There’s lots of tempting goodies at the Cohort, but this solo shot of a ’65 Impala SS coupe by Hugo90 caught my eye. The full-size Chevies, as well as all the big GM cars, were of course all-new that year; more new than any Chevy since 1958. It must have been a lot of pressure on Bill Mitchell and company. The ’65s certainly made quite a splash when they arrived; a shockingly big step in a new styling direction. But as I look at the tail of this Impala, I can’t help but think that those tail lights look grafted on, and must have been some sort of painful compromise; they just don’t look organic with the design. And of course they disappeared for 1966, and then on, for more conventional and better-integrated ones. Was it done to keep some single measure of continuity with the ’64s, and the well established tradition of two and three small round taillights? Probably, and unfortunately.
Cohort Outtake: 1965 Impala SS Coupe – Those Taillights Must Have Been An Afterthought
– Posted on June 28, 2012
Paul, I have to disagree with you on this one! I remember being very impressed with those “floating” taillights when I was a kid, even though these cars were a few years old by the time I really started noticing cars. They still look very sharp today. The more integrated, rectangular taillights of the 1966 model are a disappointment, in my opinion.
My parents bought a used 1965 Bel Air wagon in 1968, and I remember being fascinated by those taillights. I only felt cheated because the owner’s manual showed all of these Impalas with THREE taillights on each side, and our Bel Air only had two per side.
Now, don’t ask me about the long-term quality of that car. It was one of the reasons my parents “moved up” to Oldsmobiles and never looked back.
I loved them too as a kid, but they’re looking a bit affected and none to organic now. But what’s that go to do with it?
I don’t agree with many of your comments about styling (AMC Matador for example) but, of course, you are entitled to your opinion and it is at least as valid as anyone else’s.
But your comment here “…but they’re looking a bit affected and none to (sic) organic now.” really gets my goat.
What does that even mean? Organic? Are you saying “I’m so sophisticated now that I can see it’s rubbish whereas before, when I was a pleb, I thought it was fine”?
Or are you judging a vehicle of decades ago against today’s standards? If so, what is the point of that?
To be frank, from a styling perspective. I’d take this car, or the Matador, or just about anything “old” against 90% of the all-look-alike monstrosities of today.
I call ’em as I see them. I sat and stared at that Impy for a while, and tried to see past the long-established internal picture we all have formed of familiar cars, especially ones that have been such a part of our lives for so long.
And the longer I looked, the less consistent and “organic” those tail lights look to me. It’s pure conjecture, but my speculation is that these lights were not part of the original ’65 design, and were likely added later in the process. As I said, speculation; but that’s how they come across to me.
We’d have to find some pictures of the ’65 clays to determine if that was so or not.
Anyway, you’re taking that observation pretty grossly out of context. My comment is purely directed to how well (or not) the tail lights are integrated in that overall design; I didn’t comment on that at all. Maybe another time. I’d like to find one to do a full CC on it.
In any case, in no way am I making a comment about this car in relation to new cars; apples and lemons.
I’m ok with your comment, but it seems you’re being a bit defensive. Questioning a detail of a car is hardly painting it bad (or good) in broad brushstrokes.
I agree with you on the taillights, Paul. They don’t fit, like when the Cordoba got square headlights or so many cars in the 90s sprouted spoilers.
And which comments about the Matador are you referring to? I didn’t write yesterday’s Matador CC.
The taillights work for me because they add a nice “contrast” to the upward slope of the leading edge of the deck lid. They add interest and “drama” to the rear deck. The 1966 rear treatment, on the other hand, is just too plain and doesn’t really have anything to hold the viewer’s interest.
The 1965 Chevrolet was designed as a “side job” by Irv Rybicki while work continued on the approved designs for the 1965 Chevrolet. That design was considerably more conservative. Rybicki showed his design, and both Mitchell and management immediately decided that his car would be the 1965 Chevrolet. Mitchell then pulled Rybicki aside and told him never to do anything like that again.
Collectible Automobile ran photos of the styling prototypes for the 1965 Chevrolet with an article it published in the 1990s, if I recall correctly.
I can see Mitchell approving these taillights to add interest to the design. He once said that if a design was “too simple,” it was boring – his exact words were, “it’s Simple Simon.” Which, to me, describes the back of the 1966 Chevrolet.
The 1965 Chevrolet, in my opinion, is one of the best designs for a full-size car ever released by Detroit. It is graceful, clean and hides its size very well. GM and Detroit didn’t design a better full-size car until the downsized 1977 Chevrolet Impala/Caprice.
I’ll second you Geeber – the floating tailight design certainly complemented the plainer Bel Airs and Biscaynes.
I would add that looking a little tacked on doesn’t necessarily mean a design element was an afterthought. In some cases (I don’t know about this one), it may be a compromise to accommodate GM’s shared body shell system. Since the basic B-body (and A-body) shell was shared across multiple divisions, a styling element that involved major structural alterations would have had to be shared by the other divisions. That happened sometimes (e.g., the body-side sweep of the ’59s, which originated at Buick), but I imagine that in that era, the managers of other divisions were not terribly keen on being forced to accept someone else’s radical styling feature, at least not without considerable arm-twisting from the 14th Floor.
I’m another who has better feelings towards the ’65 than the ’66. Then again, it may be bias. The ’65 was dad’s last company car (silver blue, otherwise identical to the car pictured) before he left the dealership. The ’66 we had was a Caprice Estate Wagon (mom’s) that dad bought shortly after leaving the dealership. And that one we kept for about six or seven years.
I like them too, as I do all the 60’s Chevy taillights. It must have cost a fair amount of money to change them every year, but they sold so many cars they could afford it.
Change them every year? I suspect one reason they did that, was that they could just re-use the 1964 taillights, or easily modify the die or the purchase order. Just spin them upside down and they’d fit fine.
Or maybe not; but I’ll bet that was the idea on the prototype. Just grab them off the line, and make them fit.
As for the design being integral: I never pretended I could design a car. I don’t know what good design is; but (most times) I know it when I see it.
This era of Chevy, was where it started, in my mind, looking “modern.” Gone the obsolete bathtub styling. No more pontoon fenders. No more pods high up for headlights; no camp hood ornaments of jets. No wraparound windshields or dog-leg A-posts that left a driver’s window so small you couldn’t get a hand out to pay the tollbooth.
No…these were long, and low, and rakish…the canted windshield; the angled divider channel on the front doors between vent and glass. CURVED glass on the sides! It was “new” to seven-year-old me; not the “old” of the tri-fives one saw in tired used-car lots.
No…it might not be the smoothest transition…but it’s still rock ‘n roll to me
Personally I love it…
THREE ROUND TAIL LIGHTS ON TOP-OF-THE-LINE CHEVYS FOREVER!
I agree. When I heard of the word “Impala”, three round taillights immediately spring into the mind. Too bad Chevy were incredibly inconsistent, they’re there one year and disappear the next model year, only to reappear years later. Can’t the design team made up their mind?
Well, keep in mind that the design for the subsequent year’s model was usually done well before the current model went on sale. The stylists didn’t usually have the luxury of knowing how well one year’s design was going to be received before coming up with a facelift for it. That’s why, for instance, Pontiac came out with the twin-grille theme in ’59 and promptly dropped it in 1960, only to revive it afterward.
I always thought in the way GM wagons were treated, rear lighting design seemed like an afterthought. But for the sedans, this falls clearly in the trademark triple-tailight styling for Impalas. Most certainly a carry-over styling cue from previous model years. The fact this design didnt make it to 66 doesnt say much, as this was an era when automakers tried to change the looks of a car from year to year. Personally, i always liked the 65’s rear end treatment better than the 66’s (which in turn had the better front clip styling). The 68’s improved on this idea yet again.
Likewise, they’re cool little nozzles.
Are you thinking horizontal lights in the full-width strip? No can do, that’s a ’65 Pontiac.
I dunno how much it hurt if it was an after though, didn’t they sell like a bajillion 65 full Chevrolets?
To be exact, calendar year production of full-size Chevys in 1965 was 1,821,266. This was the second-highest total ever recorded, exceeded only by 1955.
Counting all possible interior/exterior/mechanical options, there are more possible permutations of 1965 Chevrolet than stars in the known universe.
Now, I have no idea where I read that 20ish years ago, but it’s still strangely compelling. Did anyone else ever encounter this assertion or did I dream it up?
That tidbit was contained in a 1966 The New York Times Magazine article on the Chevrolet-Ford sales war. The person who did the calculations was a Yale University physicist, if I recall correctly.
And of course you have to remember in those days you could still special order just about anything you wanted. You want a Biscane with AC and a V8 with a manual trans?
Your example reminds me of the early 1970s Newport coupe on my local Craigslist with a 383 and a 3 on the tree. I really want it.
I saw one of those oddballs on e-bay a few months ago. Believe it was a ’66 Bel Air (I know for sure it was a 2-door with a post, so might’ve been a Biscayne), but had a 4bbl 327, AC, an AM-FM radio, and a power bench seat.
Thanks, geeber. I would love to track that story down.
I believe it was published in May 1966.
That particular Impala is my idea of cool- not repainted, not obviously modified in any significant way, and featuring the stock hubcaps. I’m one of those people who always names his cars. If that Impala was mine, I’d name her “Patina.”
My two cents worth on the tail lights: I prefer the ’65 rear over the ’66. The ’65 lights look a bit like Buck Rogers exhausts, and the ’66 rear just has a bland quality to it. If I had to name my favorite restyle of an existing car, it would be when Buick brought out the ’65 Riviera. It amounted to a subtle customization of the ’64 model; they gave it hidden headlamps and moved the tail lights down into the bumper, but otherwise kept the classic shape of the ’63 to ’64 model.
I have to disagree… Those tail lights are among the best of the sixties. They add just the right amount of spice to the design.
It’s not hard to see, especially if you imagine the trunklid without the tailights.
Frankly, I think the stylists saw it, too, since the very next year (and later) the tailights were incorporated either into the horizontal space between the bumper and trunk lid or the bumper itself. Never again were they ‘glued’ onto the trunk lid like on the ’65.
My 66 Biscayne has the flat rectangular ones.
I find it interesting that plenty of aftermarket companies make replacement lights for the Caprice and Impala, but not the Biscayne.
That’s because very few people are ever interested in restoring the low-end model in any car. Costs just as much to fix up, and you can’t get the money back when you sell it. Which is bloody stupid – the cheap models were just as important to the history of the marque.
Most of them might regret, especially when we taught then the Biscayne is only a 6-cylinder engine (or the 283ci to the latter extent) but some big-blocks 396 or even a 427 engine found their way under the hood of the Biscayne like this one. http://www.flickr.com/photos/23768530@N05/4698440070/
Another thing about the ’66 Biscayne, it didn’t share the supposedly ‘cheaper’ tails with the BelAirs that year. Very rare now for sure.
I’ll postulate the theory that they already had the ’66 design in the can before the ’65 was introduced… and they reverse engineered the ’65 to make it slightly less appealing so they’d have some things to improve for ’66. Hey, it’s just a theory… I have no evidence to support it!
But the ’65 was such a step forward from the ’64 that it was certainly one of my favorite cars in its day… then the ’66 was pretty much perfection.
What about the ’67 design? The 2-door hardtop got almost some fastback style a bit exagerated but the sedans and wagons remained basically unchanged and it grows on me thanks to the black ’67 Impala alias “Metallicar” from the tv series Supernatural.
’67 was the year they cocked it up. Detailing was horrible (look at the mis-fit of the taillights into the trunk lid) and the design in general had a look of “we’ve got to make it different from last year, but don’t really know what to do” about it.
Well, I remember when these ’65 Chevys came out, and they were a big hit for me. “Beautiful shape for ’65,” as the ads stated. I still like the taillights now, mounted up high in the trunk lid. They added a nice touch to Murilee Martin’s saga about the “Impala from Hell” on that “other” website.
In an unusual twist for 1967, the Bel Air sedans had the same triple taillight treatment as the Impalas. How do I know this? We had a ’67 Bel Air as the family car. Why GM did this for only this year is still a mystery to me, because the Biscayne had the double taillights. I also liked the fact that the ’67s had a round speedometer, the first since the 1960 model. GM then reverted to a strip speedometer in 1968.
I love the ’67s too. My family had, at various times, a ’65 Bel Air wagon (also turquoise). a ’66 Caprice wagon (white), a ’66 Impala two-door hardtop (maroon), and a ’67 Caprice two-door hardtop (Marina blue).
And yet I have always preferred the ’65 Chevy over the ’66. The tail lights don’t bother me. I’ll take an Impala four-door hardtop in Evening Orchid (a one-year color).
+1 but not Evening Orchard. Navy blue for me please.
While I agree the faired-in rectangles of ’66 produce a smoother, more integrated rear end, I have always enjoyed Chevy’s motif of matching circles — whether in parsimonious pairs or indulgent triplets — on everything from full-sizers to Corvairs to Camaros. And since a three beats a two, well, the more the merrier!
Here we see a big spender who ordered his C2 ‘Vette with the “Impala” trim level.
Although theoretically a four beats a three, now I think we’re running into the Law of Diminishing Returns.
I love the taillights on the ’65 Impala. The whole car is drop-dead gorgeous, and the taillight design maintains design continuity with previous Impalas. The ’66 Impala taillights were bland, and the ’67 Impalas looked like they were frowning. Although I love my ’64, in many ways the ’65 was the pinnacle for Impala styling.
I could see the 66 design being done first and then someone saying “hey what about the fact that we use the 2 vs 3 lights per side to differentiate the top line model from the lower end ones?” and then the designers going back to the drawing board and coming up with the design that made it too production for 1965. That being said count me as one that likes the 65 design and find the 66 a little boring despite the fact that it is more integrated.
I like the ’66 better. Paul is right, these round taillights do not look right on this car. They look like an afterthought. A treatment such as the ’65 Riviera might have worked, or at least mount the 3 round lights lower, just above the bumper.
As it is it looks like the taillights were bought from J.C. Whitney and bolted on.
Breaking news – Cavanaugh agrees with Niedermeyer! Film at 11.
I never realized what an outlier I am – from the time I was a kid I absolutely HATED the rear end of the 65 Chevys. I loved the perennial Impala concept of each side’s small triple taillights (just as I loved the big single roundies on the Fords). And Every 60s Impala up to that point was a beautiful car from all angles. But when they stuck those taillights onto the painted butt of the 65, well Yuck. I didn’t like them then and I don’t like them now.
The 66, on the other hand, solved every style problem that the 65 had (which numbers precisely 1). To me, the 66 Impala may be the best looking one of all of them, although I miss the round taillight treatment. Couldn’t they have found a way to do round taillights in that cove above the bumper, with maybe an argent finished background like on earlier models? Possibly even with little bumper dips (like the 62 Ford did). But they sure sold a lot of them, and from the comments here, most people must have liked them. But if this was true, why did they disappear so quickly?
And that color doesn’t do the car any favors, either.
The tail lights of the 1966 models look better, but I’m predjudiced, as dad had a ’66!
Still, I see nothing wrong with them per se, but I’ve always accepted just about anything “Impala” in those days. Ditto for Galaxie 500.
Funny, now that you mention it, they might have looked better integrated, even sticking out of the black trim area below. They do look rather stuck on, on the trunk lid like that.
Hey, it’s a Sports Coupe, so that covers any sin for me!
Each to his own, but I rather like the 1965 lights. They are refreshingly different. Perhaps it’s the hint of breasts and cleavage.
those tail lights may be a compromise to the purity of bill mitchell’s design but design does not exist in a vacuum. even as a small kid, i knew that four round tail lights was a mid-range chevy and six tail lights signified the top of the line. it takes years of consistency to create that kind of branding. why should chevy throw that out the window?
still, buick’s rump did work better…
I’ll just come out and say it. Buick wore the 60’s best.
Wow, lots more comments. I still like the 65 taillights the best, better than any of the later years that used the same body shell (1966-70). I couldn’t understand at the time why Chevy moved away from the round lights, the same as Ford did after so many years of using those big “afterburners.”
However, I do have soft spot for the ’67s, since as I mentioned we had a lowly Bel Air but with the triple lights (again, I don’t know why GM did this for that one year). The ’67 also had a front end that clearly was derived from the original Riviera — nice touch!
I agree on the brown color of the featured car — yuck! But I also loved that unique Evening Orchid hue, used only on ’65 (shared with Pontiac but called something different).
Tell me you are kidding. Sixty-five Chevy was a Bill Mitchell masterpiece and taillights were focal point of the design. The 66 was still a pretty car but 65 was the last and maybe the best of the really youthful, exciting Impalas. I’d call it is the best automotive design of the 1960s. Impala wagon looked great too.
I don’t concur with your assessment, Paul. As a small kid when the ’65 came out (and seeing a bazillion of them on the road, it seemed) and even today, I for one found the ’65 a more attractive car than the ’66 (which is handsome in it’s own way). My favorite ’65 color for the Chevy (especially the Super Sport) is that wisteria metallic color (which had been around on other GM cars since the 50’s). I believe that color wasn’t offered after ’65. I also remember my sister’s friend’s Mom had a ’65 Bonneville with that metallic wisteria paint job. That was a sharp car. This would’ve been in the late ’60s.
Count me in with Paul…thought they looked good in ’65, but they haven’t aged well. Now, the ’67…
Gorgeous SS! Those are the taillights our family’s ’67 Bel Air had (except for the chrome strip above the lights and across the trunk lid). Imagine a stripper 2-door sedan in turquoise — that would be our car. The ’67 Caprice as I recall had 3 red lenses and the backup lights were in the bumper.
I always thought the round taillights on the ’65 served as a nice transition from the 64s to the all-new 65. Like keeping the tradition around as a reminder for one year and then fully embracing the more modern look in ’66 and beyond.
My guess is that the movement from the trunklid to either just above or into the rear bumper had more to do with cost considerations than style. Some bean-counter likely calculated that it took longer to install the tailights in the trunklid was more labor intensive and cost more than the savings of a different trunklid/one fewer tailight on the lower lines.
It’s also worth mentioning that the original styling of the 1962 full-size Mopars was actually quite similiar. It’s one of those ‘what might have been’ questions hadn’t the then Chrysler president William Newburg panicked and nearly sank the company with his crash downsizing of the 1962 Mopars.
I loved the Impalas of the 60’s, every year was a hit for me, especially the 65. The 65’s taillights do have a bit of Virgil Exner in them – they extrude up and out in a way somewhat reminiscent of his 55 Imperial. And when you think of his 61s – the fish-eyes on the Dodge Polara, the side-hanging rockets on the Plymouth, the microphones on the Imperial – he was the master of tack-on taillights, ones that would be quickly dated. Maybe the 65 Impala’s lights seemed a bit out of place by the mid-60’s, a time when blend-in lights had become the style. In that sense the 66 Impala was right on target with both a front grille/bumper and rear lights/bumper that softened the car’s looks but made it appear more contemporary?
I’m a Ford man, but I love the 65 Impala/Caprice……….especially the tail lights!
The mid-60’s B bodies didn’t seem to age as much as their contemporary, full size competition. . . .
Guess I’m undecided. The tacked on look of the lights doesn’t really bug me but them being affixed nearly on the edge of the lid certainly does. Especially if I stare at it long enough. They remind me of some of the recent Ferraris (Enzo, 599, 456), which I really find ungainly. On the other hand, the 66 treatment does nothing for me. At least the 65 tails inspire this kind of debate, the 66 treatment just inspires me to turn the page (to 1967).
The taillights on the ’65 might look a tad artificial, but I don’t think they mar the overall shape of the car the slightest bit. I much prefer the styling of the ’65 to the more squared off front and rear treatment of the ’66 full size Chevys.
Can you still add comments to this decade-old post? I LOVE the 6 round tail lights, always have. The ’66 is so plain in comparison. I was 7 years old when the ’65 came out and fell in love with it. My family was dirt poor and had the 1958 Biscayne they bought when I was a baby until I started to drive at 14 years old. That was my first car…it had over 200,000 miles on it and used a quart of oil every 100 miles! I always wanted a ’65 as a teenager but couldn’t afford one. I owned one for a couple of years in the late ’70s. Same color as the one shown. Then, several years ago I found a nice original with 52,000 miles on it. Not my favorite color, but again, the same as the picture. The color isn’t a BAD color and is unique, which I do like. I’m doing a few things to it and will have it and those 6 round, GORGIOUS tail lights on the road this coming spring. Here is a picture as it sits now. I was deciding if I should go with redlines. Pardon the cover flipped up on top, I wasn’t expecting to post this picture online.