Gauthier Auto Museum’s 1960 Impala Convertible

The end of the fifties signaled many things, the most obvious being the end of the fifties.  Times had changed, and it was time to clean out the old styles and embrace the happy, flower-power lovin’ ways of the Sixties.

1960 Chevy Impala

Well, at least when the part involving Jimi Hendrix, funny shirts, and hippies in Volkswagen Type-II Vans arrived, they would embrace it.  Until then, car designers were seeking something to usher in the jet age of motoring and move beyond the big, bulbous shapes so firmly entrenched in the fifties style.  Lines were straightened, grilles became less imposing, and everyone in the design room pretended to know something about this “aerodynamics” stuff the airplane guys blabbered about.

1960 Chevy Impala Convertible

Of course, you can’t just get rid of ten years of automotive style at once. That’s why the Impala still has an entire strip mine’s worth of chrome across all four sides and into the interior.  The running gear is carried over from the previous decade, including a choice of seven different 348 c.i. V8 engines.  Yes, you read that right-seven different motors, on one options list.  The biggest of the bunch spit fire to the tune of 335 horsepower, thanks to three 2-barrel carbs, 11.25:1 compression, and dual exhaust.  And for the “I’m going to pretend this land yacht is fuel efficient” crowd, a single-carb V8 coughed sparks to the tune of 170 horsepower.

Of course, there’s one detail that automotive stylists just can’t ignore:  the tailfins.  Although they started out honestly enough, the “fin wars” had reached a critical point.  Fins were an incredibly critical part of a car’s design throughout the fifties, and the car-buying public pretty much expected to see them on this third version of the Impala (the first two were released in 1958 and 1959).  However, fins were also rather flamboyant, and Chevy brass wanted to be clean-cut and conservative going into the decade that was anything but.

1960 Chevy Impala Convertible

The trade-off was to create two horizontal wings, together spanning the entire width of the car.  Although the style had been started two years earlier in 1958, the ’60 Impala had the “wings” that brought the phenomenon to its logical conclusion.  Straight enough along the leading edge to keep things classy, but just enough of a twist in the bodywork to give a sense of fluid motion.  And of course, lots of room for the Impala’s trademark three tail-lights.

But how did such a clean, crisp car come about after a decade of swoopy lines and chrome-plated excess?  Apparently, it’s all Chrysler’s fault.

1960 Impala Convertible

In late ’56/early ’57, GM stylists were doing the last touches on their designs for the 1959 model year.  That’s when someone caught a glimpse of Chrysler’s lineup for 1957.  The designers found the competition’s cars to be so clean and fresh compared to what was on the General’s plate, they knew something had to be done.  Since blowing up the Chrysler factory was too much work, they tossed everything they had and started the year’s designs from scratch.

In the end, Chrysler’s fresh designs didn’t make big trouble for Chevy.  In fact, the Impala took “best selling car in America” honours in 1960, a title it held for the next ten years.

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4 Responses to “Gauthier Auto Museum’s 1960 Impala Convertible”

  1. 1 blasterhappy
    January 6, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Your timing is uncanny! I just found a 1960 Biscayne 2-Door that I was thinking about buying to rod. I love the looks of this car and always wanted a sled like this to rod for a family cruiser to drive to shows. Great piece.

  2. January 7, 2009 at 12:00 am

    That’s a crazy coincidence! The Biscayne is a really wicked car, too, especially if you want to do your own thing with paint & trim, there’s less chrome and trim holes to take care of. Having a Biscayne instead of an Impala also means you won’t get no respect from your homies, although I’m sure your kids won’t mind….

  3. 3 blasterhappy
    January 7, 2009 at 5:56 am

    I’m a Cajun, married father of 4 kids…Homie respect is the least of my concerns! HAHA!

  4. 4 blasterhappy
    January 7, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Dude! Now this is getting CREEPY! Your comments on M3 about the International Scout…..I’m posting an all original unrestored 1967 International Scout Box Cab on my FOR SALE page real soon. It belongs to my uncle.

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