I know us Curbside Classic readers are a strange breed, because I think there are precious few others, at large or even in car circles, who would get excited spotting a car like this deliciously ratty 75 Chevy. At 47 years old, it’s still in regular service with no signs of stopping soon. This delights my curbside heart, and if you’re a regular reader here, I suspect it does yours too. It’s a stubborn survivor, as its owner must be as well. Seeing it inspired some deep thoughts for me.
First we’ll look at an overview of the ’75 Impalas, then get to the deep thoughts and finally hear the story of this particular car. These GM beasts have, of course, been profiled occasionally here at CC. We can’t help being fascinated with their place at the apex of the steady growth of popular-priced American cars which had been happening since at least the 1920s.
There’s no denying the “standard” (in the vernacular of the time) Chevrolet had grown to gargantuan proportions when the 1971 models started abusing pavement everywhere. Women gasped, babies cried, dogs whimpered. Advertisements like the one above bragged that the new Chevrolets gave you “more car…Your dollar wants to buy the most car value…That’s the ’71 Impala, the most Impala ever built.” Ads like this really do a good job talking up the car’s engineering, and were appealing to the left-brained consumer (like me, for instance. Full disclosure: I have owned 75 and 76 Buick versions of the B-body).
Many of the features listed were legitimate enhancements, such as standard power front disc brakes on all models (a first for Chevrolet; Ford and Plymouth still had drums standard on full-sizers) and larger windshields (with thinner A pillars). Total glass area was impressive, Chevy called it “room with a view”, all the better to try to see past the huge hood and trunk lid.
It’s somewhat infamous around CC that in 1971-3 these very full sized Chevys still came standard with sixes in the lower models, which Paul experienced in his short career as a taxi driver in 1976. I can only imagine the [lack of] acceleration provided by 110 net horsepower pushing 4200lb of Chevy plus a few passengers and luggage. Only 11,843 unfortunate cars were so equipped for 1971, dwindling to 3900 in 1972 and all of 1394 for 1973. A 145hp 2-barrel 350c.i. V8 was standard in our feature 1975 Impala, which was still not exactly a powerhouse, but it was at least adequate. A 175hp 400c.i. small block and a 235hp 454c.i. big block were optional if you wanted more motive force. 1975 being the year catalytic converters first appeared on all cars, one reference I saw said dual exhaust was provided on the optional engines, which doesn’t sound right to me. Anybody know about this?
Over the six years of this generation, sales plunged from a 1972 high point of just over one million full size Chevys. The final two years (75 and 76) saw about 400k each year. In 1975, that broke down to 249k Impalas, 91k of which were Impala 4-door sedans like our feature car, the most popular model/body. Quite a change from the mid-60s, when Chevy was moving about 1.5 million big cars yearly. From the vantage point of 2022, 400k is still a lot of cars and far more than any model of passenger cars or even SUVs is selling today. Only pickup truck models sell over that.
The advantage to that kind of volume is that you could choose your full-size Chevrolet in one of three models (Caprice, Impala, Bel Air) and six body styles (not available in all models), including Impalas in two styles of coupe and two styles of 4-door (as seen in the brochure shot above, also available in a wagon). The lower production numbers of this generation did see Chevy lavish less styling updates on them than in the past. In 1965-70, each year is very visually distinct with two major sheet metal revisions (67 and 69). This new generation didn’t change visually nearly as much, with mostly modest grille and tail changes each year. The biggest revision was in rooflines on coupes for 1974 and sedans for 1975. Personally, I like the revised sedan roofs better, especially the thinner C-pillars on the pillared sedan seen on our feature car.
When you are a kid or very young adult, most every adult seems old and for those multiple decades older than yourself, it seems almost impossible to imagine being so aged. Then when you get to be that age, and it doesn’t seem that old. At 50 now, I’ve had a growing sense for at least the last ten years of the nature of youth that’s hard to put to words. I’ll try to explain with a series of hopefully interesting anecdotes.
Every age is a form of youth, even 41. Cal Ripkin Jr. had a storied baseball career, playing in the major leagues for 21 seasons and currently holding the title for most consecutive games played (he played in every Orioles game for 16 years). Possibly his best season was 1991, when he was 31 years old and won the home run derby, was the American League MVP, the All-Star Game MVP, and won a Gold Glove. He dealt with injuries his last few years, but continued to play strongly until he retired at 41, even winning the All-Star Game MVP award that year.
Every age is a form of youth, even 56. The band Genesis is one of my favorites and recently toured. Phil Collins has had a lot of health problems and though he is 70, he looks 85 (and not a spry 85). Neurological problems prevent him from playing drums and he walks out on stage, slowly, with a cane and sits down for the entire show. But God bless him, he sings his heart out to the best of his ability. Compare video from this tour with their last, in 2007 when he was 56, and he looks practically juvenile then, moving all over the stage, lots of energy, back and forth from the drums, his voice strong and consistent. Lots of younger people would say 56 is so old, but compared to 70 plagued with health problems, it’s not at all.
Every age is a type of youth, even 96. Jack LaLanne was a legendary innovator in the field of personal fitness. Hugely influential in that industry, he proved his credibility with trademark feats of strength when he was no longer considered a young man, such as 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes (age 42); swimming the Golden Gate channel towing a 2,500lb cabin cruiser in strong currents (age 43); swimming from Fisherman’s Wharf to Alcatraz Island with arms and legs bound and towing a 1,000lb boat through strong currents (age 60); and for his 70th birthday swimming a mile in Long Beach Harbor with handcuffs and shackles towing 70 people in 70 boats. At 96, he had recently released a book and was still working out two hours every day until he caught pneumonia and passed away after a week of illness.
This idea isn’t meant to just apply to exceptionally gifted people like these examples, they’re just more interesting. The word youths as a noun generally means school-age people, but youth as a general concept is inherently relative. We are all living in an age of grace, and if you are fortunate enough to be able to get yourself out of bed; walk without assistance; able to think and speak clearly; and can appreciate the sun on your face, then you are better off than some and possess a type of youth. Even those who can’t do all those things may be considered youthful after a fashion, because at least they’re alive. We each have different views of a possible afterlife, but it is not hard to imagine scenarios where the dead envy the living, longing for the days of corporeal time on Earth. Life is a gift, however hard it can be, and those who possess any type of youth regardless of age should consider themselves blessed. I’m still not sure I’m explaining the idea well and perhaps this all isn’t so profound as I picture it, but I definitely didn’t think like this when I was a lot younger.
So, how does this relate to our subject car? You’re not going to easily find a car with daily driver status that’s either older by year or more cosmetically aged. It’s glorious! That it’s still on the road is a fact that can’t be said of 99 point something percent of its 1975 assembly line brothers. By being among the land of the living cars, I’d say despite its appearance, it possesses a type of youth.
I’ve seen this car a number of times tooling around and caught it on camera at the Family Dollar on more than one occasion. I finally caught up with the owner and got a little back story on the car. He is an older gentleman, as you might imagine, but not the original owner. He and his family have lived in this neighborhood his whole life. His uncle bought the car as a late model used car in the 70’s or 80’s, he’s not sure exactly when, and drove it for many years. The uncle passed it to his son, who also drove it for several years before it quit running and was parked for a few years. The owner asked his cousin if he were able to get it running, could he have the car? Well, he was able to get it back on the road without too much expense and has been driving it ever since.
The inside still has a little bit of original upholstery left on the front seat and overall isn’t too bad looking, considering the condition of the exterior and the amount of plastic in GM interiors by that time. Mileage is unknown, as the odometer has never worked since the owner has had the car. As far as he knows, the 350c.i. engine is original.
The Chevy impresses the observer with how looong a standard size car was in 1975. Wheelbase is 121.5 in. and length is 225 in., or about 5 feet longer than the Kia Rio hiding behind it. Perspective hilariously makes it look like the Kia’s length doesn’t even cover the Chevy’s wheelbase. It also makes it look like it rivals the width of a Family Dollar.
Frankly, it looks a little scary and its muffler barely works anymore. Modern vehicles look over with alarm when the Chevy pulls in next to them.
But the Chevy is long past the point of caring. It may look rough, but it’s still out there doing its job and seizing the kind of youth it has. Its owner cares for it without babying it and will apparently be content to drive it as long as the Chevy is willing. Not many cars can say that at 47 years and counting.
Photographed in Houston, TX May 2021 – March 2022
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