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Chevy's Cadillac — the 1958 Impala

Although Chevrolet was General Motor's entry-level brand, with the stylish 1955 Bel Air and the small-block V8, Chevys were no longer just basic, economical transportation. And as its customers became more prosperous, Chevrolet wanted to keep them. So for the 1958 model year, Chevrolet launched what chief engineer Ed Cole called "a prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen:" the Impala.

If there was any doubt that Chevrolet was aiming to sell a Cadillac of their own, just compare an Impala to a 1958 Cadillac:

58 Impala front

58 Cadillac

Swap out the Chevrolet Bowtie for the Cadillac crest on the hood, and could you really tell them apart?

Or consider the side profile:

1958 Impala

1958 Cadillac

Only the tell-tale shark fins set the '58 Cadillac apart from the Impala.

And inside, the Impala was the most lavish Chevrolet ever:

1958 Impala interior

Inside at least, you could tell a difference between an Impala and a Coupe de Ville:

1958 Cadillac Coupe de Ville interior

Still, with the 1958 Impala, Chevrolet had a car with the look and feel of luxury, priced within reach for a typical middle-class family. Base price for a 1958 Impala Sport Coupe was $2,586, the equivalent of $20,302.25 in 2011 (quite a bargain, no?). The lowest-priced Cadillac for 1958 was the Series 62 hardtop coupe at $4,784, the equivalent of $37,558.37 in 2011 (also a pretty good deal). Clearly, Chevrolet was giving people a lot of car for their money.

And it worked. Chevrolet sold 125,480 Impala Sport Coupes and 55,989 convertibles, 15 percent of 1958 Chevrolet production. Although 1958 was a recession year, the Impala helped Chevrolet retake the sales crown from Ford.

Chevrolet would make the Impala a full model line in 1959 with post and hardtop sedans joining the lineup, setting the stage for the most successful full-size automobile in history. Chevrolet sold more than one million Impalas in 1965  — a sales record for a single model that still stands today. And by 1972, more than 10 million Impalas had been sold.

Chevrolet has built a lot of memorable Impalas, the first 409 Super Sports, the batwings of 1959 and gull wings of 1960, the SS427s of the late 60s and the reliable sedans and station wagons we grew up riding in and later driving. But the 1958 Impala set the template — with a look that said "Cadillac" — for a luxurious car that almost anybody could afford.


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