The Big Brute
Return to 1966 when the Big Three offered full-sized, big-block cars that were an alternative to the muscle cars popular at the time. These cars offered power, performance, and luxury in a full-sized package, like this 427 Chevrolet Impala SS.
Text and images by Richard Truesdell
In 1965 GM introduced entirely new full-sized cars, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and of course, Chevrolet. At the time, hard as it is to believe now, GM controlled more than 50% of the US new car market. There was even talk of breaking up GM into two or more companies as it was seen that the company had almost monopolistic control of the domestic marketplace. How quaint that seems today, right.
What set apart the full-size GM cars was their styling, they made its full-size Chrysler and Ford competitors seem dowdy in comparison even given that both had all-new full-size competitors in 1965 as well. The styling signature was a Coke-bottle look with pronounced rear fenders and a very sloped, almost fastback roofline on the two-door hardtop models. All models featured curved side glass, further enhancing the look.
Underneath the sleek, contemporary body was an all-new perimeter-style frame that debuted in 1965. Gone was the X-frame that dated back to the 1959 models. And the suspension was upgraded with full-coil springs that gave a substantially-improved, almost Cadillac-like ride.
And among the full-size GM cars the five divisions offered starting in 1965, Chevrolet offered an almost bewildering number of drivetrain combinations, as well models that included two- and four-door sedans and hardtops, station wagons, and convertibles over three series at the start of the 1965 model year; Biscayne, Bel Air, and Impala. And midyear in 1965, Chevrolet introduced a top-of-the-line Caprice Custom Sedan as a four-door hardtop model to directly compete with Ford’s “quieter than a Rolls Royce” LTD. In 1966 the Caprice became Chevrolet’s top series, replacing the Impala SS much as the Impala supplanted the Bel Air as Chevy’s top model series in 1958.
All of this sets the stage for 1966 when the full-size Chevrolet models received a substantial restyle with both ends receiving a more formal, squared-off look. While the Caprice series stood atop the full-size Chevy lineup, its emphasis was on luxury, not sportiness. For a sporty, full-size Chevy, one would opt for the bucket-seat-equipped Impala SS. The SS series was introduced back in 1961 and until the introduction of the Caprice as a standalone model in 1966, the two-door hardtops and convertibles were the most expensive full-sized Chevrolets.
That brings us to the 1966 Chevrolet Impala SS two-door hardtop shown here, owned by Stephen Halluska. Previously featured by Muscle Car Review before its early 2002 shutdown, our path had crossed with Stephen’s Danube Blue with Black vinyl topped full-sized bruiser many times over the years, at the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance, at the annual Qualcomm Stadium Swap Meet in San Diego, and finally at the 2016 San Marino Motor Classic. There it competed against traditional mid-sized big-block muscle cars because of its 390-horsepower, 427-cubic-inch V-8 coupled to a four-speed manual transmission. A year later, in the summer of 2017, we finally got the opportunity to photograph the car and speak with Stephen about its history.
First off, you can say this car has come full circle, returning to Southern California, having been manufactured at GM’s Van Nuys assembly plant. This is a facility that built hundreds of thousands of full-sized Chevrolets cars from its inception in 1947 when it produced Chevy’s Advanced Design trucks until 1992 when it was shuttered as GM moved production of the Camaro and Pontiac Firebird to the Sainte-Thérèse Assembly Plant in Quebec. The site was demolished in 1998, replaced with a big-box shopping center called The Plant along with an LA fire station.
The car was delivered to its first owner in Utah by Capitol Chevrolet in Salt Lake City. By the 1990s it had made its way to Oregon where it was owned by a retired priest who had amassed a collection of full-size Bowties. During this time Halluska had developed his own attraction to 1966 Chevrolets after starting with his first love, the 1962 models. His focus moved to the 1966 models, his first being a 327 Powerglide model acquired from its original owner out of New Mexico. With his passion moving from the 1962 to the 1966 models, and after owning several, his quest became focused on the rarest of the rare, a 427 Impala Super Sport equipped with the four-speed manual transmission.
In the 1993 gathering of the 1965–1966 Full-Size Chevrolet Club, Halluska connected with Reverend Hank as he was known, a priest from Oregon who like Halluska, had an affinity for Full-Size Chevys. He had three 427 Chevys, including a 42,000-mile, 427, four-speed model that was object of his desire. At the time Reverend Hank was unwilling to part with it but the two remained in contact. Undaunted, Halluska continued his quest, building up his stash of rare and NOS 1966 parts until two years later when Reverend Hank offered up the 427, four-speed car to Halluska after sending him a comprehensive set of photos. Halluska wasted no time and jumped on it… immediately. In his eyes, he now had the Holy Grail of 1966 Impalas, a 427, 4-speed two-door hardtop.
To finance the acquisition of the car, Halluska sold the original New Mexico car, but not before removing from it many of the highly-prized NOS parts that would be used in the restoration of the 427 car. The car arrived in San Diego in January 1995 which started a two-year-long restoration effort. The car was in good condition overall but would require a comprehensive restoration to bring it up to his exacting standards. The car was disassembled and at some point of its life it acquired a coat of yellow paint.
Over the years the car’s original window sticker had remained with the car so Halluska knew exactly what would be required to return it back to the level of perfection it displayed when it rolled down the Van Nuys assembly line 29 years earlier.
The two-year restoration effort included replacing the trunk floor, rusted out due to a missing deck lid seal and rust repair was required of the rear quarter panels. After the body had been prepped the car was painted locally in its original Danube Blue by Bennie Macias. For the interior, the front seat upholstery was replaced while the original rear seat upholstery was redyed to match. The mechanicals — the engine, transmission and front suspension had been rebuilt previously by Reverend Hank — so they retired little attention. The dual exhaust system required replacement and the brakes were rebuilt.
In January 1997, Halluska’s high-powered Impala returned to the road and found its restoration featured in Classic Auto Restorer magazine as well as a three-page story in Super Chevy. And photos of the car appeared in two books, Chevrolet In the Sixties and Impala: 1958–2000. It’s apparent from our photos that Halluska has carefully maintained the restoration as the car presents itself as if it is a recent, fresh restoration.
About the only visual change over the 20 years was the replacement of the original wire wheel covers with the even more attractive RPO N96 Z-16-style simulated mag wheel hub caps most often seen on Chevelles but offered on the full-size Chevys as well.
Part of the car’s interesting history are some significant options. Of all the options on the car, what makes this four-speed (RPO M20 $230.03) 390-horsepower 427 (RPO L36 $313.68) car so rare is that it was also equipped with the combination of the AM/FM stereo radio (RPO U69 $132.79) and the external stereo amplified four-speaker package (RPO U79 $104.66). (These four options, costing $781.16 back in 1966, would set you back over $6,000 in 2022, a not inconsequential sum. Think of it as a 1960s equivalent of a top-tier premium audio system today. And this is on top of the base price of $2,927 of an Impala SS 8 Sport Coupe, $21,477 today, or the car’s $4290.98 bottom-line which translates to $31,477 today, making this something of a high-performance bargain when adjusted for five decades of inflation.)
When we first encountered the car more back in 2016, it was the four knobs mounted in the center console that initially attracted our attention. While the U79 option, first offered in 1965, was offered across the Chevrolet lineup for 1966, including the Corvair where the controls were usually mounted in a pod below the dash.
On an SS model, the controls for the volume, tone, balance and fader were mounted between the seats in the console where today one will typically find a control for controls for a modern multimedia and navigation system. Back in 1966, navigation systems were oil-company road maps that were given away free by most service stations.
These four options, when combined together, would indicate that Halluska’s car might well be a one-of-one build. First, the L36 engine found its way into just 3,287 of the 102,619 Impala SS Sport Coupes built for 1966. The M20 four-speed manual transmission made its way into just 30, 467 of the 774,214 full-size Chevrolets that rolled off the assembly line that year. The U69 AM/FM stereo pushbutton radio? Just 34,066 installations. And the U79 option? That option was installed in 12,436 of the 774,214 full-size Chevys built that year (including the Caprice production of 210,515).
While either the 427/390 L36 or the 427/425 L72 were low-production engines for the Impala SS, they were not the lowest. Almost all Impala SS models were equipped with V-8 engines, 823 two-door hardtops and just 89 convertibles were equipped with the 250-cubic-inch, 155-horsepower straight-six. Who would have thought?
But who would want a 155-horsepower Impala SS Sport Coupe, especially five decades later? Certainly not Stephen Halluska. When we drove to the location where we photographed his big brute 390-horsepower Impala SS at sunset, when the light turned green, he simply couldn’t resist pushing the pedal to the floor.
The smile on his face told us everything we needed to know. (In 1966 Motor Trend tested the 390-horsepower 427 Impala SS and found that it went from zero to 60 in 7.9 seconds and would cover the quarter-mile in 16.8 seconds with a trap speed of 88 miles per hour.) Now having owned his Danube Blue Impala SS Sport Coupe for more than two decades, it is a reminder that it is not a by-definition muscle car — big engine in an intermediate-sized car like the Chevelle — it is a muscular car.
It was manufactured at a time when the Big Three offered high-powered engines in their full-sized cars that offered a combination of size and power that was unrivaled, and the big-block 427 full-size Chevys (the 427 was offered in every model from the base Biscayne two-door sedan to the Caprice six- and nine-passenger station wagons according to the 1966 Chevrolet brochure) stands at the top of this exclusive class.
Owned by Stephen Halluska
Restored by Stephen Halluska
Engine 427cid/390hp V-8
Transmission Muncie M20 wide-ration four-speed manual
Rear end Positraction with with 3.31 gears
Interior Black vinyl Strato-back bucket seats with center console
Wheels 14x6 factory steel wheels (option Caprice station wagon rims, standard rims are 5.5 inches)
Tires BF Goodrich Silverton 8.25 x 14
For caption information Stephen says that the RPO A81 headrests (visible in one of the interior shots) was a very rare option as well, appearing in less than 1% of the full-size Chevys built in 1966 (RPO A81, 5,045 with bucket seats, RPO A82, 2,773 for bench seats)
Stephen also noted in the front license plate shows his junior and senior first-place awards Vintage Chevrolet Club of America, which covers all Chevrolets built before