(first posted 2/18/2016) There are some cars, such as a 1973 Impala, that are pretty likely to interest a sizable swath of readers due to familiarity and first-hand experience. After spending hours in preparation of an article, realizing you’ve struck a happy chord with the audience is gratifying.
However, on the flip-side, there are some cars, such as a 1973 Impala, in which there isn’t much original that can be said about it. Model year 1973 wasn’t the beginning of a bold new generation of Chevrolet, there aren’t any mind-blowing technical innovations found within it, nor did it earn a whole host of positive accolades in its day. For me sitting at a keyboard, that poses enough of a problem to facilitate my letting these pictures ferment for several years.
Sometimes it’s great to learn you are wrong.
Many of us, which is likely a sizable number after 43 years, were too young to have first-hand experience with these. Being a very small infant when the 1973 models were introduced, I’ve tended to gravitate toward other, celluloid associations with the 1973 Chevrolet. Don’t get me wrong; I have seen oodles of these on the road in my lifetime, but they were getting some age on them before I became aware.
The first 1973 Impala that came to my mind (after the one belonging to old Mrs. DeWitt, the retired local school teacher) was from the 1974 John Wayne film, McQ.
This movie has the distinction of being the first to use a black powder cannon to flip a car without using a ramp. Once upon a time, a car stunt in a movie did not necessitate computer animation that thumbed its nose at the laws of physics.
If you want to see how this turns out, here’s a clip of a Plymouth (driven by 67 year-old police officer Wayne), a Chevrolet, and a Cadillac frolicking on the beach. In a grand salute to 1970s style, two of these cars are green.
However, from various comments I’ve read here over time, a movie long associated with this vintage of Chevrolet would be the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. Chevrolet produced 941,000 full-sized cars for 1973 and about half of them seem to have made their way into this movie as every car between New York and Louisiana was a brand new big boned Chevrolet. Ah, the beauty of product placement.
So while production of the big Chevrolet was down about 75,000 units from 1972, there was a time not that long ago when a person couldn’t sling a dead cat without hitting an Impala (or Caprice or Bel-Air). In a sense these were the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord of the day; simple, reliable, straightforward transportation for those who needed something to ferry folks around.
There are even similarities in their variety of uses; lots of folks rode in a Bel-Air taxi….
Much like many people these days have ridden in a Camry taxi.
Far fewer Accord taxis are to be found.
Yes, I really like that shot of the Bel-Air taxi and looked for an excuse to include it; think of these taxi shots as being gratuitous, much like nudity or violence is in many movies. Any car that can hack being used as a taxi is worthy of recognition.
Over time the Impala (or the full-sized Chevrolet in Bel-Air, Impala, and Caprice guises, if you prefer) weaved its way into the American lifestyle of the 1970s – and beyond, as I will occasionally still see one of the big B-bodies on the road that does not have 38″ rims. Size be damned; people liked these cars. If you think the Camry (and Accord) is popular now, just remember the Camry’s sales volume for 2015 was roughly half of the 1973 full-sized Chevrolet sales tally.
Granted the market was different then, but hopefully the visual appeal is evident. How often do you see a two-door car that looks so relatively lithe in spite of its 121.5″ wheelbase?
If only the output of the components under the hood worked to continue the windswept sheetmetal encapsulating it. 1973 was the last and (thankfully) final year one could order a straight-six in their full-sized Chevrolet until the downsizing in 1977. Cars were becoming heavier – a Sport Coupe such as this had a curb weight of 4,096 pounds, presumably dry – and engine power was down. The numbers showing power rating were reduced due to a change in measurement in 1972 but actual output was also down to meet ever tighter emission standards.
The four-barrel 350 cubic inch (5.7 liter) V8 found in this particular Impala was rated at 175 horsepower – about ten less than a 2016 Honda Accord. A mere three years earlier in 1970, that same configuration of 350 was advertised at 300 horsepower.
Emissions and safety equipment were the defining factors in cars during this time, and the implementation was not free from significant growing pains before it matured. However, when looking at the 1973 Impala from this pubescent angle, the story really begins to blossom.
Such as discovering who was one of the most unlikely buyers of one.
So what in the world does Soichiro Honda have to do with a 1973 Chevrolet? He is that unlikely owner. Not only did he buy a 1973 Impala, he had it air-freighted to Japan.
With the emission standards for 1975 looming over the heads of manufacturers in the United States, there was a lot of angst on how to best meet these requirements. In a sense, this isn’t vastly different than how diesel engines in the trucking and off-road markets have had the tiered approach the last several years to ease into emission standards.
Honda had developed their CVCC engine system in 1971, allowing them to initially meet emission standards without having to resort to using heavy and costly catalytic convertors. Hedging their bets, Ford and Chrysler became licensed with Honda to produce this system if needed.
The CVCC engine system was pretty ingenious. Putting a rich mixture into a chamber near the spark plug, yet outside the cylinder, combustion took place in this chamber and carried over to a very lean mixture in the cylinder itself.
When the CVCC engine was introduced in 1973, then GM president and CEO Richard Gerstenberg flippantly dismissed the technology. In a statement that was a twenty-one gun salute to both short-sightedness and plain old arrogance, Gerstenberg stated:
“Well, I have looked at this design, and while it might work on some little toy motorcycle engine…I see no potential for it on one of our GM car engines.”
This understandably didn’t sit well with Mr. Honda. In one of the more polite and professional ways of saying “kiss my ass” found in modern history, Mr. Honda purchased his 1973 Impala and had his engineers get to work. They adapted its 350 cubic inch V8 to CVCC technology by installing a custom made intake manifold and cylinder heads while maintaining the factory four-barrel carburetor but discarding the EGR valve. Sending the car back to the United States, Mr. Honda then had the EPA test it for its emission levels.
The Chevrolet had 3,000 miles of testing upon reaching the EPA’s laboratory and it retained its factory levels of power output. The only difference was peak horsepower was reached about 300 rpm sooner than when it left the factory.
Subsequent to testing, the EPA released a full report about the CVCC Impala. One of the more enlightening tables can be seen here.
In their conclusions, the EPA generally had favorable comments, stating the use of CVCC technology did indeed allow full-sized cars to reach emission standards for 1975 and 1976. This was able to be achieved without exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), which they found satisfactory.
The only real flaw to be found is seen in this table. Both NOx and CO2 emissions were higher with the CVCC engine, but overall the engine was cleaner burning than in stock configuration with fuel mileage comparable to other cars with similar weight and engine displacements, as per elsewhere in the report. The various statements and results about fuel economy found in the report do conflict each other.
How the EPA figured a stock 350 Impala could obtain 18 miles per gallon at a steady 60 miles per hour is unknown.
When I took these pictures in 2013 I had no clue about any of this. All I knew was this Impala Sport Coupe belonged to one of the two mechanics who worked to refurbish my old Ford Galaxie.
Sadly, I forget the gentleman’s name (although I clearly remember his face), but he has owned this Impala for quite a while. It’s been the car he’s driven to work for years and it belonged to his mother before him. He had no clue how many miles had accumulated on the odometer.
So I suppose I shouldn’t be so quick to hesitate about a car due to a perceived lack of information. Sometimes the biggest goldmines are in the most ordinary pastures.
I love this shape; I don’t think B-O-P made a good job of the heavier bumper situation in 1973, and by 1974 Chevrolet had lost it as well. Has nothing to do with my very high estimation of LALD in the 007 canon, I just think they succeeded in making the face work on this model year, overbloat’n’all.
Just read about about the CVCC Impala for the first time recently. I wonder where it is now. Makes me think of the rotary Mazda Roadpacer. hehehe
When my father was transferred to the American branch of German conglomerate in 1973, he received a fleet car as one of the executive perks: a 1972 Chevrolet Impala station wagon. It was the biggest ever car we had in our lives and so polar opposite of what we were accustomed to when living in Germany.
I will look in my family photo albums and ask my parents about their experience with their first American car. Perhaps excellent idea for contributing to CC…
+1 Please do.
Great find! I love these ’70s Chevies (Chevys?), and it’s uncommon to find a Sport Coupe. Most of the few I’ve noticed still running around are Custom Coupes.
I still remember the whole class chanting “Change the y to i and add es”.
Guess they don’t get taught that these days.
“Chevy” is informal, a nickname. I’ve seen it spelled both ways in the plural form; in fact, if you examine the responses to this thread, you’ll see it spelled several different ways. To be perfectly formal, it should be spelled Chevrolets, or, even better, Chevrolet cars.
I don’t want to come across as standoffish, but it’s a bit rude to suggest that I am unaware of spelling and grammar rules, as I’m an English teacher, and my comment was undeserving of such criticism.
Oops. Just saw this, six years later. My response was intended to be a general observation, (as a parent and grandparent) not personal in any way, but I can see how it came across like that. My sincere apologies.
“Chevys” is common usage, and is the name of a very popular nationwide restaurant chain.
I read that as “Fresh Men” and thought it was a distaff Hooters.
Your mention of movies made me stop and think. Even though Chevies were the most common car for 40 years, they rarely got product placement. Movies and TV shows and even books in the 1950s and 1960s were remarkably Chevyless. Mostly it was Fords, which isn’t too far from reality, or Nashes, which is just weird. Nash must have paid heavily to get those placements.
“Bewitched” always had Chevy’s during it’s run.
“Route 66” with the 2 drifters always in the latest model Corvette convertible is the only other TV show I can recall that used Chevy’s.
It would not surprise me that Ford and Chrysler were actively chasing TV exposure and cutting massive deals to get their cars on the air. GM was not in that position, with its unassailable market share.
I do recall Chevys in Bewitched and Pontiacs in My Three Sons and Gidget. Otherwise, not a lot of GM stuff on TV.
I also wonder if GM held back because of antitrust concerns. It’s not like GM vehicles needed the additional publicity, or that GM wanted to greatly increase market share at the expense of its rivals.
In his book, DeLorean complains about the lackluster quality of Chevrolet advertising in the late 1960s. One wonders if it really hurt sales all that much, given that the division easily remained in the number-one spot.
I recall this very well, as I was a die-hard GM fan as a child, and it miffed me to no end to see Ford and Chrysler get most of the glory in terms of product placement on TV shows.
But as you both say, GM didn’t have a pressing need with their overwhelming market share, and antitrust concerns could have been part of it.
Cadillac ran national TV ads ONLY during the Masters and the Triple Crown in the early-mid 70s.
The 73 is a nice contrast to the 65 Paul told us so much about yesterday. The THM350 and front discs and radials were there to improve things and weight had not gone up as much as I would have thought. I am guessing springing for the 4 barrel meant you could beat a 283 or 230 65.
Mr. Gerstenburg comes off as overly flip about the CVCC, but I find it hard to blame him. The CVCC EPA results are underwhelming. Remember CVCC lasted barely a decade on Hondas and did not prevent catalytic converters. I can see why Honda would have been pushing profitable licensing with thier Impala.
I do fault Mr. Gerstenburg for not sensing the coming importance of small fours in future cars. Honda’s motorcycle experience turned out to be their ace in the hole.
70s style comes in a distant second to 60s style as the two Impalas graphicly represent. I think the world lost a lot of confidence in a better future with the tribulations of the late sixties. The buyers became more about themselves and less about the world around them. Thanks Jason.
I must disagree with you on this. If anything, the EPA results show a staggering reduction in both HC and CO emissions, all while still using a carburetor and no other electronic controls.
Essentially it brought the HC down to zero at above-idle conditions.
And look at CO emissions – from quick-suicide hose-in-the-window numbers down to around half a percent at anything above idle.
That is really impressive in my book. Remember, this is 1973, not 1993! No oxygen sensor, no feedback controls, and no computer-controlled spark advance. Shoot, even the early 1980s computer-controlled-carb’d domestic vehicles couldn’t get emission numbers this good most of the time.
I did a similar upgrade to a stock engine when I put electronic ignition and throttle-body fuel injection onto my 1971 LTD 429 engine. I tested it on the emissions tester at our high school auto shop and it also showed extremely low levels of HC and CO when compared to what it put out stock.
You are right of course. I am perhaps joining Mr. Gerstenburg in being too flip. It is easy to see now that the exact fuel metering of fuel injection and catalytic converters were the answer to pollution and CVCC, thermal reactors, Mitsubishi jet valves and Chrysler lean burn were not. That does not mean that such things were not incremental improvements and steps on the road to solving a tremendous engineering challenge.
In business school, it is drummed in that NIH(not invented here) is a disease that should be stomped out. This view might lead one to view Mr. Honda as a visionary and Mr. Gerstenburg as an insulated hack with blinders on.
Think of the world of 1973. The Civic was only just being introduced and had an engine less than a quarter the size of a 350. The back pages of Popular Mechanics were filled with ads for miracle carbs and other gizmos. Some of which no doubt were pitched to GM as an answer to their smog problem. Converting the massive numbers of small blocks to CVCC would have been expensive, complicated and left a then small Japanese motorcycle maker with ownership of an important technology of a standard engine. Added to that, it is the simple truth that CVCC was no pollution panacea. To view Mr. Honda’s CVCC Impala has something to mock since it was simply not a possibility is understandable. Instead of mocking, perhaps send a Civic to Zora to mount a smog compliant L82 350 in the back of and then send the result to Tokyo with a note saying “We have a suggestion for you as well.”
Also remember that catalytic converters require unleaded gasoline, while the Civic CVCC engine could operate on leaded or unleaded gasoline.
One of the goals of the Clean Air Act was the elimination of leaded gasoline – which was a good thing – so the ability of the CVCC engine to run on it became irrelevant over time.
Keep in mind that GM was by then already utterly committed the going with cats, starting in 1975, when the regulations tightened dramatically. GM’s decision led the way for the rest of the industry, and required the creation of a whole new industry of building the cats, by the millions, no mean feat.
Gerstenburg was just doing what he had to do then, dismissive of a technology that was not GMs (Not Invented Here Syndrome), when GM was already committed. And of course, for the long haul, it was the right decision, as the CVCC technology could not make it beyond a certain point of ever-lowering limits. It was a dead end technology.
My comment is somewhat repetitive of yours as we were writing at the same time. Glad to see we agree and you put it more succinctly.
Been a long time since I’ve seen one of these on the streets around here. For all the bazillions of 73 Chevy’s ( Caprice, Impala, Belair, Biscayne) made, they sure are thin on the ground. Heck, you rarely see any at antique auto shows anymore.
The tin worm was pretty aggressive with these units. Too bad.
Great article though. Been 40 years since I piloted one of these boats around. Brings back fond memories of my 1969 Chev Impala 2 dr with a 327. Man, did we hoon that car around.
Thanks for bringing these largely forgotten Chevy’s back in the spotlight.
On top of rust issues, in places there rust isn’t such a problem, most of these cars have seen their last days numbered in the demo derby. In recent years, people have gotten so desperate for the few of these left, they are willing to travel great distances just to have a stockpile of them for future use. I really wish I had been able to buy more vehicles at one such place- it had line after line of BOP and Chevy ’71-76 B body cars, even a few C’s. Great if you need parts for a restoration, but bittersweet to know what will happen to them all. And sadly, most people aren’t restoring them- just a sentimental few : (
I’ve always liked the 1973 Chevy Impala. I used to see these when I was a boy. My grandparents drove Buicks and Chevys throughout their marriage. They were stylish and reliable vehicles.
Considering the date these were made I think they looked pretty good when new and still do to – day .
They certainly ran like crap though with off idle ‘ flat spots ‘ , soft power at all RPM’s and loads , stalling problems caused by the EGR valves , retarded cam timing from the factory , on and on ~ ugh .
It was all dead easy if laborious to open the engine up and peak and tweak it to run very well indeed and still pass the then non dyno emissions testing , those few who did were richly rewarded with cars that were fun to drive if more powerful than the stock suspension and brakes were designed to deal with .
My 76 Impala COULD get 18mpg, but only when I didn’t have the cash to keep the tank full – otherwise I hammered that lo-po SBC hard and rarely cracked double digits. Hey, it’s what you did in the early eighties when V8 powered land yachts were dirt cheap!
Love the two new angles presented in this post – their ubiquity, and also the story of Mr. Honda’s excellent, tasteful rebuttal of Mr. Gerstenberg’s assertion. Ha! Gotta love that old-GM arrogance. (Actually, no…no, one doesn’t.) Great piece, Jason, that adds to the wealth of knowledge about these Chevrolet B-bodies in CC archives.
I’ll always remember the chase scene in the James Bond movie Live & Let Die where all of the cars were 1973 Impalas or Bel Airs.
Seen this a few times. Was this possibly trick photography? Many cars are yellow taxis, maybe superimposed in editing?
That has to be one of the most ludicrous product placements ever: an entire freeway of Chevies (suitably spaced for easy lane-changing of course)! You’d think they could’ve mixed in other models at least, but maybe it was all in fun.
Maybe the producers decided to have fun with their mandated product placement by poking fun at the ubiquity of full size Chevys at the time. If I saw a similar scene in a movie today with a highway that was nothing but Camrys, I’d make a similar assumption. It would be absurd, yes, but I definitely would get a chuckle out of it.
cf. red Neons in “Brain Candy”.
That has to be one of the most ludicrous product placements ever
Even more so than the AMC dealer in Bangkok?
I am a little older than you and remember these in different ways. I think of soft rubber shifter knobs that would get loose and fall off, large expanses of molded plastic in the door panels that would scratch easily, black steering wheels no matter what color the interior, a flaccid structure that would jiggle on bad roads, and that delightful lacquer paint that would turn all chalky and was hard as hell to keep looking good if it started to turn.
However, all these years later I must acknowledge the good points too, which include solid and simple mechanicals, heat and a/c systems that were the wonder of the industrialized world, and their good looks. If these were as cheap and everywhere as they were in the early 80s, I would drive one now.
I really did like the looks of the 73 and think it may have been the most attractive of the entire lengthy run of these cars. And yes, LALD was really an extended commercial for the 73 Chevy. I was OK with that because Quinn Martin gave Ford even more exposure on TV. 🙂
Also, this was the first I had ever heard of the CVCC 350. Interesting stuff!
I agree with every and all of JP’s observations.
Here in salt free but humid New Orleans, this generation Chebby developed windshield and back window rust holes almost as soon as the factory warranty ran out.
I recall walking thru parking lots and marveling at the ingenuity people had on display with their use of duct tape and caulking, TRYING to keep the interior of their rusty cars moisture free.
That’s the way I remember them, too. I still remember the hood and front fenders on my parents’ 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale hardtop sedan flexing as I drove down country roads.
Agree that it all depends on age and what you grew up with. For those who learned to drive in the 50’s and 60’s, these must have been a disappointment. However, growing up in the 90’s around little front wheel drive puddle jumpers and later, noisy Fast n’ Furious rice burners, the 70’s cars were a real delight. Parents were driving 80’s station wagons and boxy mini vans, neither of which had the presence of their malaise OPEC era predecessors. Those cars’ flaws gave them a bit of weathered character- even if they were more the result of shoddy workmanship than actual battle scars. Hood flexing aside, these cars had a good solid frame and those lamented park shelf bumpers were great in low speed collisions. The wagons, with their leaf spring rear suspension, made an affordable and stylish low ridin’ truck for home improvements and camping.
You make good points. I remember as a teen, my car-mentor Howard used to harp about what awful pieces of crap 1950s cars were. In his world, good cars came from the 40s and the 60s. As a kid who grew up surrounded by 60s-70s stuff, I thought the 50s stuff was cool as could be and was delighted when I found one (the 59 Fury sedan). And to my kids, the big rwd 80s stuff is huge.
That’s awesome. It would be funny to hear someone go off about 50’s cars like that in today’s world- they are worth so much now. Are your kids smitten with the 80’s B-body cars? They still had style. It makes me wonder, 20 years down the road if a teenager might dig a late 90’s Toyota Camry out of a blackberry thicket, remove the clods of moss, put some Radiohead in the CD player and dream about the days before satellite radio and park assist existed. . . . Hmmmm
I drive a ’56 Dodge Regent in the summer months. They ARE horrendous to drive. Armstrong steering, non power drums all-around. Ya, a real hoot to drive, so long as you’re not going over 25 mph.The closest analogy I can think of is going downhill on a toboggan, no steering and no brakes, hang on for the ride. The ’73 Chevy would do circles around the Regent. Trust me on this. Howard’s right.
Nitpicks, niggles and carps on my part, but JP’s criticisms ring true with me, and were another force at work reducing the Impala’s stature as America’s sweetheart.
From WW II through 1970, the most popular big Chevy could be counted on to be completely trimmed out and nobody would think it a stripper.
My dad’s ’68 Impala had a fully color keyed interior, carpet on the lower door kick-panels, and standard stainless wheel lip mouldings among other exterior trim. None of this was true of the ’73 Impala. The dashboard tops in these cars were notorious for cracking and splitting, and Chevy used the same basic crap on its big car dashes through 1989! The grid over the center dash top radio speaker would eventually cave in. And, yes, those transmission selector knobs did come off and frequently got lost in the process. And, I’m not talking about 15 year old examples, these kinds of problems could occur in 3-4 years. The quality and value lapse over time soured a lot of people on Chevy. If you were loyal to GM, a trip to your Oldsmobile dealer corrected most faults – which was exactly what a lot of people did back then, myself included.
As the ’70s progressed, Ford took over my dad’s garage and much of our once heavily Chevy dominated street. Chevy did clean up the value proposition to a degree with the ’77 clean sheet new cars, but not completely. But, the cars were revolutionary enough to make a comeback in our garage and on our street.
Ah, the cracktastic GM dashes. Present and accounted for in both my ’79 and ’82 Malibus. Even the dash of our ’86 Parisienne, which had been garaged for all its life previous to our ownership, had a crack (though only one which was kind of remarkable).
Chevy spread the same dash material in the B bodies to the A bodies in 1973, and those cars also had endlessly cracked dashes.
GM could do better and did. The dash material in my ’73 and ’76 Oldsmobile Cutlasses was bullet proof. They also had proper speaker grills, instead of the Chevy’s perforated and unsupported dash padding material that would dry up and cave in to the speaker.
Your ’86 Parisienne used the 1977 – 1989 Chevrolet dash – and the results were just as expected.
’73 was a banner sales year and Motown was kicking cars out the door. Seems like the B post sedans were more ‘solid’ than the hardtops, just from memories.
’73 was indeed a banner sales year for the overall market. As the article notes, full-size Chevy sales actually fell by 75,000 units.
GM’s big luxury C body cars had a record year, and the new GM A body mid-size coupes were also making huge sales gains.
People who were willing to spend full-size Chevy money either sprang a few bucks more for a better full-size car, or invested in more options in a well equipped mid-size. The stripper full-size car was a fast dying breed after 1973, and the Impala had minimal differences over the Bel-Air of the period. Chevy stripped it of a bit of its dignity, and after the Bel-Air was cancelled after 1975, they introduced the Impala S as the base model – for the frugal and fleets. No doubt a few wags at Chevy figured the S stood for stripper.
The stripper full-size car had a longer lifespan in Canada. Here a 1973 Canadian BelAir hardtop. http://oldiesfan67.canalblog.com/archives/2014/12/09/31099899.html We could still get a Biscayne in the Great White North for 1973. http://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_205781-Chevrolet-Biscayne-1973.html
That’s a pretty remarkable Bel-Air. I extracted the photo. Between the Canadian trim and likely some options, it is quite worthy of a U.S. spec Impala – or better.
I’ve slowly learned a few of the differences about the Canadian market. I can only guess whether Canada experienced an “oil crisis” in fall of 1973, your pollution regs may have been more lax, and the economy supported a much smaller number of higher priced cars.
So, its possible that a Canada 6 cylinder Bel-Air performed better than a U.S. spec car would have and a more conservative buyer base kept the simple big car going strong for a longer period of time.
Unlike our neighbours south of the border Canada did not experience a “gas shortage” during the first time the Arabs turned off the taps. So we were not lining up at the pumps. Certainly not in western Canada where there are a large number of oil refineries. Full-size cars like the Impala were very popular at the time as they were ideal for driving long distances especially in the prairie provinces.
The gas crises was selective down here too. In Wichita Falls we didn’t have gas lines either. In fact we never even noticed it.
Thanks Garry M. That was my guess.
Why do I get the impression that Canadians that could get the U.S. Evening News in 1973 and 1974 thought they were watching the comedy hour? Between energy and Nixon, we must have been a regular riot.
We in the U.S. Midwest also hung in with our large cars in greater numbers than the coasts. But, the pump prices did hurt a bit at times.
A teenage friend had a 71 Impala Custom (which like belly buttons we called an “Innie” as opposed to the “Outie” above when describing the rear window)
Anyway I developed a large amount of respect for that massive car, how well put together it was and it’s ability to absorb the incredible amount of teenage abuse that was heaped upon it.
As mentioned above it was rusty, but the sheet metal was thick and it would scale off quite a bit before an actual hole developed.
Nice find, although I am not a fan of the battering ram bumpers. 71 and 72 were much nicer in that respect. Still good to see one that wasn’t killed in a demolition derby.
HaHaHa – the “innie” and “outie” rear windows is the best description I have ever heard on these, and will undoubtedly be the only one I will remember from here on out.
Your last sentence hints at another reason so many full-size Chevys and other large cars from the seventies disappeared from the automotive landscape.
About 1975 or 76, a co-worker found one of these mid 70s Impalas (a 4 door sedan) for sale in the newspaper. Being only a few years old it had low mileage and was in excellent condition. He REALLY wanted that car and an impeding cross country work transfer pretty much sealed the deal. But his new wife (of less than 6 months) did not like the car. She told him if he bought it, she miggt even leave him. He bought the car, took the company transfer (her job required her to stay put), and he wrote and called her from his job nearly 2,000 miles away.
Before learning about “product placement” in movies and on tv, I always assumed movies like Live and let die used a lot of 1 type of car in case a car got heavily damaged and needed replacing. It would be much easier to replace a light green Chevy than it would be an Emberglow T-bird or Mustang.
Barring that “theory”, movies used a ton of 1973 Chevy Impalas as a way of say: these cars are as common as dirt…almost generic.
The ideas a kid comes up with?
I am the proud owner of my Grandmothers 72,000 original mile 74 Impala Sport Coupe. Best of all, it was free. I love it. I always thought the taillights in the bumper looked strange. I like the 74 up bumpers better. I just have never had a problem with the 5mph bumper look. Most do, I don’t. My 74 is still in good shape, however in the last year it is starting to show some rust at the base of the rear window like they all did. Good thing I know how to weld (barely). I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My friends and I joke when it finally becomes a pile of iron oxide, I’ll just sweep it up into a coffee can and put it on the mantle. Oh yeah, almost forgot, the plastic bumper fillers are all gone to. In that respect Ford is much better. All 12 of my 70’s Ford’s have all their bumper fillers. My grandma bought the 74 in 80 from the original owner for $2200 with 22,000 miles on it. I was there when the deal went down. It has belonged to the father of one of my dad’s friends who had quit driving when his eyesight started to fail. Ironically, my grandma stopped driving it in 99 when her legs started to go.
One aspect not mentioned is the 73 Full sized Chevy was one of the first cars to offer Air bags as an option. Basically a real world beta test in the market. One of them was involved in what would have been a fatal accident in the St. Louis area. the young women, driver and passenger, were able to walk away
1973 Impalas were also the first to have airbags. They were first part of a test fleet but they were retrofitted with lap belts and sold to the public in 1975 while other GM cars were available with airbags as an option. Unfortunately, Chevrolet and Pontiac never offered the option on their production cars in 1974-76 models.
Here’s a link to a photo group for cars with the ACRS option. I posted a few pictures of my 1975 Electra in that group but there are also 1973 Impala pictures there. https://www.flickr.com/groups/1619498@N22/
In 1978 I learned to drive using our 1973 Impala station wagon – an orangey color with a cream vinyl interior. It had a 400 V8 and I remember the wheel covers that so many of those cars had (like the green car that’s tipping over in the article) rusted after just a couple of years. Most wouldn’t have looked twice at that car in 1978 (some would have…the color was ugly) but today everyone would – when was the last time you saw a big clamshell Chevy wagon?
Yes! Me too, 9-pass Impala wagon, 400, was my DL road test car in 1976. Color was burgundy turning to chalk, like the coupe in the photos. Dad bought it with 35,000 or so miles. It was a real pig, had a couple bad exhaust valves or something, made a ‘chuff-chuff-chuff…’ sound. Excellent, though, after the mechanic worked it over, and removed the lousy AIR emissions pump that made noise and sucked power. Lousy Rochester carburetor with a bad accelerator pump (combined with other emissions ‘features’), had to do a careful pedal dance to go! and not stall when pulling out from a stop, especially when it was cold or part-warm. Fond memories of it hauling us to arena concerts and the like. What a comfortable cruiser. Still have a scar on my thumb from changing the timing chain at about 120,000 miles. Also, rust. Patched rear fenders and replaced the gas tank when it was 5-6 years old.
After the mechanic’s workover, helped no doubt by the tall axle ratio that came with the torquey 400, the car did return 18 mpg highway. I recall it happening more than once. Oh… also recall we had to replace the leaf springs.
How about the GM one-button cruise control? A recessed button at the end of the turn signal stalk. I remember dad having fits trying to set or adjust it. Especially trying to slow or cancel. He’d press the button and the thing would slow as expected. Then, release it, and, roarr!! the gas pedal would abruptly floor itself & the car take off toward the slowed traffic ahead, dad would cuss & stab the brake pedal. lol!
I guess your dad didn’t know about the on/off switch that was also on the turn signal stalk.
Far left was off, midpoint was on.
Pushing against a spring to far right let you increase the set speed.
The button on the end was for setting initial speed
Holding it in was coast function.
That said it was always easier for me to simply tap the brake and then resume it when traffic cleared.
Is it Impala week? – Cool! – For this generation, if I could have one customized (albeit modestly) I’d go for an Impala 2-Door Hardtop or Convertible with the front end of a ’72, but with the back end of a ’73. As a 12 year old kid when these came out, I remember saying to my Dad how much I liked the new taillights of the ’73 over the ’72, but was not a big fan of the new 5-MPH bumpers hung on the front of this car. The ’72 had much better styling up front, IMHO.
Did anyone else notice the Tarmac Classic out of focus behind the ’73 Bel-Air Taxi cab? The venerable Douglas DC-3 ;o)
Yup. And that cab was no genuine cab, as no Yellow cab operator ever ran white wall tires. It must have been a movie set or something.
Yep. That’s from Live and Let Die as well.
Correct; I found the cab picture among the LALD pictures.
Hey, at least SOME of the movie details on the cab appear to be correct… Check out those Dog Dishes… ;o)
I drove a ’73 Biscayne Yellow Cab in San Diego, but only when I was very lucky, the ’73s were the newest cars in the fleet (this was in the fall of 1976), and they had V8s! My regular driver was a 1970 six, followed by a 1971 six. The ’73 with the V8 felt like a rocket in comparison. And they weren’t yet utterly worn out like the older cars.
And yes, the 1971 I drove felt much looser structurally than the 1970. In fact,it often felt like it was just going break apart on a big dip or bump. I’ve never driven a car that was so structurally compromised as that 1971, but then it had been in taxi service for 5-6 years by then.
I wonder what ever happened to that CVCC Chevy. Did Honda keep it? Did GM crush it?
Oh the memories! Shortly after getting my drivers license Dad replaced the family car. He sold our 67 Fury II and replaced it with a new 73 Impala Sport Sedan with AC, first in the family with that option. (Don’t know how we survived so long with out that living in Savannah, GA, Nashville, TN and Mobile, AL) Same color as one in chase scene from McQ except the hardtop. It had a light tan almost white interior. It was fairly well equipped but had Dog Dish Hubcaps. Dad opted to add the factory deluxe wheel covers to dress it up a little more. Eventually I even landed a set of factory wire wheel covers for it from a college roommate whose Dad was a sales manager at a Dallas Olds dealer. That was a fairly rare option for a Chevy in 73. Too rare, I guess, since within six months they were stolen off the car in the Church parking lot. Really set the car off right. Dad had a parishioner in his church who was friends with a Chevy Dealer near Pensacola who would sell him what ever he wanted off the lot for Invoice plus a little bit more. I think he got it the Impala for around 3700 and had a window sticker of around 4500. The car though interior wise was not really any larger than the Fury was quite a bit larger on the outside. I ended up buying the car from Dad about 6 years later and it had around 145000 miles on it when I sold it. Never remember the car giving us any trouble and was a wonderful cruiser on a long trip. Remember cruising at 90 mph on the long trips before the double nickle limit took effect. Dad and Mom liked the car so much that he eventually bought a low mileage 74 Impala used from a friend for the second car a few years later. Unfortuantely the 74 did not drive as good as the 73 and then Gas Crisis 2 hit and the 73 was bought by me and replaced by a Rabbit and the 74 was replaced by a Citation. Two of the worst cars ever in our family; except they did use a lot less gas. The 73 Impala got around 15-16 MPG if it was run 55-60 on the Hwy. I remember around town single digits was the norm. The 74 got worse even though both had the standard 350 2 barrel.
Those cars were everywhere in the mid 70’s, I can remember having to look twice at cars in the Mall parking lot to make sure you were trying to get into your car. I think Mom more than once went to the wrong car wondering why the door would not unlock.
Occassionally I see a 73 Sport Coupe around town in the same color combo as our 73 and still think it is a pretty good looking design.
OK. So if a typical British car did 25-30 MPG at 25p per gallon the fuel costs would be the same?. .
1973 Chevys are special to me, not because I remember a particular one but what happened on a trip to Janesville Wi in 1973. My Father thought it would neat for me ( a ten year old car crazy kid ) to tour the GM assembly plant,(building full-size Chevrolets at the time). When we got to the plant office we were informed that you had to be twelve years old to go on the plant tour. I was heartbroken. My Father talked to the fellow doing the tours and told him I really liked cars and was looking forward to this all week. The tour guide came over to me and quized me about (mostly) GM cars. After awnsering all his questions effortlessly he told my Father, Well, I`ll make an exception for him. That tour stills stands out in my memory and every time I see a 73 full-size Chevy it takes me back.
You’ll never forget what they were building the day you got to go to an assembly plant… For me the plant was GM’s Broening Highway Assembly Plant in Baltimore. We took two tours. On the first tour, they were building the 1969 Chevelle SS396 that day. The second time a few years later, it was the 1973 Chevelle Laguna S3. Two pretty cool cars for a car crazy kid about 3 years older than you. ;o)
Norwood Assembly, late 70s, lots of black Trans Ams with screaming eagle hood decals. And a few gold Camaros mixed in…
If memory serves, Harry Dean Stanton drove a Chevy of this vintage in the classic Repo Man.
18mpg isn’t crazy. My first car was a ’74 Malibu, with the 350/2-barrel and a 2.73 axle.
Yes, a Malibu is a bit lighter than an Impala, but if I feathered it on the freeway, I could get a consistent 20mpg.
When my dad went car shopping back in 1976, I think, one of the cars he came home with was a ’72 Brookwood. He opened the hood and told me to “Go get George.” George was a mechanic who live two houses away and I thought there was something wrong due to the way he said it so I hurried over.
Dad was worried about how small the motor was and thought there was no way it would last hauling around such a big car. George assured him that the small 350 would be just as durable as the big blocks that dad had always bought. The 350 looked absolutely tiny under that hood.
My friend still has a couple of these. A ’71 ragtop and a ’74 sedan with the 400 small block.
Not exactly the same level of style and flair as it had in the first few years? Starting in “69,I didn’t personally think there was anything “sporty” about the Impala Super Sport. I thought they looked more like a business (barge) instead of a sport coupe(not exactly in the same league as the Chevelle SS) ,now there was a sports coupe. . Maybe they should have re named it the Impala Business Sport,or just called it Impala “B S” for short. That’s probably why the Impala SS was discontinued after the “72 model year? I’m sure there are many that will probably disagree with me,but that’s just my opinion.
1969 was the last Impala SS, before the 90’s version. fyi
Anyway, Collectible Automobile did a story on 71-76 Chevy B bodies. Turns out that the highest selling model year of these [edit, oops, this in the article] was actually 1972.* While ’73 was a banner sales year overall, and Chevy was still #1, I’m willing to bet that the new Monte Carlos took big Chevy sales. [Or B-O-P cars]
* Lowest was recession year ’75
These do look surprisingly light for such a huge car. And I actually think the ’73 rear bumper design is the best of the bunch. The dog dish caps work really well here too–the car just looks “right”.
Nice car, not a big fan of most vehicles built in 1973 but I’ve always liked the 1973 Chevy sports coupe’s a lot, of the 1971-76 full sized Chevy’s I’ve thought 1973 had the best looking front end and the front end grille was far more attractive than the 1972 grille and that is something I can’t say for many 1973 cars, for some reason this particular 1973 Chevy Impala looks like an earlier Impala due to it not having the battering ram 5mph bumpers.
Reading the table’s results, the CVCC Impala was cleaner than the regular car. Lots cleaner.
Increased CO2 WITH reduction of both CO and HC are clear indicators of a more complete combustion. I guess that’s what led to the higher NOx, noticeable at 60 mph. Higher CO2 is good in this case, actually in any HC combustion process.
If they were extracting more heat from the fuel, it would also reflect in the fuel economy.
Wow Jason , the featured car is local to me. Runs around Winfield Mo. In the first photo before l scrolled down I thought man that looks familiar right down to the baby moons. In one of the latter shots I recognized the repair shop as the one on winding hwy EE. It’s about 6 miles from my place. Thier sign is framing a 67 Chevelle, caught my eye as I had one the same color, my first car. Around 79 or 80 l had a 74 Impala sport coupe with the Spirit of America trim pkg. I’m curios when you shot this,the foliage is green. You sure get around Mo shooting road side classics. Thank You for all your time and effort you put into writing up these most enjoyable roadside features.?
You nailed the car and it’s location! My wife’s parents live about two or three miles away on a county road off EE.
I took these pictures back in the summer of ’13. The car belongs to one of Bill’s mechanics.
Yes, somehow I do get all over the state with regularity. 🙂
Loved the McQ clip. I couldn’t help but thinking – the stipped but nimble Belvedere must not have had any sort of rear view mirror for the Duke to keep cranking his hand back to see the pursuit behind him. Were the windshield wipers clearly marked on the dash, ready at the helm to take on each beach wave? A win regardless for Ma Mopar over the General. LOL.
If you Google “1973 Impala Sport Coupe” one of the first images to load is a photo of my 1973 taken at a car show at the Illinois Railway Museum. It is #29 midnight blue with a white vinyl roof. It’s great to read other folks who favor these cars. Another show that featured and unfortunately wrecked a bunch of them was James Bond’s Live & Let Die.
I wish I had a full set of car specifications of all eras. I would love to calculate (interior volume+cargo volume)/exterior volume. Some of these cars were horribly space inefficient in the name of style.
I suppose these can become coveted classics, but unfortunately I personally remember them and have driven them, so I have no desire to own any of them. I simply do not look upon these full size cars of this era with any fondness.
American family cars got really crappy after 1967-1968, until the 1980s and fuel injection of the 1990s. As you probably know, they are too heavy, too floaty, too thirsty, too bloated, too plasticky, too vinyl, and freaking big to enjoy as a daily runner. It seems that these cars were meant to be driven on expressways, not suburban or urban streets.
A “Spirit of America” Impala was my drivers education car. It was new, white, coupe, with a navy carpet, white upholstery and dark red dash and r/w/b stripes accenting the exterior and interior. It was the desired car of the class. I attended a giant high school and they had a fleet of drivers education cars. Most were Pontiac LeMans, so the Impala was my teacher’s ride and I guess he had some decision what he had to work with.
There is simply no way to explain to a driver without experience driving these road whales what it was like to “pilot” them. Were they better than the previous 1970 versions? I highly doubt it. It seemed that every US manufacturer was convinced that families wanted their ride to be as disconnected from the road as possible. They floated, careened, swayed, and bounded around like drunk porpoises – no freaking road feel, guys! I remember being told to look at the hood ornament far ahead of you, and try to place it on the edge of the road, to help figure out the center of your lane. You just could feel where you were.
That giant Impala sit four comfortably, that is, if the guys in the back were shorter than six feet tall and the front seat was moved forward to let the girls find the brakes and accelerator pedals. Not much room for such a giant car – but that back seat had TWO ashtrays. Couldn’t accommodate a child safety seat, but it could accommodate any child needing to ash their smoke!
Instrumentation? LOL! You got a speedometer and a fuel gage, a clock that was never correct and a bank of colorful idiot lights. AM radio with a speaker in the dash ahead of you and a speaker behind the heads of the rear seat passengers. What did we know? We thought it was amazing that we could hear “Get on the Good Foot” by James Brown and still be considered being in school.
As you can imagine, I never wanted anything to do with any of these cars until 1977 for the GM rides, and 1979 for the Ford rides. Chrysler’s full sized cars lost so much market, by the time their bloated road toads were replaced, Iacocca just axed them for a decade and hoped the Pentastar would last another year with a Federal bailout.
I saw these rides as cars for oldsters and completely understand the love for imports that went on for the next twenty years. I would have hated actually paying for any of these monsters. It took me until 2013 to finally break down and buy a full size car out of sheer need of family space in a second car. (Excellent car too, btw)
I cringe to think that one of these cars ended up at Honda. What an embarrassment. Those engineers probably saw that 1973 Chevrolet as some kind of bizarre sea creature and also realized that they would conquer the US market by making a ride that made sense.
The Impala in movie “McQ” was a custom built stunt car, not a factory spec Chevy. Instead is a custom built frame vehicle, with ‘factory’ sheet metal on it. So, the attached metal makes it look like a then brand new Impala. I used to think ‘wow, they trashed a brand new car!’
Same technology used in “Matrix 2” movie chase scene, where a supposedly ‘new 2000-ish Olds Aurora’ is trashed. And, the Caddy CTS is put through motions. With newer CGI, too.
The moon hubcaps look “Biscayne” inspired. Lord we had two of those as our ‘family rides”. Both were new; a “65” and then, a “68”.
Only option on either was “automatic”. My dad even did that classic “radio delete”.
I recall it getting him a $38.00 credit on the invoice. lolol
Fascinating story about Honda and a CVCC Chevy. As one who worshiped at the alter of Volkswagen back then, I was not a fan of the huge Chevys, still not even though I’ve moved well past the VWs. Back to Honda, it’s nice to see the brash confidence and putting his money where his mouth was, and showing off new tech.
The car chase clip had me laughing hysterically. I wonder if John Wayne had a neck cramp from turning around so much instead of using the mirrors. Related to the Chevy that gave its life right there on the beach, I always thought of the big three, the Impala integrated the 5 mph bumpers the best of the big three, if the safety requirement was the most eye catching design change that got everyone’s attention that year. Certainly better looking IMO than the Ford with its “let’s make it look like it will stop a train bumper” and the boxing gloves of the Fury.
Why was Wayne running away if he had an automatic weapon in the car?
Chevrolet should never have sold those big bumpers with bare bolts. Just screams “CHEAP!”
I always liked the roofline of the 71-73 coupe. They ruined it when they added the fixed opera windows in 74-76. Our family car was the 72 wagon version of this car, the Kingswood. They came along just as the gas crisis of 1973 happened. Then the crisis of 1979 really made this car irrelevant within 10 years. I thought we had the car for a long time. But it ended up only being 8 years. They were not space efficient. They were the last of the dinosaurs. But I wish I had our old wagon back. It would be weird to drive the car I learned to drive on again.
When the general manager of the company I worked for around 1980 upgraded to a new downsized Caprice, his ‘75 or ‘76, similar to the subject car, was passed down to the engineering department for us to borrow to drive the two miles or so from our office to the factory, if we didn’t want to drive our cars, or if we needed a big car to haul a group of us that wouldn’t fit in the small imports most of us owned. The drive involved a long suburban straightaway and a few right angle corners. We learned quickly that the right cornering technique could shed hubcaps and even scuff the white sidewalls in front. I think the loan ended when our chief engineer saw the car pass him in the other direction going 2-3x the speed limit. It was a barge.
Another notable albeit brief silver screen appearance
Never owned a Honda; but make this a sedan and a 1972 Biscayne, and you have my Grandfather’s last car…he passed away in 1986. My Grandmother never learned to drive (neither one of them) but kept the car around as my Uncle used it for a time after until he ended up selling it. We lived 1700 miles away, but in the late 80’s I got a chance to drive it (only once)…I was there with my parents and Grandmother, and we were on a poorly planned trip to visit one of her brothers, who didn’t know we were coming (and wasn’t home)…but it was a glorious day in June, my Dad was sitting next to me, and my diminutive Mother (and almost as small Grandmother) were barely visible in the rear seat, which seemed to sink down lower than in the Fords my Dad owned at the time. We didn’t find her brother, but ate a nice meal at the now defunct Effort diner and generally had a good time anyhow…my Grandmother passed the next year, but fortunately I was able to see her one more time that year, the week before she died (unfortunately not the case with my Grandfather, he died while I was finishing up work on my graduate studies, and unfortunately I couldn’t travel so far.
The Biscayne was a stripper, though it did have the automatic and 350 engine..just AM radio, don’t think it had a rear window blower. What I remember best was it was the first car that had those international pictograms on the dash controls, including the radio tuning and volume knobs. It was a pretty nice ride…also got to drive my Aunt’s ’69 98, which I think is the oldest car I’ve driven (guess I live a sheltered life)…which was even nicer, though for a 98 it still lacked air conditioning, power windows and locks, which I guess were still optional..I think it was a bit nicer drive than my Grandfather’s Biscayne.