There are few classic cars as versatile as the venerable Chevrolet Impala. Sure, it’s generally been an enormous land yacht designed to comfortably carry an American family, but it quickly found love in drag racing, the custom and lowrider scenes, and its reputation for attainable full-size performance extends over decades of production. Although you’ll find Impalas of all eras in collectors’ garages, the second-generation 1959-1960 cars are particularly noteworthy for the way they transcend their era and their genre.
While considerably different from their Tri-Five predecessors, the first-gen 1958 Impalas still had one foot in the ’50s from a design perspective. General Motors made big styling changes for 1959, with dramatically redesigned models across the board. The Impala, which had been a Bel Air trim in ’58, was now its own model and grew longer, lower, wider, and heavier. The Impala also sported GM’s wide-open greenhouse theme, which featured acres of glass and delicate pillars.
While they each have their own character, the 1959 and 1960 Chevrolet Impalas have a lot in common and the two years feature the boldest fins to ever grace a Bow Tie. Wider than they are tall, they’re actually restrained relative to many of the flamboyant fins offered by other brands during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, but they still managed to make a statement. 1959 models feature gracefully curved fins and prominent, cat-eye taillights, while the 1960 model tipped Chevy’s hand about what was to come with more angular, trim fins and simple, round taillights that would become a Chevrolet trademark through 1965.
For performance, second-gen Impala buyers had the option of inline-six, 283 small-block V-8, or a 348 big-block in a variety of outputs. Rochester mechanical fuel injection was available for 1959 only, and was a relatively rare option. A 250-hp version of the 348 came with a single four-barrel carburetor, while a triple-carbed 9.5:1 compression version was available that packed 280-hp. Racing-minded Chevy buyers had more options still. They could opt for a 305- or a 320-hp, four-barrel 348, which featured a solid-lifter valvetrain and higher compression ratio, or they could go whole-hog for the 11.25:1 high-compression engine with three two-barrel carbs on for a then-potent 335 horses. Chevrolet would wring more performance out of the third-gen cars, further strengthening the 348 in 1961 and introducing the fabled 409 as well, giving the bubbletop Impala that followed even more power. Still, ’59 and ’60 Impalas resonate with collectors for their having kicked off the Impala’s performance pedigree and for their introduction of the long, low look for which the model came to be known.
Impalas roam a large swath of geography, although predictably, most are found in sunnier climates. Western and Southern states lay claim to 57 percent of Hagerty-insured Impalas.
You’d think the audience would skew older for a car that debuted when many Baby Boomers were, well, babies, yet Gen-Xers and younger enthusiasts made up a full 54 percent of people calling Hagerty for quotes on insurance for these cars in 2022. That’s a ten percent increase since 2019.
These cars have long been a popular canvas for customization, and it appears that the appetite for modifying these cars is only increasing: in 2018, only 13 percent of Impalas sold at auction had been altered, but by 2022 that number had risen to 32 percent. During that same time, the value for a modified ‘59-60 Impala increased 43 percent, from $92,000 to $132,000. Note that this follows a trend we’ve seen for other 1950s classics, particularly the C1 Corvette. Younger collectors in particular may be less concerned with originality for these cars and more interested in updates that make them drive more like modern cars.
The widespread interest in these Impalas has helped sustain values and then some. Per the latest Hagerty Price Guide, Condition #2 (excellent) Impalas have appreciated an average of 27 percent since 2018, to $49,800. Naturally, the coupes and convertibles have seen bigger bumps. A sport coupe with the big engine and the triple-two-barrel setup can run you six-figures. Happily, there are still great buys out there as well: A four-door sedan with a 283 V-8 in average (#3) condition can be yours for less than $15,000. It should be easy to maintain mechanically—we are talking about body-on-frame, rear-drive, and a small-block Chevy, after all—but body work can get costly, simply because there’s so much of it.
These early Impalas wound up being overshadowed to some degree by the infamous 409 cars that followed (that’s what The Beach Boys will do for you). Yet as they near 65 years old, they maintain their popularity on the classic car scene because they’re so adaptable. Sunday cruiser, modded dragstrip monster, flamboyant lowrider—the 59–60 Impala is game.
They’re popular because they’re drop-dead sexy in an OTT kind of way. Cars of that era had character, unlike the boring safety-mandated-design clones of today.
Its no surprise that modified cars are worth more, a trend that has affected many 50s and 60s cars. Few buyers still want the 99% authentic resto that ruled the Corvette world 40 years ago. Any mods devastated the value.
Modern suspensions are marvels of handling and, often, ride comfort, and 80 000 miles is just a warm up lap, not a final ride to the junkyard number. And any of my cars dated after 1988 were extremely unlikely to disintegrate into rust or fail to stop when requested.
But I have a warm spot for the 59/60s, a convertible 1960 Impala, loaded for style with twin antennas and a great red/white paint scheme.
I lusted over a 348 3×2 version listed in the owners manual, but had a tired 283.
It was a terrible car, with inadequate brakes (extreme fade was terrifying) and non-existent handling, as well as the side impact death trap X frame.
But I loved it.
And I REALLY wanted the even quirkier ’59.
Actually the Impala was introduced in 1958 (as opposed to your article citing 1959) offering a 2 door hardtop and a convertible only. Impalas had the original six round tail lights that carried the tradition til 1965. All lesser trim levels had four tail lights and I believe the 58 wagons had only two.
I am a pre-boomer and remember very well when I saw the 59 chevys roll off the delivery trucks. I had been thrilled with the 55-57 chevys and totally worshiped the 58s. My reaction to the 59s was ” what the hell did they do that for?” I thought it was ugly beyond any reason. Still think they are. May be that they are the reason that I forsake cars made in the USA and turned to European sports car. Turned my back completely for many years on Muscle cars. Never did understand it.
Ray, I am also just barely a pre-boomer. Born in 1945. I still remember what a rush it was to see the new Detroit cars in the showrooms every fall. I also remember the first ’58 Impala I saw. It was on the street, painted powder blue with Appleton spotlights and “Angel Baby” in shadow script on the rockers behind the front wheel wells. Later I also fell into the trap of foreign sports cars, but not until I’d spent my 19th and 20th years street racing in American iron.
My best pal in H.S. had a ’60 Impala that was the spitting image of the leadoff photo in your article except his had a white top and a set of reverse chrome rims. It was only a 283, but it was a looker.
I always tell people I like the 1955-57 Chevys but I LOVE the 1958-60s.
Another pre-boomer: I had a ‘56 Chevrolet 150 2 dr. (Standard with no back seat from the factory) and a built ‘56 265 with the 240 cam and ‘57 dual quads from a Corvette. This was in high school in late ‘58 and ‘59. When the ‘59 Impalas got to the local dealers I thought they were very cool, especially the tail lights. Bought a ‘59 Impala in late ‘60 with the 335 3×2 4 speed and posi. The 335/348 was not even close to the 150 and was, in fact, embarrassingly slow. Now, I have a ‘59 El Cam with a slightly warmed over small journal 350/327 with “old school” fender well headers as a tow car. You either liked the styling or really didn’t.
a turd in tuxedo
My family owned 58 Impala Convertible w continental spare black on black 348/250, it was a baby Cadillac, followed by a 60 Impala Convertible white over black 283. A few years later I owned a 59 Impala hardtop silver frost blue 283…. loved those cars!!!
Uggh, I commented on the duplicate (original) version of this article. Why does Hagerty do this?
This brings back some great memories. When I was a senior in high school, I had a job that I could work as many hours as I wanted on the weekends. So, when the 1959 Impalas came out, I bought a white (red interior) convertable. I parked it right in front of school which had a wooden telegraph pool right by the street next to my new car. Not knowing that the fins on my Impala protruded out, when I pulled out of the parking space I put a good dent in the chrome strip that ran down the back fender. Man, was I mad at myself for being so stupid. Being the car nut that I was, I bought a new strip and replaced the dented one.
I never parked next to any telegraph pools after that. Sometimes you learn the hard way.