For those of you who weren’t around during the ’60s, this is the car The Beach Boys were singing about: the Chevy 409 V8. The ultimate ticket to bragging rights in your full-size Chevrolet. Eventually it would be supplanted by the 396 and 427 V8s, but hey, that was in the future. In 1964, this was the one to have.
The 1964 full-size Chevrolets marked the end of a basic chassis and X frame that dated to 1958. Although 1965 would usher in an all-new big Chevy, the ’64 was treated to yet another restyle nevertheless. While the ’64 full-sizers were rather fresh and modern, they also looked just a little bit plain, at least compared with the prettier ’62 and ’63 models. Once again, several series were available: The Biscayne, Bel Air, Impala and the top-of-the-line Impala SS.
For some reason, 1964 model year production was recorded only by body style, but from all appearances Chevy did pretty well. As for the full-size brigade, 536,329 sedans, 442,292 Sport Coupes, 200,172 Sport Sedans, 192,827 wagons, 120,951 two-door sedans and 81,897 convertibles came off the line that year. With a 119″ wheelbase and 209.9″ overall length, these cars had plenty of room and space. As you’d expect, they didn’t lack for stretch-out room and trunk space.
But back to the Super Sport. Inside and out, the SS received special trim that set it apart. Instead of the C-shaped chrome trim that followed the standard Impala’s body side “coves”, the SS got a broader, full-length spear with a simulated engine-turned insert. A similar trim molding accented the rear deck, just above the familiar triple taillights.
As had been the case since 1958 (not counting the ’59 Chevrolet’s cat’s-eye taillights), all Impalas received triple taillight units per side while lower-level models, such as the Biscayne and Bel Air, wore twin taillights. Like the large “jet exhaust” taillights on contemporary Fords, it was a clever way to identify a Chevy or a Ford at night, when taillights were all you could see.
The standard engine for the 1964 SS was, believe it or not, the Turbo-Thrift 230 cu in, 140-hp straight six. An SS Sport Coupe cost $2,839 with the six, and could be rightly called the “all hat and no cattle” version. For an extra $109, however, you could get a 195-hp Turbo-Fire 283 with a single two-barrel carburetor and single exhaust. Of course, these were just the “cooking” engines–new car buyers with a need for speed could choose from an extensive menu of available engines.
Unlike today, most dealers didn’t stock a wide variety of cars for their lot. Most people wanted their car just so, which meant ordering it out to their exact specifications. In the engine department, one had a choice of slow, decent, fast, faster and fastest.
Above the standard 195-horse 283 were 250- and 300-hp versions of the 327 cu in V8. Both came standard with a manual three speed; optional was the Powerglide automatic or the four-speed manual transmission. For most new car shoppers, they probably were more than enough engine, but there was even more motor available to those with the desire and the cash: The soon-to-be-legendary 409.
The 409 V8 was introduced along with the new Super Sport model in December 1960, a few months after the other 1961 models. It was a direct development of the Chevy 348 “W” big block engine first introduced in 1958. Initially available with a single four-barrel carburetor, it produced 360 horsepower, which was bumped to 380 for 1962. A racing version with dual four-barrel carbs, aluminum intake, and forged crankshaft produced 409 horsepower, thus achieving the vaunted “one horsepower per cubic inch” rating.
By 1963, the 409 was offered in 340-, 400- and 425-horsepower variants. For hot rodders and Walter Mitty-types with the cash, the brawny, stylish 1963 models had it all, and were perhaps the most beautiful of the 1960s full-size Chevrolets. GM and Bill Mitchell were really at the top of their game.
The same lineup of 409s returned for 1964. The 400- and 425-horsepower versions were available only with a manual transmission, but you could get the 340-horse version with Powerglide.
Despite its power–and even despite the Beach Boys song–the 409’s run had by now pretty much reached its end. As time and GM engineering marched on, it was replaced by the 396 cu in big-block Mark IV V8 mid-year during the 1965 model year. In no time, the 425-horse 396 would gain just as much fame and admiration, if not more, as the 409.
While the “regular” Impala was very nice, and offered most any option and accessory you could ever want, the Impala SS took things a step further. Both hardtop and convertible Super Sports featured unique, leather-grained upholstery, bucket seats and a center console.
Simulated engine-turned dash inlays, rear-seat radio speaker, door reflectors, dual dome and foot well courtesy lamps, and SS badging rounded out the interior upgrades.
Beyond all these cool features and upgrades, SS models could be dolled up even more, thanks to a variety of available factory options. Among them: Deluxe air conditioning with heater ($364), tinted windows ($38 all around, $22 for just the windshield), two-tone paint ($16), a six-way power seat ($97) and a $48 tachometer, as sported by our featured car. Foreshadowing the Great Brougham Epoch, Impala SS hardtops could wear a vinyl roof covering for an extra $75.
According to the good old Standard Catalog of American Cars, 185,325 ’64 Impala SSs were made, and 8,684 409 V8s were installed in full-size Chevrolets. Somewhere in those numbers is our featured car, which is owned by David Mills. You may remember his 1960 Impala Sport Coupe from a couple of months ago. Because it wound up not selling at auction, it’s still keeping this ’64 409 company.
Like its 1960 Impala stablemate, this SS is a largely original car. The numbers-matching 409 V8 was cast on May 21, 1964, at the Tonawanda, NY engine plant. The finished engine was then sent to the Van Nuys, CA plant for installation. This Impala was built during the third week of June, 1964.
Other than a repaint in the original Ermine White, the car is unrestored, and shows approximately 74,000 miles. It spent much of its life in California, until it was purchased by Mills. It still has its original “black plate” California license plates, too. This car is a true time capsule.
As befitting its top-of-the-line status, this car has plenty of options, including the chrome engine dress-up kit, tachometer, power steering and dual outside rear view mirrors.
Nineteen sixty-four was a big year for Chevrolet. The refreshed Impala line, mechanically improved Corvair and all-new midsize Chevelle produced a lot of happy folks at the Chevrolet division–1965 would be an even better year, not just for Chevrolet, but for all of Detroit. Echoing the sales performance of a decade earlier, 1965 would set many production records as Bill Mitchell’s squared off, linear styling evolved into more sculpted and sweeping designs. But in 1964, things were going quite well, making all of that–for now–strictly academic.
Once again, I’d like to thank Mr. Mills for taking the time to show me his classic Chevrolet and sharing the story behind it. His 409 is a beauty!