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!
Great article and a beautiful car!….btw, according to the BLS inflation calculator, getting the A/C option on this car would cost you about $2700..youch!
I always liked the ’63/64 dash in these cars and always thought it was a bridge to the dash design of the later sixties and onward.
Classic song and classic car. They just don’t do car songs like they did back then………”She’s real fine, my 2.0 Ecotec” just does not have the same punch as the old big block!
I always liked ‘308’ by The Malibooz:
“She runs real low and she runs real fast
She eats up clutches and she’s bad on gas
But when I go on a safari
You know I’ll be in my Ferrari
She’s real great, my 308…”
But the most appropriate for today’s world would probably by ‘Hey, Little Minivan’ by the Austin Lounge Lizards: “Hey, Little Minivan, we’re goin’ to the grocery store!”.
Along with the Olds 442, the Impala SS has the distinction of being offered as a 4 door in it’s inaugural year.
Interesting . . . I never knew the Impala SS was offered in a four-door hardtop in ’61 . . . . also, Gary Usher, Brian Wilson’s friend, drove a ’61 Chevy SS 348 with cutouts. He raced up and down the Wilson’s Hawthorne street while Brian recorded the roar of the open cutouts and the Carter secondaries kicked in on a Wollensak/3M reel-to-reel portable with about four extension cords running back into the house, Carl and Dennis Wilson making sure their Simon LeGree father Murray didn’t come outside and spoil the fun, and Brian holding the microphone and keeping an eye out for the Hawthorne Police . . . true story. Gary Usher made about six passes, decked his lights, and cut out for Inglewood.
Yes i have a 64 impala 4 door s s can someone give me some history on this car it is 4sale . vin 41839c13454953 and in good condition.
There were no 1964 Impala SS four doors built. The only year for four-doors SSs was in 1961, when it was an trim option. If you bought one used, someone converted it to SS trim, but it’s not original. Sorry.
The L78 (or L89 if aluminum heads) 396 was only rated at 425 hp for one year (1965) and then only in the Corvette. It was probably no different than the regular 375 hp L78 396 that was in everything else and was some marketing chicanery done by Chevrolet simply because the most powerful small-block in the 1965 Corvette was the L84 327 FI with the same 375 hp rating as the L78 396 in all other Chevrolets.
But it would seem that the plan actually backfired since the L84 was $245 more than the L78 which, supposedly, had 50 more horsepower. Chevrolet would have sold more of the fuel injected engines if they hadn’t fudged the numbers on the 396 and left the horsepower rating the same as it was on everything else.
It was rated @ 425hp in the Impala too.
Ever notice the disparity in the lenth of the trunk lid on modern cars vs.’60,’70,80s even ’90 cars. the trunk lid on the Impala has to be four feet long. Just measured my ’08 focus, 14 inches long.. Im sure a ’13 chrysler 300 isn’t much longer
The trunks themselves are definitely larger, but today there’s also a trend toward fastback-style rooflines. The downsides to this are larger C-pillars, which create huge blind spots, and trunk openings the size of mail slots.
While I can easily fit a bicycle into my Altima – with the rear seats folded and the front wheel of the bike removed – I could fit a similar bike into the trunk of my Dad’s 1970 Ninety-Eight, transversely, flat on its side and without removing the wheel.
I suppose the tradeoffs to today’s trunks are the lower liftover, greater depth (despite the spare being under the trunk floor, and less obstacles, such as the fuel filler tube and spare.
Mailslots are the correct term. The trunks are big if you want to carry sand. If you want to carry things, the opening makes modern trunks pretty useless. I’d wish they’d go to 5 door liftbacks and be done with it.
The fastback roof line has superior aerodynamics.
It can, although it doesn’t necessarily, depending on how well the airflow is managed.
The Impala SS brings back a lot of childhood memories of my late father. From 1962 thru his last company car in 1965, they were all Impala SS, two-door hardtops. Granted, dad was heavily into following year resale, so they we also all 250hp (or whatever was the bottom line version) 327 with Powerglide. Just the same, those four SS’s, and the ’67 and ’70 Camaro RS’s were my essentially stodgy father surprising the hell out of me. And I was especially shocked when he allowed me to talk him into the handling package on the ’70.
It stuck, of all his remaining cars he bought, if they were ordered (rather than coming right off the dealer floor) they would all get the heavy duty/sport/police/whatever they called it handling package. Even an old dog can learn new tricks.
A very attractive car, as Chevrolets were in those years. I am one, though, who thought the 64 to be a step backwards from the beautiful 63. The 64 just seemed a bit plain to me. I would have picked a Ford, but most of America did not agree with me.
These were all around me back then. We had neighbors with a silver-blue Impala convertible. They lived across the street, and I can still hear the “clack clack” as they shifted the PG from reverse to drive. Chevy used one noisy shift linkage. A high school friend bought one of these from an elderly relative, a white Impala sedan with a 327/PG (and air conditioning!)
I was always amazed that with as much acreage as there was in that dashboard, the tach had to stick on the shelf in front of the speedo. As low as you sat in these cars, I wonder how many drivers could actually read the middle of the speedo over that tach. The mysteries of GM instrument panels always intrigued me.
For what it’s worth, this car was immortalized by a totally different genre of music as well: Gangsta Rap. In 1993 everyone wanted to be “Rollin’ in my Six-Fo”, tricked out with hydraulics, Daytons, and a pounding sound system, preferably the convertible so that the frame flex let you do tricks while you were driving down the boulevard.
For a car that was out for only one year substantially as seen here, it sure is legendary with a lot of people. Amazing what music can do.
Now that I know that the 6-4 had finally shed the X frame it makes sense why these are the popular juiced lowrider, they finally had enough semblance of strength to handle the abuse.
What makes you think the ’64 had “finally shed its X Frame”? That didn’t happen until 1965.
The way the piece was worded, it says it “marked an end to the X frame” which reads to me as it was gone, instead of marked the last year for the X frame, the end of the line for the X frame or similar. What can I say I’m not a fan of Chevys and don’t know the ins and outs of them.
I cannot find that quote anywhere in the article. Where exactly did you find that?
I repeatedly said the X-frames where used through MY ’64, such as this one: Chevrolet’s “little brother” relationship to Cadillac was more than skin deep, inasmuch as the two of them were the most consistent users of the X-frame; from ’58 through the ’64 MY, in Chevrolet’s case. Here’s the ’59 version in full display. The ’58 was unique to that MY; the ’59 – ’60 frames were identical, as were the ’61 – ’64 frames.
Yeah, there’s some memories right there. Back in 1969 or so, when I was 9 years old, a ’64 Impala SS hardtop was one of my first cases of serious car lust. It was owned by somebody who worked at the local sawmill, and it was painted that lovely shade that I know think of as Zackman Avatar Yellow. I’m not sure why that particular car made such strong impression on me. Maybe it was the way the grill always seemed to be smiling at you– the ’64 full-size Chevrolets are very friendly-looking cars. On the other hand, maybe it was the sound of the dual exhausts and the barely-there mufflers.
I was overseas from 1962 until 1966 and my memories of new cars during that time reflects that. I had some of these when they were well used. I think it was a 62 or 63 impala with a 235 six. Whatever it was it sure delivered. I got reasonable gas mileage and a trunk that just never quit taking cargo. I can’t even remember the year for sure but I sure remember the trunk and the spacious interior. They were good cars.
Well, I put my avatar as exhibit “A”. My car was a 1964 Impala SS convertible. 283 V8, 2 bbl. Powerglide. Padded dash. AM radio. That was it – but I didn’t care – this was in many ways the coolest vehicle I would ever own, and it was a California car at that.
I bought my baby in June, 1970 and sold it in July, 1973, for a total of three years and three weeks. I paid $800 and sold it for $625. At the time, it needed work which included a new tranny, but getting ready to leave the air force, I didn’t want to be bothered with worrying about a car. How wrong I was and how regretful I still am at times!
For what it’s worth, at the time I was in CA, my wife, who I wouldn’t meet until June, 1975, lived in the STL area also owned a 1964 Impala convertible! Both our cars were Goldwood yellow, but hers was not an SS and had a white top while mine was black! Both cars had black interiors.
I knew when I found out that we owned the same type of car at the same time period, there was something special about us…
…Today is our 35th wedding anniversary!
As far as “She’s real fine, my four-oh-nine” goes, I suppose “She’s real fine, my three-point-six” does not have the same ring to it in reference to my new Impala’s engine…
Thank you, Paul. We really appreciate it. It has been a great day!
For the record. my original 1963 license plate was CJZ-688. I wonder if my old car still lives somewhere…
Nine years ago, I seriously considered looking for another 1964 Chevy convertible since we both owned one, but during my search, the prices were way out of reach, and I didn’t want a basket case. In any event, in October my left eye went south and that began a whole different “restoration” project that wasn’t 100% successful. Needless to say, life has been a bit different since and priorities changed.
Still, the dream lives on…
Gorgeous car. One nitpick, however.
I don’t believe the black plates are original. I believe they’re replicas. According to the California DMV, the letters I, O, and Q are not used in the first or third positions on any standard issue plate. They are too easily mistaken for numbers.
My thought is the plates were ordered from a replica plate company for show.
My reference: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/plates/standardplates.htm
Not true, CA DMV is Os and Qs all the time!
You are correct timmm55, although, these were the “oddball” sequences issued in Southern California. Also, Cal DMV still issued some “A” plates through to 1967. Reason was certain DMV office still had some unissued black plates from the first ’63 stampings still in stock. These were sent back to Sacramento and farmed out to varioius DMV offices, usually in Marin, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano and Sonoma counties.
For what it’s worth as a very small, but car concious child, when our family cars went over from yellow to black plates (1963; the ’55 and ’61 Pontiacs), they were DNS 447 (the ’55 870 Chieftain) and DNS 448 (the ’61 Catalina Safari).
I always thought that the Chevy stylists for the ’64 line mailed it in. Yawn city! But the stylists at Ford had obviously discovered LSD before Timothy Leary. My favorites were the Plymouth/Dodge mid-size cars. A 383 in either one of these, especially with a 727, could wipe a ’64 Impala or Galaxie.
And I hate to break it to you tools, but the revving engine sound at the start of the Beach Boys hit “409” was actually a that of a friend’s 348. They recorded the sound on the street in front of their home in Hawthorne, CA. Neighbors nearly called the cops. My wife of 36 years wouldn’t be surprised that I know this important piece of information. I sometimes I am at a loss for her name. That’s why god created terms such as “sweet cheeks” and “baby cakes”. She responds to these.
Not true, CA DMV used Os and Qs all the time! (Edited out the numbers)
Sorry wouldn’t send original large pics. Couldn’t edit!
Another……both cars were within a 4 block radius from where I live.
On Discovery Channel “Fast & Loud” brings back to life a 1964 Impala..
new season BTW…tonight! I’ll have to watch.
Beautiful car! My ’64 Impala is essentially the car that’s in the front spread of the dealer brochure: Meadow Green Sport Sedan with a 327. I’ve upgraded to a THM700R4 and installed a rear stabilizer bar and wider tires, but the car is otherwise restored to original. The factory air and clock both work, too.
I like your car/dog combo better than the feature — beautiful car man. I’m partial to the four-door hardtops in the pre-’65 bodystyle and Meadow Green is probably my favorite hue of that time period.
It’s nice to know you kept the original wheelcovers & got everything working, especially the clock. Did you keep the original mechanical movement or buy the quartz conversion? The mechanical movements weren’t 100% accurate but they actually “tick” which is nice.
A friend’s 1963 Impala was white with a red interior and a 283 if memory is right.
Cool cruising McHenry Ave in Modesto during the later 1970s.
We were soooo cool.
Critics may dismiss the ’64 as ‘plain’, but true big Chevy fans [me] love them! Have an AMT 1/25 scale model and an original Matchbox Chevy Taxi.
The ’64 is legendary also in ‘Low Rider’ culture. Freddie Prinze [Sr.] joked of his ’64 Chevy with toy dog in rear window that wobbles its head.
The 64 was my favorite as a child, by the mid 70’s there were several sitting in yards and fields that I endlessly schemed to get my 10 year old hands on. Didn’t work out of course..
What did work out was that my Uncle gave me his old control line model plane stuff. So although I didn’t have a 409, I really did sing about my .049 while I was refuelling the plane for another dizzying / balsa splinter inducing flight.
It really adds to the song to substitute the mosquito whine of a Cox motor for the bellow of the Chevy big block…
Great story about one of my favorite cars. I was still in elementary school when these came out. I used to draw them (and the ’63s) all the time.
In hindsight (and realizing everyone has their own opinions on styling), I’d rank the 1961-64s in the following order (best first):
My grandfather, an orange rancher who started a bank, then went into Orange County (California) politics, drove a Cadillac touring car in 1920, switched to Auburns about 1930 and Buicks around WWII. He suffered a stroke in 1956 and could no longer drive, so my grandmother took driving lessons and got her first license at 70!
She bought an Anniversary Gold and Cream ’58 Biscayne 4-door sedan with Power Pack 283 4-barrel and Powerglide. Her next (and last) car was a white ’64 Impala 4-door hardtop. With a 2-barrel 283 she was disappointed with its performance but got used to it. Her doctor and son (my dad) and used it for several more years.
* * * * * * * * *
Kevin Martin, the owner of the 348 Chevy (believe it was a ’61) was Brian Wilson’s first roommate Gary Usher, with whom he wrote a few songs. Driving one day, Ushier said to Brian “I’ve gotta save up to buy one of those 409s” and the words just flowed. They did record the open exhausts of the 348 on a reel-to-reel in the Hawthorne neighborhood. Sadly, the 105 Freeway to LAX took most of that neighborhood maybe 30 years ago, including the Wilson home and its historic music room. There are some plaques on a retaining wall of the freeway near Hawthorne Airport.
Another Impala first, the six tail lights, started a fad in the fall of 1960 when the boat-tailed ’62 Corvette was introduced.
Some Corvette shoppers objected that “I’m looking to buy the most expensive Chevy and it only has FOUR tail lights!” And a few dealers had their body shops add two extra tail lights tooard the center of the rear fascia. Harry Mann Chevrolet in Los Angeles and Clippinger in Glendale (?) were among the first.
You can hear about “‘six tail lights” in “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean. Murry Wilson wwas furious that Brian had given a hit song to the competition!
I have a 1964 impala I’m trying to figure out if it’s a ss or sports coupe my vin reads 41847T. My cowl reads Style 64-1447 body BA 770.
love all the impala pictures. I sold my 64 impala ss 409 hardtop in 1987 to a guy from ohio and have always wanted to see how it turned out it was in good shape at that time. I lost his info and could not find him after I sold it. i live in greenback tn just a few miles south of Maryville tn if this rings a bell to anyone please give me a email
as a young man, I owned a 427/409 super sport impala. Burgundy in color with black leather interior. 4 on the floor with chrome stick. Burn’t 11 valves in less than 6 months. she was a monster, but couldn’t hold together. Would anyone know how I might get a picture of this or something similar? My 50 year old son can only imagine!!