Vintage Reviews: 1965 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe – Three Ways To Powerglide

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All the new 1965 Chevrolet full size cars boasted excellent styling, but the standout was the stunning 2-door hardtop, offered as the Sport Coupe in the Impala and SS lines. This car gave everyday Americans the chance to add some real flair to their driveways. The beauties were still Chevrolets, however, so pragmatism had to be a big part of the mix. For most drivers in the segment, that meant the ease-of-use offered by Powerglide, coupled with one of the V8s on offer.   But which one to pick?

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1965 was an incredible year for car buyers, as each of the Big Three introduced all-new full size cars (the last time that would happen in fact—major redesigns would never line up the same way again). So the first step was actually to take a look at each of the revised offerings, which Motor Trend did in December 1964.

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The road test was extensive, with each of the cars being picked up from the factory in Detroit, and then driven cross-country to California. The cars selected were all hardtops from the best selling full size nameplates at each of the Big Three—Impala, Galaxie 500 and Fury III,. Other than the Ford, which was very lavishly equipped for the segment, the cars were quite representative of the popularly priced cars that many Americans would have parked in their driveways in 1965.

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The Impala tested was about as average as it could be, with the smallest available V8 and Powerglide. But with the sleek styling, it was knock-out good looking for the class.  The new chassis with its wider track was praised for offering reasonable handling—not perfect but certainly good enough. Performance was decent if not spectacular, with 0-60 mph taking 12.4 seconds. However, economy was exemplary, and the 283 was praised for being a reliable workhorse.

Plus with an as-tested price of $3,448 ($25,944 adjusted), the Impala was a good buy as well. Like a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry today, the Impala garnered high resale value at trade in, taking a bit of the sting out of the initial sticker price.

 

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The Galaxie 500 was also all-new for 1965, with its crisp-edge styling offering a striking contrast to the more rounded forms from the prior year. In the start of a big trend for Ford, the ride was tuned to be softer than ever. Handling was still OK though, and the performance of the 390 V8 was strong, with a 0-60 mph time of 9.6 seconds as well as the ability to effortlessly handle the A/C and power accessories. The big engine burned more oil (3 quarts) and gas (12.8 average mpg) than the smaller-engined Chevy or Plymouth.

Where this particular Galaxie 500 was a surprise was in the as-tested price. Carrying an option load more befitting the new topline LTD, MT’s test car priced out at $4,373 ($32,904 adjusted). This was far higher than the average transaction price for a Galaxie 500, and made the car more of an “apples to oranges” comparison with the other two cars in the test.

 

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After the disastrous downsizing of 1962, Plymouth finally rebounded with a “real” full size car for 1965. The new Fury gained about 3 inches in wheelbase, overall length and width, making it fully competitive size-wise with Chevy and Ford. What was unchanged was the Plymouth’s handling abilities: the torsion bar front suspension and unit construction helped it out-handle the other cars in the test. Ride comfort was not quite up to the standards of the Chevy and Ford, but added sound deadening materials and a separate front subframe for the engine and transmission did make the new Fury quieter and smoother than the previous generation.

The new size and weight did have drawbacks however: the 318 engine was overmatched for the car. Motor Trend surmised that many buyers would step up to the 383, which at just $81 more than the 318, was still a good buy. Overall, the Plymouth was aggressively priced, with the Fury III test car coming in at $3,250 ($24,454 adjusted).

While Motor Trend didn’t really pick a winner (How could they? All those ad dollars at stake…), reading between the lines it was clear that they liked the style and capability of the Chevy, the comfort of the Ford and the handling of the Plymouth.

Buyers were more clear-cut in their assessment: Chevrolet was the victor. Chevy sold a phenomenal 1,647,614 full size cars for 1965 (Ford was in second place with 978,519 full size sales). Of those Chevrolets, an impressive 558,472 were hardtop sport coupes (Impala and SS), making that the most popular single body style in the line. To put it in perspective, Chevrolet sold more of that one 2-door hardtop body style than Ford sold of all Galaxie 500s (458,369 including XLs but excluding LTDs) and Plymouth sold of all Fury models (329,959—though to Plymouth’s credit, on a percentage basis, the Fury was up an unbelievable 185% year-over-year).

So the stylish Impala was a winner, but was it more than just a pretty face? Pragmatic Road Test took a look at 2 different 2-door hardtops, a 300hp 327 4V Impala and a 340hp 409 4V Super Sport, both with Powerglide. Their comprehensive review covered a lot of data, though oddly barely mentioned engine performance.

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Given that the 409 was about to be replaced, Road Test’s editors did not discuss the performance of the Super Sport so-equipped at all. The only performance test results listed were for the 327 4V, and they were pretty good for the time: the car did zero-to-60 in about 9 seconds.

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Road Test liked the new location for the fuel filler, located behind the license plate in the rear bumper, noting that it prevented the hazard of spilling gas on the paint. Of course it introduced the danger of leaking gas after a rear end collision—but in 1965 that was still left unsaid…

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All in, Road Test was very enthusiastic about the new full size Chevrolet, concluding that it backed up its good looks with good handling and proven powertrains. In music to a Chevrolet dealer’s ears, Road Test also noted that the higher priced Impala was a better buy than the cheaper Bel Air, since the Impala was likely to enjoy higher resale value.

While Road Test paid minimal attention to the 409 equipped Super Sport in their comprehensive write-up, Car and Driver conducted a full road test on the “lame duck” big engine. Either way, any ’65 big Chevy with a 409 was an ultra-rare car—only 2,828 full size Chevrolets came equipped with either the 340hp or 400hp version of this motor for the model year.  Plus, the 400hp version only came with the 4-speed, so just the 340 hp version could be had with the 2-speed automatic as well as the 4-speed manual.   No matter how you slice it, these Powerglide 409 magazine test cars were as rare as proverbial hen’s teeth.

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Car and Driver noted that the nose-heavy 409 was a decent handling car for its size, but really built more for interstate cruising. Braking was roundly criticized however, though it was in keeping with Detroit’s philosophy of providing only minimally adequate stopping abilities.   Heck, if you crashed, assuming you weren’t maimed or killed, you’d just have to get a new Impala, right?

 

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In spite of having the bigger 409, Car and Driver’s test Super Sport was only one second quicker from zero-to-60 than the 327 Impala reviewed by Road Test. Given the added weight and $102 additional cost, that extra 40 horsepower over the 327 really didn’t seem worth it.

Nonetheless, the Super Sport driven by Car and Driver was still a great buy, with an as-tested price of $3,724 ($28,021 adjusted). The magazine praised the value offered by Chevrolet, especially given that prices stayed pretty flat in spite of the comprehensive redesign for 1965.

Ultimately, no matter which review you read, the new 1965 Chevrolet was an impressive car, well designed for eating up the miles on the highways and byways of America. Especially in the 2-door Sport Coupe body, it made for a really compelling package.

So if you were shopping in early 1965 for a full size car, 2-door hardtop with automatic, from the “low price” Big Three, which one would you pick? And if you’re picking Chevy, assume you can’t wait for the 396 with the 3-speed Turbo Hydramatic, so your choice is Powerglide with a 283, 327 or 409—which would it be?

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For me, I’d have gone for a Super Sport with the 327 4V 300HP V8. With the money saved over the 409 ($102) I’d have splurged for power windows. It would have been the perfect car for suburban cruising. Mine would have been Danube Blue!