Rock and Roll Grandeur: 1965 Impala SS 396, a ‘Millionaire’ with an Astonishingly Rare Twist

1965 was one of – if not THE – General Motors’ best years; the biggest carmaker on Planet Piston at the time scored big (really big), and no other manufacturer equaled GM’s performance. The Detroit giant sold over one million cars of the same model – a legendary achievement mainly owed to a similarly famous automobile: the Chevrolet Impala.

Chevrolet was betting its money on the low-price horse. It worked wonders: their full-size Impala moved 1,074,925 for the 1965 model year – a figure still standing at the top of the all-time best-selling nameplates in American history.

GM took one more shot at hitting the ‘million cars’ milestone in 1966 and did it – again, with the highly popular Impala. The model sits alone in the millionaire’s club (cars with over one million units sold in a year).

The immense success can largely be attributed to the changes Chevrolet made in 1965 in styling and engineering. The Impala made a decisive move that year, switching the ‘Super Sport’ to a separate series instead of an equipment package.

1965 Chevrolet Impala SS 396

Also, 1965 marked the introduction of Chevrolet’s new big-block, the 396 cubic-inch (5.9 liters) V8 that effectively sent the venerable 409-CID (6.7-liter) powerhouse into retirement. Naturally, the Impala Super Sport was one of the beneficiaries of this new power plant. Of the record 239,500 Impala SS equipped with a V8, 55,500 got the newly-launched engine.

Purists would consider that the 1965 Impala SS had two different sub-models: the 409 variants (sold until February of ’65) and the 396 late-model-year units. The smaller V8, aptly named Thunder Jet, came in two different states of tune: the regular 325-hp, 410-lb-ft (330 PS, 556 Nm), or the raging full-fledged monster with 425 hp (431 PS).

Strangely, while the power output was a full hundred ponies over the tamed-down version, the torque didn’t grow proportionally. Despite having superior metallurgy and heavy-duty internals, the mighty Special High Performance V8 only offered 415 lb-ft (563 Nm). It was available for the 1965 model year only, leaving the Impala on the downside of the power balance when the Dodge Charger came out in 1966, firing the 426 HEMI broadside.

1965 Chevrolet Impala SS 396

Also new for 1965 Chevys, the three-speed automatic Turbo Hydra-Matic was offered only on the 325-hp 396-cube cars. One scarce feature that added extra comfort was the Pleasure Ride. This ride-height adjustment system leveled a heavy-laden automobile, canceling the squatting effect of extra cargo and occupants.

One of the few Impalas equipped with air cushions on the rear end is a stunning example from 1965 that we can admire in the video below. The car is ‘better than factory new,’ thanks to a dedicated owner – Tony Munao – and his passion for automobiles.

The Chevy is correct to the tee, and the owner took great care in renovating the car down to the last factory specification. Surprisingly, the project lasted only a year after the man acquired his vehicle from the previous owner, who had planned on restoring it but never got to the wrenching part of the job.

1965 Chevrolet Impala SS 396

The quality of craftsmanship alone is enough to award the car with an ‘at arms’ salute. Still, the story behind it equally merits a standing ovation. This Sierra Tan Impala SS 396 is a tribute to the current owner’s late older brother – the one responsible for inoculating the piston addiction in Tony’s heart.

The car – built on the closing days of July, as we can deduce from the 07E code on the cowl trim tag, has the two-speed Powerglide transmission linked to the standard 325-hp 396 motor. Tony also possesses a Turbo Jet with the RPO L78 code (the 425-horse megafauna dominator). Still, he was keen to preserve the Impala in its factory-coded authenticity.

The 1965 Impala owns much of its immense buyer appeal to the low price policy that Chevrolet was enforcing. The car offered reasonable commodities for the dollar and stayed below the competitors.

1965 Chevrolet Impala SS 396

By the way, in 1965, when the Impala smashed all sales records, another American icon was taking the automotive world by storm: the Mustang. So it wasn’t that the Chevy didn’t have anyone to fight against, but it brought the correct arguments to the table.

The second video features a “1965 Chevrolet Competitor Value Guide” – a fancy name for a comparing tool from an age when the only way to get a clear image of the car market was to visit the dealerships.

At 9:00, the document reveals precisely how well the Impala was positioned against its main rivals – not just from Dearborn of Highland Park but also from GM’s other divisions. Chevrolet wasn’t about to turn a blind eye to the brethren from Pontiac just because they were family. Quite the contrary – according to this booklet, the Impala was a far better deal.

The buying public noted Chevrolet’s quirks and spoils and pilgrimed to its dealerships for a new car. Almost 2.4 million new Chevys were sold in 1965, and nearly half had an African gazelle nameplate.

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