that he saw he had a green light, and he had no idea why he felt he needed to stop for it. The hand of God guides all things bowtie….

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      This reminds me of two “Chevy Sits at the Right Hand of God” crash-stories… related to full-size Chevys:

      1. My father and a colleague were making a local business trip, in this year Chevy … crossing the intersection of Orchard Lake Road and 12 Mile Roads (then, as now, a very busy and “most dangerous in S.E.Michigan type intersection) they were T-boned (I think the other car ran the light) on dad’s (the passenger) side of the car.

      Dad came home that night with 2 broken ribs, a breast pocket full of safety glass, and a story of how the driver, who was not wearing his safety belts (in those days, lap and shoulder belts were separate) and ended-up nearly in dad’s lap.

      2. Three years later, mom and dad are out of town, big sis (a newly-minted legal driver) is in charge, and decides to meet her boyfriend, so we all pile into mom’s 400 Kingswood wagon (brown on brown) and head off.

      Me as the only 11 year old with a safety fetish, takes the FR seat with the shoulder strap (was fascinated with the detachable clip between the lap and shoulder-belt buckles – which I later made detachable by putting a small washer into the assy to prevent disassembly), then makes a big stink about everyone wearing their belts (threatening to jump out at the stop sign if they don’t comply, so they buckle-up to shut me up)…

      10 minutes later, cruising N on Orchard Lake Rd. just above 12 Mile Rd. (the famous crash intersection of my dad), near the then-legal 50mph (within 5 years after this, this road was widened to 5-lanes concrete, but was then a terribly congested 2-lane black top with frequent stops and back-ups) sometime around rush hour, my sister gets distracted and plows into the back of a Pinto sitting at the end of a stopped lane of traffic (I remember this because her boyfriend had a similar Pinto, and for a moment, we thought it may have been his car) …

      I don’t remember much after that, except there was no fire or explosion, the cars were badly damaged (the Chevy limped to the side of the road gushing vital fluids) the Pinto was like an accordion in back … Cops said if we hadn’t been wearing the belts we would have been thru the windshield.

      I had always had a grudge against that car (despite it being pretty cool, not quite as cool as our neighbors 455 Grand Safari) because it replaced my darling 1969 Country Squire … but that car earned my love and respect, and after that, the Chevy logo reminded me less of a fuddy-duddy bow-tie and much more of a cross of gold.

      Thanks for another memory-provoking write-up Paul; you’re the greatest!

  • avatar

    The parallels between the Impala and Toyota Camry are striking. The Impala was the world’s best-selling automobile at that time because it was a middle-of-the-road car that was perceived as having high quality (even though its build quality was actually declining throughout the late sixties) and attendant high resale value. At the same time, though, Chevrolet was decontenting and cutting corners, because its profit margins were not where GM though they should be.

    Those who fail to learn the lessons of history, etc., etc.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Compare the getting-down-to-business grill on this beauty to the plastichrome joke on the 79 Malibu you featured a couple days ago. What happened, Chevy? Can’t lay all the blame on 5 MPH bumpers.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    Another high school memory. A friend had one of these exactly like the green one. One Friday night driving through a shopping mall parking lot he spots a lone shopping cart and decides to ram it. Hitting the gas he probably made about 45-50 mph on impact. That shopping cart split the front end of that car wide open all the way to the radiator. Cart went flying about 100ft. Boy was he in trouble

  • avatar
    50merc

    Great article, Paul, and spot-on regarding the virtues and vices of that era’s big Chevy. My mother-in-law bought a ’69 Impala two door hardtop. Shortly afterward, when she opened the door it fell on the ground. I bought a ’68 Impala sedan and specified the then-uncommon Turbo Hydra-Matic and 15″ wheels. Within a few months it was back at the dealership several times to fix under warranty significant flaws, such as flaking paint. On one visit they reported they’d found the spare was a 14″ and replaced it. Apparently the guy at the factory who put in spare tires didn’t get the memo. I suppose the next year he was switched to tightening door bolts.

    But yes, they looked sharp inside and out and were fine cruisers.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I don’t doubt that it happened, but it is a bit of an outlier because those bolts are long and are many (about 8 per door, 4 per hinge, and 2 per joint.)

      My guess is that the factory forgot the 2nd bolt in 1 of the 4 joints, and the singular bolt in this joint either a) fatigue-failed, or b) exceeded its tensile limit due to the opening inertia of the door, and when this happened, the remaining inertia and dead-weight now subject to gravity peelded the door off the car by failing one of the joints on the other hinge pair (or twisting the other hinge something nasty.)

      It also can’t be ignored that the bolts may have been properly installed but comprimised due to over-torquing in the plant (tool out of calibration and the bolt’s elastic limit exceeded and ripe for tensile failure), or the metallurgical chemistry or heat-treating had been botched (ripe for brittle failure). In this case, the poor Body-by-Fisher UAW guy, in those bad old days, would have done his job right, but the some other part of the system had let him down (I added this on edit to be fair to Mikey and his bretheren.)

  • avatar
    mpresley

    She might as well have been opening her most intimate orifices to us as the giant secondary venturies on the Quadrajet carb kicked in and sucked the fresh spring air.

    Look, Paul, anyone can have a bad day at the races, but think about the rest of us. Somedays the poetry’s just not there, that’s why it’s important to think twice before you hit “send.” Are you trying to channel Ed Wood?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Yes! And John Waters even more. I love schlock, and I’m working so hard to get better at it.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Are you kidding? That’s great car-guy porn. I once wrote an entire descriptive short story around my father working on the electrical system of his 1967 Mustang. The English teacher said it was my best work all year!

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      Too bad Legosi’s not around to do a few reviews. Just don’t pull a Glen or Glenda on us. Unless your’re rating one of these:

      http://www.cartalk.com/content/features/Gay-Lesbian/gay-guy1.html

      God. I drive VW. Maybe it’s time to think about an old Chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Paulus the Great: “Yes! And John Waters even more. I love schlock, and I’m working so hard to get better at it.”

      I suggest you give Max Bob a ring … he’s the King of Schlock…

  • avatar
    twotone

    There was no “best” American car in the 1970′s — only “least crappy”.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    The name “Impala” turns my wife’s stomach to this day. Bad memories of the floaty ride of her dad’s 1970 2-door. On the other hand, I have good memories of riding in our 1973 black on black Country Squire 400ci (aside from the A/C not blowing hard enough to reach “the way back”).

  • avatar
    AJ

    My parents bought a brand new two-door ’72 Impala when I was a kid. It was a nice, big car. We even road around in the back seat without seat belts on… Oh save the children! I remember the backseat was like a cave.

    They sold it long before I was of driving age. I don’t recall that dad ever had any problems with it? I have always wondered how it drove, so thanks for the article!

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    C’mon, Paul – No Fair! Of course a 71 LTD loses to a 70 Impala. If we compare apples to apples and stick to the 71s, it has to be Fury/Polara all the way. By 71, both the Ford and Chevy were overweight jelly-bodied cars made with really cheap components. Chevy even made all the steering wheels and instrument panels black, no matter what color your interior. All those cheap hard plastics we complain about today? Check out the GM inner door panels from 71-76. The Fury/Polara was at least a tight, solid structure that was fairly rust resistant for the day. What you say about the wet weather running was true, and they were not the smoothest/quietest in the world, but they were durable. And some of us happen to like the full time power steering.

    That said, if the goal was a smooth, quiet, reliable big car as seen in 1970, I gotta go with the LTD. The 69-70 big Ford was MILES ahead of the juddering 71. (OK, the 69-70 was a big ruster too, but nobody knew that in 1970). My dad had a 69 LTD, and I later drove one. The 69-70 was every bit as tight as the 71 was loose. The 390 and CruiseOMatic was an extremely pleasant combination, gobs of torque and excellent gas mileage if you kept your foot out of the carb.

    I will grant you that the Saginaw power steering was probably the best unit at the time. However, my grandma had a 69 Catalina that was, for all intents and purposes, identical to the Impala. I never thought the Catalina felt as quiet or as solid as the Ford, and it had a noticibly cheaper feel.

    If we have a 3 way 1970, it goes like this. For reliability, great steering feel, good looks and general social acceptibility, the Impala wins hands down.
    For a quiet, smooth ride, maximum torque and a solid feeling body (and looks every bit as good as the Chevy), its the LTD, so long as you didn’t live in salt country or weren’t going to keep the car over 3 years.
    For longevity, sweetest engine/transmissions in the business, and the best handling, its the Mopar, so long as you could deal with wet weather stalling, wild swings in build quality, and sub-par interior materials and looks that only a mother could love.

    In my own family back then, all the moms, aunts and grandmas would pick the Impala. Dad picked the LTD, and I would have bought the Mopar (if I had been older than 11 or if I ever perfect that time machine).

    Though we disagree on this, I thoroughly enjoyed your recollections.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Although I’m not a GM fan, I have to agree with the article. And that’s a beautiful example in the pictures.

  • avatar
    ccttac

    My cousin got a new yellow 70 Impala convertible – 350 engine – not sure which automatic transmission. Car was and is wonderful. He still has it and keeps it in very good condition. This brings back a lot of memories which we sure won’t put in writing!!

    Keep the CCs coming. I really enjoy them.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I’d like to hear more about those special taxi-tires. Sounds interesting…

  • avatar
    Monty

    Oh yeah. I had a ’70 Caprice coupe, 400 with the turbo hydramatic, blue with the white vinyl top, and cloth upholstery. One of the best cars I ever owned built during the 50′s through mid 80′s period. I once crossed half of the Canadian prairies in that car, at an average speed of 110 mph, in about 7 hours (I was a dumb teenager), and it barely broke a sweat. I would take that car over any other NA car of the same era, including my favourites Buick and Pontiac.

    I always will have a soft spot for the Caprice notch style passenger window, and the inward creased rear window. Friggen’ beautiful car.

    Every now and then, you recollect a car which proves, one in a while, that GM could do it better than any other company. This car is one of those times.

  • avatar
    jplane

    This was my first car, albeit in 1981. I paid $250 for it. Every single fender had a dent in it. it was trashed inside and out. But the engine and transmission ran perfect – 350 with 300hp. The steering on it was really awesome. It really is a fun driving car. The 10 mpg, not so much.

    But at 6’6″, this car really fit me well. I love the writeup you can find on the web where the guy climbs into the trunk to get the spare.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Back in the late ’70s I learned to drive in my family’s ’69 Townsman (the station wagon version of the lower-priced BelAir) equipped with the 350 cubic inch V-8 and the 4-barrel carburetor that generated 300 horsepower, the 3-speed turbo-hydramatic transmission, and a posi-traction rear differential.

    The car was indeed reasonably fast in a straight line and the turbo-hydramatic transmission was absolutely the smoothest-shifting automatic I’ve ever experienced. The car pretty much got a steady 18 mpg in highway driving in those bad old 55-mph national speed limit days.

    The posi-traction rear end was absolutely amazing and really made a difference when driving in show. We put studded snow tires on the car and it absolutely never got stuck. When I was college freshman I had to drive the car to a school located on top of a hill. I remember regularly passing a whole bunch of Arab exchange students driving Trans Ams and Z-28s who always got stuck at the bottom of the hill. The positraction in subsequent GM cars that our family owned was never as good as that in the ’69.

    On the other hand, the standard suspension was awfully mushy and the car would become floaty just driving down the Interstate at 70 mph. It exhibited lots of body-roll when turning.

    The rear seat was horribly unsupportive and uncomfortable because you sunk below where the lumbar support was. The doors did not seal particularly well and a lot of wind noise and dust entered the passenger compartment.

    The quality of paint application was horrendously bad with an awful lot of orange peel on the door wells and under the hood. Our car was the exact same shade of light green metallic as the car in the picture, and for some reason the paint on the car’s hood oxidized prematurely and then flaked-off leaving patches of matte gray and orangey primer.

    The front windshield constantly leaked around the edges and the vinyl seat cover on the lower front seat cushion was replaced 3 times under warranty because it kept ripping on the seam in the exact same place. (Of course that might have something to do with my 6′ 6″ tall father who weighed around 240 pounds.) When the warranty expired after the car was a year old, we gave up and tolerated the torn seat cover.

    It’s just that we didn’t have these same problems with our ’64 BelAir Station Wagon.

    And of course the car was subjected to what was then one of the largest of all recalls up to that point in time. Ever ready to save a buck, GM had been using the same motor mounts in the full-sized Chevys since 1959. Although they worked great on the 283 V-8-equipped model in 1959, they didn’t work so well with the heavier, larger-displacement and more accessorized engines of the late 60s. When we took our car back it was determined that one of the motor mounts was in fact broken and that if the other one were to break the engine could drop out of the car. So GM replaced the standard motor mounts with larger and stronger ones.

    The 1970 Chevies were merely face-lifted versions of the ’69s, and arguably disappointing because GM was starting to cut back on the number of variations offered. Notably, the “Super Sport” option on 2-door Impalas was no longer offered after the 1969 model year. The 2-door sedan bodystyle offered on Biscaynes and BelAirs was no longer offered after the 1969 model year. And of course, the wonderful concealed headlamps that came standard on the Caprice and Kingswood Estate were no longer offered after the 1969 model year.

    Our ’69 ran and ran and the only real reliability issue was that we had to rebuild the carburetor every 100,000 miles or so to replace the plastic floats which became saturated gasoline and then no longer functioned properly. (The carburetor on our ’64 Chevy supposedly had brass floats and did have this problem.) When we finally sold the ’69, it had 265,000 miles on it and the timing chain was rattling and loose. But it was still running.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Funny you should mention the engine mounts — that was actually the cause of one of the first, maybe THE first, widespread unintended acceleration scares. When one of the mounts gave up the ghost, engine movement could cause the throttle linkage to bind.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Mom’s ’72 Kingswood also had a mount failure … my buddy and I diagnosed this by opening the hood, putting the car in drive and doing a light-brake torque … the engine practically lept out of the engine bay, the fan hit the safety shroud (fortunately it had one of those viscous clutch assys, so it didn’t destroy either), and I think the other mount failed just as the engine was constrained by the transmission tailpiece hitting the floorboard (thinking back, I wonder why the cooling and fuel lines as well as the electrical connectons weren’t damaged, but this profound leap was how it seemed at the time) … we just about schmidt our pants from the experience, and dad took the car to the Chevy dealer and had new mounts installed… buddy and I repeated the test afterward, and the engine only mild rolled in its new solid mounts…

      Years later, my buddy and I both automotive mech. eng. grads, used to laugh, that if Chevy had just made the clearance between the inside of the hood and the air cleaner lid smaller, no one would have ever discoverd this problem.

      BTW, I don’t think failed mounts actually allow the engine to fall out of the car because the engine is not suspenced, rather it lays on the mount which lays on the frame … mounts keep it positioned front-back, somewhat side to side, and from leaping up out of the engine bay to frighten 13y/o gearheads…

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Whenever I see a green ’70 2-door hardtop like the one in the first photos, I think ‘serial-killer car’ since ‘Henry’ (Michael Rooker) drove a virtually identical one (well, in much worse shape) in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

    Aside from being the ride choice of deviant killers, looking at those front profile shots really shows where Chrysler got their inspiration for the ’74 full-size Mopars.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    The really funny thing is that after reading and posting before leaving work earlier tonight, I saw a 70 Impala sedan on the drive home from work. Which got me thinking – someone has this old Impala soldiering along on an 18 degree January night in the midwest, just like it would have done 40 years ago.

    Upon further reflection, I think I have to put aside my prejudices and reluctantly agree that the 70 Chevy may have been the best all around car that year. Someone earlier made the point that the Chevy was like Toyota back then. Nobody would ever criticize you for buying one. Ford owners always caught a little flack, and Mopar fans had to have pretty thick skins (then as now).

    Now if I didn’t live in salt country, I might make a more impassioned defense of the 69-70 LTD. I neglected to mention the excellent Ford disc brakes, which were quite common by 69, but were still pretty rare on Chevys and Plymouths in 69-70.

    Trivia time – Paul, you probably knew that in 1970, Ford outsold Chevy for the first time since 1957 (or 1959, but that one is disputed.) However, a UAW strike against GM that year hurt Chevy’s production, so it wasn’t a fair fight.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I agree with all your comments …

      Loved the Ford disk brake pedal with the shiny little stainless disk stamped “Disk Brakes” embedded in the rubber …

      Makes one think about the whole decontenting discussion going on here … Ford really did know how to make excellent brakes (our neighbor Dick Rader, God rest his fine soul, being one of the Ford Brake Test Engineers from the period) … so, if it was not for decontenting, what happened to Ford that by the time the 2nd gen (’91) Taurus came out Ford had arguably the worse brakes for NVH in the industry? (Rader had retired in 1981.)

  • avatar
    davekatz

    Bought a ’70 327 TH350 two-door off a friend’s dope-hungry buddy for $40. Car wasn’t ten years old… It was a quite nice looking car–a neat shade of dark burnt orange with a black vinyl roof, rallye accent rings, and a cave-like cabin. Did a valve job in the driveway, drove the car a lot of trouble-free miles, and traded it for a 142 Volvo–the same car, but in Swedish.
    Always felt completely at home in the Impala, in a Springsteen sort of way…

  • avatar
    esldude

    I drove one of these for part of a high school junior year. A 1970, gold with the odd combination of disc brakes, 327 and powerglide automatic and PS. It was quite a nice car. But I must say, it wasn’t quite best of the breed. I would say either the Pontiac Bonneville or Buick LeSabre of the time were better.

    BTW, was driving that Impala while my dad prepped and repainted a primo 69 Firebird I had gotten from the original owner with low, low miles. The Firebird was that same disgusting light metallic green. I hate that color to this day. Those light metallics faded badly in those days, and my Firebird was looking in need of paint though not very old. My dad did it up in bright yellow using 20 coats of hand rubbed lacquer. Much better, and I still have that Firebird to this day and it still has that paint on it. Last time I gassed up a fellow asked me about the ‘new paint’ and who painted it. He couldn’t believe that paint was 32 years old. But then again I always kept it waxed and usually have it garaged. Still the Firebird wasn’t so good as the gold Implala for loading up with friends and going out on a weekend night.

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      Davekatz and esldude:

      Your cars must of had a non original engines as the 327 was discontinued at the end of the ’69 model year. The L65 (350-250 HP) was the base V8 in 1970.

    • 0 avatar
      esldude

      rpol35,

      I cannot swear the engine was original. But the car was purchased from friends who purchased it new. This was 1976 so it wasn’t very old, and those other folks hadn’t changed the engine. In those days you sometimes ran across engine/tranny combos that aren’t official. Maybe it was made at the very first of the year with left over 327′s that weren’t official or some such.

      I have seen one 1969 GTO purchased new with a 428. Officially no GTO’s came from the factory that way. Ran across another second hand I cannot swear to though the original owner said it came in the car. You periodically see people on forums like this talk of a 428 ’69 Goat, and get told the engine couldn’t be original. Supposedly they only came in the larger Pontiacs like Bonnevilles or Grand Prix. I think sometimes in years past such unofficial things happened without it ever being recorded. Or maybe dealers changed them, but I doubt it.

  • avatar
    Garret

    I am also partial to the 1970 Impala, having had one for a few years in the early 2000s. Never paid much attention to them when new. But with good shocks and good rubber mine handled quite well. Loved the article. Thanks for the memories. Keep up the Curbside Classics.

  • avatar
    Hank

    My mother did not buy a Chevrolet of any kind for 37 years because she owned a 1970 Impala. It made her Midget and MGC look reliable. The only GM car she did buy in that time period was ’76 Formula with a 455. That she still wishes she owned.

    Personally, when I was a child old enough to pay attention (a few years after she traded it for a Polara) I associated the the Impalas with blue hair and the smell of mothballs.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I once owned a fully loaded 1972 Caprice (the high trim version of an Impala). The Sedan deVille had nothing on my boat. That was a darn fine car.

  • avatar
    JSF22

    Paul, I thought you were smoking something a couple of days ago when you said nice things about the ’79 Malibu, but I’m completely with you on this one. In those days my dad’s employer gave him the use of a new Chevy wagon every year. My dad let me order his ’70 Kingswood Estate Wagon. I chose Cranberry Red with a Saddle interior, the detuned 454 (only 345 hp!), power disc brakes, heavy duty suspension, and Rally wheels that nobody at Dick Johnson Chevrolet even knew you could get on the wagon. The engine had a manufacturing defect that made it give up the ghost at about 1,000 miles with a crankcase full of metal shavings, but the second engine was stronger than dirt. Compared to practically anything else you could buy in 1970, it didn’t handle that badly. I’m not saying I had a blast in that car. I’m just saying the prettiest girl in Coldwater, Michigan was never the same after that summer. That stunning bright red wagon was surrendered for a Cottonwood Green ’71 Kingswood Estate that was like a fat old man compared to the ’70. You are really right — ’70 was a high-water mark for Chevrolet that they never reached again. Thanks for your great writing that brought back some incredible memories.

  • avatar
    william442

    Many of the big discount GM employes (sic) drove big block Impalas, and Caprices. Had to be a reason. They were good cars, especially with 30% off.

  • avatar
    big_gms

    Thanks for the article. I love the Curbside Classics, too. Keep ‘em coming!

    That ’70 Chevy is a nice car and I love that shade of green. But even though I’m about the biggest fan of big GM cars you’ll ever find-hence my username-I have to say that the 1969-70 big Chevys never struck a chord with me. The styling leaves me lukewarm…it’s okay, but it would be better without those pontoon shapes on the fenders. There’s something lacking in the roofline/C-pillar on pillared sedans, too, like that black one in the photo. My first car was a 1973 Caprice 2 door hardtop and while I agree that the build quality of the 1971-newer models wasn’t great, I always thought they were nicer looking than the 1969-70 models. I know I’ll be in the minority on that. The ’70 has that neat concave rear window, but my ’73 had that, too. The ’70 probably does drive better, though. My ’73 had a nice smooth ride, but it handled like the 4300 pound beast that it was.

    JSF22 commented that 1970 was a high water mark that Chevrolet never reached again. I respectfully disagree. The downsized ’77-’79′s were another high water mark in many ways and set the standard for full size cars for many years to come. They’re among my all time favorite big GM cars.

    • 0 avatar
      JSF22

      I have to agree with you. The 1977 to 1979 Caprice was the handsomest sedan on the road back then. The 116″ wheelbase was just right (the same as the sedan version of the excellent ’68 – ’72 intermediates); the styling was crisp; the handling was relatively tight with the F41 suspension; and with the bulletproof 350 you could really haul balls. A spinster aunt of mine took her ’73 Caprice in for service one day and, probably to her amazement as much as mine, drove out with a new ’78 Caprice coupe, the one with the bent rear window, dark blue outside, baby blue velour inside, and every available option, most of which she never figured out. I drove her hundreds of miles in that car and it was great.

      Overall, however, you have to admit that in 1970 practically every car in a Chevy store could be turned into something special, while by 1979 everything was turning to s***.

  • avatar
    CopperCountry

    I thought my love of this car was clouded by faded memories of youth, but when you weave the whole package together, it’s clear that this really was a great car. I took over my grandma’s ’70 Sport Coupe (sloping rear glass instead of the concave window with the ridiculous, oversized trunk lid) at 16 and drove it until I was 21. That car took 75,000 miles of abuse with a Nascar/Pro Rally wannabe at the wheel; full-throttle, opposite-lock broadslides were part of its daily regimen.

    By the end, even with nearly every body panel bunged-up to one degree or another, it still thought it was one of the best full-size cars on the road. It must have been the General’s mix of powertrain, handling, and style that made it so good. And au contraire, contrarian, the ’70 Impala would dust just about any full-size car on the road (including the ’70 Marquis) – they might’ve hung with me on the straight sections, but when the road turned twisty, they faded away. At the time, I credited the victories to my superior driving skill and courage, but I really think it was the balanced handling that made all possible. Thanks for taking me back to those days, Paul.

    • 0 avatar
      ry

      The car with the indented rear window was called a Custom Coupe, while the other series was the Sport Coupe.

      Most people i knew thought the 70 Chev looked ugly, but the 71 looked great.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The generally positive comments and accolades for this car (indeed, some say it is the pinnacle of what GM was able to produce, the equivalent of that time period’s Toyota Camry) are noteworthy in the sense that only a scant year later, GM would bring out what many consider to be the beginning of (and, ultimately, the very reason for) the company’s decline and ultimate failure: the 1971 Vega.

    It’s a shame they took the American consumer’s trust (that had been hard-earned with vehicles like the 1970 Impala) for granted and managed to fritter it away over the next four decades.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Biggest problem with the ’69 and ’70 was the “flush & dry” rocker panels which were supposed to inhibit rust. In reality, the fender design collected water and encouraged rust. My ’69 Kingswood wagon looked like swiss cheese after four years in Maryland’s winters and Maryland is not a huge salt state like some further north.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    The best big car of its time? Eh. The 1970 looked a bit cleaner than the 1969, with its weird “donut” front bumper. But I never took to the “clown pants” wheel flares, and the 1971 two-door hardtop took the curved inward rear glass to a more logical conclusion.

    The 1970s were essentially reskinned 1965s. By that point they were looking a little old, particularly in comparison to Chrysler’s new fuselage design and Ford’s new-for-1969 big car body. I may be in the minority here but I liked the latter best.

  • avatar
    coatejo

    The 69-70 big Ford was the better car to me. Smooth, quiet drivetrains, comfortable smooth ride, much better build quality than either GM or Mopar. I’ll grant you that the FoMoCo cars were softer sprung and were not great handling cars, but none of these big sleds were. Effortless cruising is what the big cars did well, and of the big three, the Ford and Mercury’s were just better. After you ripped the 71 Galxie a new one, I do not think your judgement can be trusted on Ford products. Maybe you can redeem yourself when you find that nice 67 XL500 or 7-Litre…

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Esldude:

    Point taken! I did know a fellow back in ’73 that had a ’68 GTO and it did in fact have a 428 CI motor. Also saw a ’69 Impala for sale in Hemmings with an original 400 CI small block even though the 400 was not introduced until the 1970 model year. Apparently it was a pre-production model with proveable documentation.

  • avatar

    I could swear I left a comment on this blog. Something about how the ’70 Valiant had to be at least as good as this Chevy, except maybe for the steering, and how this was a really nice CC, beautiful car, if not quite as much so as the ’64s. My comment is gone. Are the moderators getting a bit overzealous? I didn’t diss anyone in my comment.

  • avatar
    210delray

    Seems like these ’65-’70 full-size Chevys ran the gamut of good to poor build quality, based on the stories here. We had one of the not-so-good ones.

    My mother’s ’67 Bel Air 2-door (with 250 6, 3-on-the-tree, no air, and no ps or pb) was rife with build quality issues, including numerous dents in the body work, a missing dome light bulb, and a driver door that scraped against the A-pillar trim when opened. There was also a “jingle bell” sound that some years later was discovered by my brother to be a loose bolt in the starter.

    As for cheapness, granted we didn’t have a mainstream Impala or top-line Caprice, the trunk was totally devoid of any carpeting or trim — all speckle-painted metal — so what exactly was the point of the bottom of the line Biscayne? For some odd reason though, the ’67 was the only year the Bel Air had three rear lamps on either side just like the Impala, not two like earlier and later models.

    I distinctly remember the automatic choke failing to shut off and the engine backfiring going up inclines within a couple of years of ownership. Rust started to bubble through the quarter panel behind the right rear wheel after just two Pittsburgh winters.

    On a cross-country trip in ’71 (starting at 25K miles), the water pump failed on the way out and the alternator on the way back. Luckily back then, service stations still provided service; they weren’t primarily gas & food outlets like today.

    This was the car I learned to drive in — what a beast. But passing the driver’s test in that car pretty much guaranteed I could drive any car of its era.

    We did keep that Chevy in the family longer than its forebears. My brother hopped it up somewhat with — wait for it — 15-inch chrome reverse wheels (remember those?) and 70-series tires and jacked up the rear end somewhat, as was the fad back in the early 70s. It was ultimately sold to a friend of my brother’s with the intention of modding it further, but as I recall it just moldered in the alley behind the guy’s house.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I have similar memories of the Impala/Caprice duo but of the 1977-79 B-body variety. Those cars of the time were such a breath of fresh air for the American sedan buyer used to massive knumb steering Chryslers and Ford LT’s of the same time period. The downsized 77-79 Impalas and Caprices felt so much more nimble and buttoned down, offered nearly as much interior space and weighted some 600 LBS less with resulting 3-5 MPG improvement across the board. Even with low output 145 HP 2BBL 305 V8′s they would spin the tires and felt quicker than 400 Mopars and Fords. They also felt better made and seemed to stand up to salt and the rust belt much better. I have particular fondness for a 1977 2 door burgandy Caprice coupe with the 350 4BBL V8, F41 suspension and upgraded 225 series 15″ tires, interior guages package, power everything and nice deluxe dark red seats with dual operating controls for driver and passenger or in other words split divided. That was one hell of a car that went like hell, cornered like a bear and could cruise the highway going 75 MPH all day long. It was library quiet too. I so miss those old B-body GM’s of that time era.

    • 0 avatar
      midelectric

      My dad had an 80 Impala that was responsible for me becoming a Chevy/GM fan at an early age. It was a 229 and only had a few options like AC and an AM radio but for some reason my dad had the uprated suspension installed, an action so uncharacteristic of him I still find hard to believe. Though it was basically a base model, the seating surfaces were a rich and durable red cloth and the dashboard was covered with foam backed plastic so coveted by auto writers nowadays. Inexpensive, but it didn’t feel cheap at all. It wasn’t bulletproof but it gave 10 years of service before transmission trouble and finally a failed heater got it traded in for a 1990 Mazda 626. We looked at the new Caprice that came out that year but my dad had no interest in a car that actually got bigger on the outside while giving up room inside-just opposite of the formula that had contributed to the success of that 80 Impala.

  • avatar
    gdwriter

    The ’70 Impala Custom coupe is one my favorite big Chevys, after the ’64 Impala I’ve owned for 11 years. My 327 is indeed velvety smooth, and while it runs too hard on the highway because of the Powerglide, it’s a great driver. With a set of premium shocks and a rear stabilizer bar, this big old girl handles amazingly well for what it is, and the ride is as smooth as my ’01 Seville. Even the power steering gives decent road feel. 184,000 miles and 53,000 miles since the engine rebuild without a problem.

    We had a different ’64 Impala that I grew up with an learned to drive in (which is why I own one now). But we also had a ’70 Townsman (Bel Air) wagon. It wasn’t as reliable or as solidly built as the ’64, but it still a good car and served our family well.

    And even with only the 250-hp 350/Turbo Hydra-Matic, it could still haul. On one family vacation, my dad needed a break from driving, so my grandmother volunteered to drive for a while. Used to her ’72 Valiant with a slant six, she put the Chevy in Drive and floored it. We burned rubber back onto the freeway (and this was while pulling a small trailer). I thought my dad was going to shit a brick.

  • avatar
    gdwriter

    I have a book of Impala road tests from 1958-72. There’s one from Road Test or Auto Test of a ’70 350/300 Custom coupe that’s highly favorable. And there’s a comparison test from Motor Trend pitting a 350/300 Impala against a Ford XL, Dodge Polara and AMC Ambassador. The Impala won that competition also. According to Motor Trend, “handling in the Impala was impressive,” and they also praised the variable-ratio power steering. The Impala also had the best acceleration and fuel economy of the group.

    Not sure what the XL had under the hood, probably a 351, but in this test, it was the slowest and had the worst fuel economy. Motor Trend also found the XL’s handling to be mushy and sloppy.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    While these big chevies had decent quality control for the era, and probably had less defects off the assembly line than most other cars in their class at the time, they were not all that great as far as long term durability goes.
    It was well known that the cams would go bad usually between 80-100k. even on engines that were fairly well maintained. And the valve guides would wear out, resulting in oil consumption problems.
    The valve cover gaskets were also prone to leaking, due to the 4 bolt design of the covers, as well as the cover flanges being paper thin.
    And the turbo 350 that came behind the small blocks was a smooth shifter, but it was far from heavy duty. With normal use it would last to around 100k, but under heavy use it didn’t last all that long.
    Chrysler used the big 727 trans behind the 360 and bigger engines in their fullsized cars, which was virtually bulletproof. The chrysler 8/34 rear end was also stronger than the marginal 10 bolt chevy rear.
    The frames in the big chevies were also known to rust out where it curves over the rear axle. It also lacked the torsional rigidity that the unibody chryslers had. The chevy may have had slightly better steering feel than the chryslers during normal driving, but the big mopars handled better under agressive conditions than the chevies due to the superior torsion bar/leaf spring suspension, and the stiffer body.
    Styling is a matter of opinion. I’m not crazy about the styling of the 69-70 fury, but I believe the 71-73 fury looks better than the 71-76 chevies, and the fords. I think the styling of the fury from those 3 years is smoother and less boxy, and it doesn’t look as bloated. The 74-77 fury however, is extremely boxy, and in my opionion ugly.

    • 0 avatar
      gdwriter

      Funny you should mention the leaky valve covers. I have that problem with my Impala. Replaced the cork gaskets with new rubber ones last summer, but it appears they’re still leaking. I bought my car with 113,000 miles on it and only did a rebuild at 126,000 because of a burnt-out valve. It made sense to me to go ahead and do a complete refresh. To my knowledge, the camshaft was original, and while it didn’t hurt to replace it, it wasn’t completely worn out.

      I know it’s not entirely an apples to apples comparison, but my other grandmother (not the one who burned rubber in our ’70) had a ’71 Plymouth Fury II that was an utter POS. Probably a 318, maybe a 383. We used it when visiting New Hampshire in 1974, and it was already falling apart and ran like crap. Our 10-year-old Impala, with nearly 100,000 miles on it by then, was still solid, reliable and drove world’s better than that godawful Fury. My mother absolutely hated driving that thing, but it was free for us to use. Granted, my father was an Air Force mechanic, so he took good care of our cars, but my grandmother wasn’t exactly the little old lady from Pasadena.

      My other grandmother’s Valiant, on the other hand, was a good little car. Very solid and reliable. We used that on our trip in 1981.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    It’s entirely possible that your engine had the original cam, but many did not make it that far,as it is a well known fact that chevies had cam wear problems due to narrow lobes that don’t have as much of a wear surface, combined with the softer material of the cam and lifters. The exhaust lobe on the no.1 cylinder would usually go first, causing the engine to backfire through the carb.
    As far as the big furies go, the handling and durability are well known, that was why they were used first by the california highway patrol, and afterward many other states followed suit.
    of course a 318 car would have the softer suspension, but the big blocks and police cars had the heavy duty pieces.
    I have a 78 new yorker brougham 2 door that is a summer cruiser, and despite having a length of 231 inches and being almost 5000lbs. it handles better than a lot of midsized cars from that era.
    Road test magazine did a test on the imperial, cadillac deville and lincoln town coupe in 75.
    Although they picked the lincoln as tops in most of the categories the one thing they kept bragging about on the Imperial was the way it handled and how it beat the other 2 cars on the slalom course.
    The article is online,” type Road test magazine may 1975.”
    I noticed a lot of guys in here talking about how the fullsized fords were the worst handling cars in that era, and while they may have been awful, there were cars that drove worse. I drove a friend’s 73 olds 98 back in the day, and also a 73 buick electra owned by the same person. They had the slowest steering of anything I have ever experienced, it felt like the wheel was connected to the steering box with a big rubber band. The cars were well built though.

    • 0 avatar
      gdwriter

      I’ve read the Road Test article on the Imperial, Coupe DeVille and Continental you mentioned; pretty interesting.

      I had a friend in college who drove a ’72 Chrysler Newport; I drove it one time and marveled at how she could maneuver something so huge into the tight parking spaces where we worked. It felt every inch of its size. The only time my Impala feels big is when I’m parking in a tight space; otherwise, it feels very responsive and maneuverable.

      I do classic car inspections on the side, and last winter, I inspected a pair of ’69 Dodge Chargers (both were project cars). I was really excited about checking these out because the ’68-’70 Charger is to me the best-looking Mopar ever built. I usually drive my Impala to these inspections because it makes for a nice icebreaker with the owner and shows I have some knowledge of and appreciation for classic cars.

      I was amazed at the differences from the driver’s seat between the Chargers and my Impala, even taking into consideration their different market niches. The Chargers felt huge from behind the wheel, which may have been due to the wide hood and small windows. It made me appreciate Bill Hickman’s amazing stunt driving in Bullitt all the more.

      My Impala is bigger, but because of the big windows, visibility is excellent, which makes it seem smaller than it is. And the steering in the Chargers was pinkie-twirling light. Couldn’t feel a thing. But the 383 in one of the Chargers ran very well and other than the lifeless steering, they were decent to drive. Chrysler’s torsion bar suspension was always excellent, but I’ve wondered why they stuck with rear leaf springs well into the 80s.

      My car isn’t entirely stock with wider tires and a rear stabilizer bar, but it was still telling when a friend who drove (at the time) a ’93 BMW 3-Series drove my Impala briskly over a winding road with some tight turns, hills and dips. He said he couldn’t believe how well my big cruiser handled on a road that was tailor-made for his BMW.

      Enjoy cruising in your New Yorker. It’s always nice to know people appreciate these big, comfortable cruisers.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Moparman426W: I noticed a lot of guys in here talking about how the fullsized fords were the worst handling cars in that era, and while they may have been awful, there were cars that drove worse. I drove a friend’s 73 olds 98 back in the day, and also a 73 buick electra owned by the same person. They had the slowest steering of anything I have ever experienced, it felt like the wheel was connected to the steering box with a big rubber band. The cars were well built though.

      Interesting, as my parents had a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale hardtop sedan in the 1970s, and while it was very reliable, the body always felt very “flexible.” It was far inferior to our 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 hardtop sedan in that regard.

      Comparing apples to apples, the post-1970 GM big cars certainly didn’t feel especially well-built, and certainly weren’t better than the Fords in that regard. I see lots of original examples of both at the Carlisle Events shows and the big Hershey Antique Automobile Club of American (AACA) fall meet, and the full-size Fords have it all over the GM cars in regards to panel fit and build quality. They also look better than the Mopars of that era. Reliability, of course, is different from build quality.

      For that matter, a 1970s Lincoln feels much more solid in the body than a comparable Cadillac. The 1971-76 Cadillacs, in particular, feel very flimsy and the build quality is nothing to write home about, especially for a luxury car.

      My parents had a 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air wagon, and it wasn’t especially reliable or sturdy. It was pretty much used up by 1972 with a little less than 100,000 miles on the odometer. In 1971, I remember my parents talking about taking it in to have the motor mounts checked because of the infamous recall. At that time, the Chevrolet motor-mount recall was as big as the Toyota recall is today.

      I guess we weren’t the only ones, because if I recall correctly, there were lots of problems with the 1965 Chevrolet. I remember David E. Davis, Jr., writing in a 1965 issue of Car and Driver that 1965 was the year that Ford clearly built a better big car than Chevrolet, primarily because the cost-cutting on the Chevrolet was too obvious. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been too impressed with full-size Chevrolets.

      At least in those days moving up the GM ladder did get you a better car. That 1967 Oldsmobile was a HUGE leap over the 1965 Chevrolet in build quality and reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      ry

      gdwriter: “Chrysler’s torsion bar suspension was always excellent, but I’ve wondered why they stuck with rear leaf springs well into the 80s.”

      Chrysler Motors had all coils up to 1956. In 1957 they introduced their forward look along with torison bar up front and leafs in back.

      The engineers wanted to go back to coils up front because road noise from bumpers would enter the passenger compartment because the torson bar ended at the passenger compartment. Top management said no. They kept the old and terrible suspemsion because Chrysler Motors was all about “low cost at all cost”.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    It seems logical that the Impala would feel smaller from behind the wheel than a charger, because as you mentioned, the charger has a lower roofline. And i’m pretty sure the hood is a bit longer. And the fuselage chryslers are longer than the impala, probably by about a foot or so, but the fury would be close to your car sizewise.
    The chevy does have great visibility and a nice driving position, no doubt, and many understandably people prefer that in a car. I kinda like to feel isolated from the outside world in a bog car though, like I’m in a fortress, probably because I learned to drive in a 72 Imperial.

    • 0 avatar
      gdwriter

      Good point on the isolation appeal. I learned to drive in the ’64 Impala my parents bought when I was a baby, including parallel parking (which I aced in my driver’s test). So maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel all that big to me.

      What really struck me about the Charger from behind the wheel was the width. Maybe it’s because of the flat hood and front fenders. But it felt really wide.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Elwood Engel designed his cars to “fill out the box.” Everything about his cars seems designed to make them look bigger…perhaps in reaction to the 1962 downsizing fiasco, which sent Chrysler’s market share below 10 percent. Plymouth fell to eighth place in the production race! Many Mopar ads in the mid-1960s – even those for the compact Dart – emphasize how big the cars are.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You have a point, although I have never driven a coke bottle charger I would assume that the flatness of the hood would make it appear longer and wider. Like I said earlier, the low roofline probably contributes to the effect.
    If you’ve ever driven an older mustang, camaro or Ebody you probably noticed the same thing. The low roofline and raked seating position makes these cars appear much marger from behind the wheel than they actually are.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You are correct, geeber, about those cars having lots of body flex.That was because of the body on frame construction, with bodies that large and heavy sitting on 8 rubber biscuit mounts it would be impossible to avoid. The big olds and buicks that I was referring to though did seem to be fairly well screwed together, and the interiors were pretty nice comapred to a lot of cars in those days.
    You are also correct regarding the 62 mopars. There was a rumor that the fullsized chevies were going to be downsized in 62. Chrysler panicked and whacked about a foot off the dodges and plymouths. Virgil Exner, the head stylist had already styled the cars before top brass told him to make them smaller. He tried telling them that making the existing cars smaller without a restyle would make them look like crap.
    They said they couldn’t spend more money for styling, and made him chop down what he already had worked on. When they didn’t sell Exner became the the scapegoat and was fired.
    So yes, after the 62-65 model had run it’s course, chrysler was big on stretching it’s big cars. The fuselage Imperials were purposely slightly longer than the lincolns and caddies of the era, and chrysler mentioned it in it’s advertising of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Various publications have run photos of the 1962 line as originally designed by Exner. The Chryslers and DeSotos featured awkward fronts, but the Plymouths were actually pretty good looking – especially the two-door hardtops (with both the “standard” and proposed “Super Sport” roofline).

      There was a period television advertisement for the 1965 Plymouth Fury on youtube. I lost count of how many times the announcer said that this was the “BIG NEW PLYMOUTH” and that it was the “BIGGEST PLYMOUTH EVER.”

      Must have worked, as I’ve read that the 1965 Fury was a hot seller.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    During the 50′s exner was a big hero at chrysler. ealy in the decade the chrysler products had become stodgy looking. Exner came along and designed the 55 300, which was very stylish, but expensive.
    He designed the 57 fullsized chrysler, dodge, plymouth and desoto cars, and hit a home run with those. These cars invented the long, low look which became popular for years afterward in the auto industry. It’s a shame what happened with the 62 models, considering the success he had with the earlier cars.
    After he was let go elwood engel came to chrysler, and he was head stylist for the 64 Imperial. Engel was the head stylist for the 60 continental, which is why the 64 imperial shared similar styling cues.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Had a ’69 two door caprice, in the early ’70′s just out of college. It was used, a stunning medium silver color with a black vinyl roof and black interior. Nice car, as i remember through the mist. Big, easy to control, guite a looker, too. It had the ’69′s horozontal tail lights, which i prefered to the ’70′s vertical ones.

    I traded it on a Fiat X1/9. HAHA, what a shock that was. To drive a car that could have fit in the trunk of the Impala. That began a love affair with small cars that continues to this day.

  • avatar
    H Man

    I do believe this car is for sale.

    http://eugene.craigslist.org/cto/1585101848.html

    Here’s your chance to relive those intimate orifices from
    your youth.

  • avatar
    LaurentCauch

    Indeed, the American ur-automobile!

    And what specifications.*

    Body on full American Bridge frame, two speed Powerglide slurpeebox, seven liter V8, die-cast Fisher body, Sealy Posturepedic coils at all four, Lidwig drums at all four, wagon seats fourteen comfortably if you ignore the belts (or the immigration laws), 5 city, 9 highway.

    Truly a car worthy of the citizens of a world empire.

    Not like these plastic things we’ve had to drive since we got our arse kicked in Vietnam.

    *Specifications apocryphal

    • 0 avatar
      gdwriter

      Pay attention; you can’t even get the specs right”

      “The 350, with its longer stroke, couldn’t quite equal it, but its extra torque was welcome. The level of standard V8 power, with 250 hp, was a substantial improvement over the 283 that had to huff and puff through the Powerslide just a few years earlier. The Turbo-Hydramatic was undoubtedly the best autobox in the world at the time terms of smoothness. Here’s the deal: in 1970, the standard engine/automatic combo of this plain-Jane pedestrian sedan was a good as any in the world in terms of its mission. You’d have to go to a Mercedes 6.3 for competition, and its transmission was a lot harsher. Never mind its price.”

      “And disc brakes!”

      And if you’ll notice, he’s comparing the ’70 Impala to its full-size competitors of the day, not to today’s cars. Context is everything.

      But don’t worry, you can find plenty of GM bashing elsewhere at TTAC.

  • avatar
    LaurentCauch

    Well, that’s a relief.

    I was worried sick.

    Thanks!

  • avatar
    EHJ710

    In San Francisco back in the 1980′s I dated a good looking woman just out of college, who I had met in church and whose parents gave her a gold 1970 Chevy Bel Air sedan, their family car. I remember she was from Oregon too and the car had come from a dealer in Oregon, I think, Eugene, and had the “Bird” dealership decal on its trunk.

    She hated the car though and I remember her saying once “I would love to push it off a cliff.”

    But I like the look and honesty and competence it exuded.

    I didn’t go out with her very long, as her breezy gold digger attitude soon became evident.

    Probably she went and bought a Toyota Tercel or some piece of garbage like that.

  • avatar

    An interesting and entertaining article to be sure, but I don’t understand all of the anti-71 remarks. What specifically is it about the “build quality” of the ’71 that deems it so inferior to previous years? I owned a ’69 Impala and currently own a ’71 Caprice and I can see no discernable difference in the quality of workmanship between the two. Both were large, both used a lot of plastic parts in the interior and the ride quality is more or less identical. One thing about the ’71 is that this year looks much better from a stylistic point of view than either the ’70, ’69 or ’68. My ’71 looks and rides as nicely as it did the day that it left the factory; you can see some pics here if interested: http://www.ccvsales.com/caprice/2/. There’s virtually no rattles even after almost 40 years. This is one great car and it’s every bit as dependable and refined as the ’69, if not more.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    Great article…although I have to agree that the downsized B body from 1977 onward was the best ever. Car and Driver would even name the Caprice one of the 10 best years after they were first introduced….Anyway, anecdotally I learned to drive in a 1972 Buick Estate Wagon with the 455 4barrel, 250 hp. Basically the same car as the Kingswood, but with the Buick big block. It had the clamshell tailgate. It had incessent cooling problems and started rusting at only 3 years. Our neighbor brought home a new 1977 Estate Wagon with the 350 engine….the new downsized B body. The difference was absolutely amazing. I had never to that time driven a smoother, tighter, well sorted car.

    Next curbside classic….1977 GM B body.

  • avatar
    danabot

    Gotta love these forums and the wide variation of facts/memories/opinions they spark. In my case, living in the Rust Belt meant that the copious quantities of road salt would consume vehicles with terrifying speed. Chevies became the default choice because they simply held up better under this saline onslaught. In the late ’70s & early ’80s I had several different ones, usually of the late ’60s ilk (283 or 307 motor, Powerglide trans & drum brakes & not much else.) While the bodies rusted like mad, the mechanicals were as simple and reliable as an anvil under the tremendous beating they suffered at our hands. Furthermore, they were dirt cheap – my very first car was a good-running 1966 Impala convertible with a working top (that hardly even leaked!) for which I paid the princely sum of $60 in 1977. I never paid more than $200 for a good runner, scored a ’67 for $50 from a neighbor in about 1981, and got a ’68 absolutely free once from my brother’s girlfriend. This one had a very short time in my hands – after about 2 weeks I needed to change a tire and pulled out a hydraulic jack to put under the frame (being lucid enough to not attempt lifting it by the bumper!) This was when I discovered that the entire driver’s side frame rail consisted of a strip of rusty metal about 1 inch wide. On to the next! The cars were so cheap and available I used to change vehicles just for the variety & not always out of necessity. The ’65-’70 cars were all on the same basic chassis and were really good cars when not savaged by rust. I currently have a beautiful ’70 Caprice coupe (Misty Turquoise with a white painted top) and the road manners are amazing for such a big beast – it actually handles better than my friend’s big block Chevelle. This is probably due to the way it’s equipped – it’s a small block (300 horse 350) without a bunch of heavy options, not even A/C, and this keeps it from being so nose-heavy – a loaded 454 version is about 500 pounds heavier with the majority of that up front. The new chassis that came out in ’71 is another animal entirely, larger and cushier with no hint of sportiness, but still a good car – it just had different priorities. We had some of those too, and contrary to some of these reviews they were no less reliable than the earlier models. When the new downsized ’77 came out is when things fell apart – they were trimmer and more “sensible” than the behemoths they had morphed into by ’76, but the quality went straight into the toilet. I can’t believe some people are contending that these were great cars – one of my more affluent (spoiled) friends got a year-old, low mile, loaded ’77 Caprice and it was a complete turd. It had the biggest engine available at the time (350 4-barrel) backed up by the wimpiest transmission ever foisted off on us by GM (Turbo 200.) New Year’s Eve 1979 found us replacing this miserable lump in a borrowed gas station service bay – it had a grand total of 22,000 miles on it. Not long after this episode, one of the ball joints broke right off and damn near got us killed in traffic. The car handled pretty well because it had the heavy duty suspension, but the tradeoff was ride quality that was nothing short of punishing. The interior fabric was garish red felt like a cheap Santa suit & held onto stains like nothing I’ve seen before or since. This junkpile was soon replaced by – you guessed it – another previous-generation Caprice. Order was thereby restored to the universe. The absolute zenith of the big Chevy seems to have been reached in 1972 – the first-year teething troubles of the new design had been addressed and the cars were simply a joy. This same friend found an immaculate 1972 Impala convertible that I would compare favorably against any luxury car in the world at the time. It had the 400 2-barrel engine, which delivered boatloads of silky smooth, almost silent torque, coupled with an unbelievable pillow-soft boulevard ride. It was also quite the chick magnet, and I almost cried the day he wrapped it around a tree after a few too many adult beverages. Alright, enough already – I could go on (and on) but I’ll grant everybody mercy and quit for now. Best wishes to all (even you Ford lovers.) Peace.

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    Thanks for this– and your 1960 Impala piece. As usual, they brought back a lot of memories.

    The first car my parents owned after having kids was a 1961 Impala two door (white with blue stripes). I’m the oldest kid, so I remember it well because I was already five (we had been living overseas with no car) and it was my first experience riding “our” car.

    The next car my family owned (in the US, anyway, after more years overseas) was the exact car pictured– green, dark green hardtop 1970 Impala coupe. We lived in Dallas and it had AC. Wow. What a great car it was.

    Next up was a 1974 Caprice sedan. Nasty bronze and too long for our garage door to shut with it inside (true). Not that great a car. By then I worked in a gas station and knew enough to keep it running for my parents. They moved to Datsun and Toyota when I went to college.


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