Cohort Classic: 1978 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe – The End Of The Road For America’s Favorite Coupe

posted at the Cohort by Colin

The Chevrolet Impala sport coupe was America’s sweetheart for so many years, peaking in popularity in 1965. It and its Bel Air predecessors became icons of the big American coupe, with their flair and unique style to differentiate them from their prosaic sedan counterparts. The last year for the hardtop Sports Coupe was in 1975, and its sales had been dwindling for years. One could wonder if the all-new downsized 1977 B-Bodies were even going to have dedicated coupes, never mind hardtops.

But sure enough; GM couldn’t quite let go if its long-established tradition, having essentially created the concept with its pioneering 1949/1950 hardtops. The ’77 Pontiac-Olds-Buick coupes, especially the latter, were real lookers, with their Fiat 130 Coupe-inspired greenhouse. But the Chevy got its own unique roof. The bent rear glass is nice, but the C-pillar is a bit off. Some of those classic Impala Sport Coupes are hard acts to follow, and this just doesn’t quite live up the best of them.

I’m not going to do a complete retrospective here, but let’s just look at some of the finest of the long lineage it was trying to live up to. The 1950 Bel Air, despite (or because of) being a 7/8 scale 1949 Coupe DeVille, rocked the low priced market by being the first hardtop coupe. We can see the Sloan Ladder dissolving in front of our eyes.

What’s left to say about the ’55? Beauty isn’t just skin-deep?

The ’58 was the first Impala. And although it impressed me as a kid, even though being a few years old when we arrived in 1960, I’ve soured a bit about its wide and wallowing ways. Its beauty is just skin-deep.

It’s even easier to find fault with the ’59, but it’s way too much fun for that. It can’t be taken seriously.

The ’61 was a great improvement, even if it was evolutionary. Even CC’s Chevy-phobic JP Cavanaugh praised it here.

1962 (1963 shown) brought a totally new kind of roof.

1965 was the peak Impala coupe experience, in terms of sales as well as design daring. GM and Chevrolet pulled out all the stops, and so did I, in my write-up of it.

Although the fastback was still available in 1968, the Custom Coupe reverted to the 1963-1964 formula, and ushered in an era of more conservative coupe roofs.

The formal Custom Coupe was much more common after 1971, and good Sports Coupe pictures are not easy to find. This clean ’73 shows off its lines to best advantage, and may well be the most handsome big Chevy of this era.

The ’74-’75 Sports Coupe was the last hardtop, and not a brilliant one at that. But it’s a lot easier on the eye than the Custom Coupe (below), with its big B pillar and large fixed rear side window. CC’s Dave Skinner found this remarkably well preserved original on the streets in LA.

In 1976, there was only the Custom Coupe. The Colonnade of B-Bodies.

Which brings us back to our featured ’78 Impala Sports Coupe, standing in for the ’77-’79 generation. There was no Custom Coupe those years; the Caprice version was just called “Coupe”. It’s obviously not exactly the very finest example of its kind.

The character of this vintage Chevy changed quite considerably with the right two-tone paint job, as this ’77 Impala Sport Coupe shows. It makes them look longer and minimizes their boxiness. It’s really evoking that sleek silver ’73 a few images up. In fact, its C-Pillar has a strong similarity to that one; by far more than any other previous Impala coupe.

Obviously its bent glass rear window is a key feature, something GM was keen on in these days. A hot wire was used to create the crisp bends. The view from this angle is the best one for these cars.

The problem with the view from the front is that it’s become so generic, as millions of B and A Body GM cars of this vintage essentially shared the same basic lines. Just change the grilles and a few details, and this could be…way too many others. But there’s virtue in its trim and lean lines, and of course plenty more virtue under its skin, especially if it has the optional 350 V8 and the F-41 suspension. No need to wax eloquently again on the fact that these cars reset the dynamic standards for the big American car.

Meanwhile, north of the border Canadians still were ably to buy Bel Air Sport Coupes. That ended in 1981.

The B-Bodies got a refresh in 1981, and ditched the Sports Coupe for a Custom Coupe, which was really a two-door sedan. And it was also the last year for the Impala coupe; the Caprice now increasingly dominated the line, until the Impala (taxi and police) sedan was finally put to pasture in 1985.

A two door sedan by virtue of the fact that they both shared the same basic roof structure, although the two-door did have a wider C-Pillar. Sales of big cars plunged in 1980, so it was fortuitous that this rationalization was decided upon ahead of that recession.

Sales of the ’77-’79 Sports Coupe had been mediocre at best. Combined Impala and Caprice Coupes only captured 17.6% of all big Chevy sale in 1977, 19.5% in ’78, and 14.8% in ’79. And the change to the formal roof for ’81 didn’t help: it only managed 13.9%. The days of the big American coupes were soon coming to an end.

The end came in 1987, with the last Caprice Classic Coupe. Good luck finding one; all of 3,110 were sold, or just 1.3% of all Caprices. A bit boxy and generic, but handsome nonetheless. 38 years of big Chevy coupes, and it’s hard to find a real loser in the bunch. That’s how legends are made.

Lots of big Chevys in the GM Archives, but here’s my ’65 Impala SS CC