Chevrolet introduced all-new styling for the Impala in 1971, its fifth major redesign since its introduction in 1958. The styling would continue until 1976, albeit with updates and modernization along the way. The 1971 redesigned B-body had a wheelbase of 121.5-inches, an overall length of 222.9-inches, a width of 79.5-inches, with body styles that included a sport coupe with a semi-fastback roofline, custom coupe with formal roofline from the Caprice, a convertible, four-door hardtop sport sedan, and four-door sedan. The station wagons used a 125-inch wheelbase platform. These 1971 B-body models would be the largest car ever offered by Chevrolet.
All of Chevrolet's 1971 engines used lower compression ratios to permit the use of regular leaded, low lead or unleaded gasoline of at least 91 Research octane per GM corporate mandate in anticipation of the catalytic converters planned for 1975 and later models which necessitated the use of unleaded fuel. The energy crisis of 1973 through 1979 witnessed gasoline prices doubling and industry car sales declined by approximately twenty percent between 1973 and 1974. Consequently, car travel in the United States declined for the first time in recent history. 176,376 units of the 1975 Impala were sold, representing its weakest figure since its introduction in 1958.
The 1971 Chevy Impala came standard with a 250 cubic-inch Turbo Thrift six-cylinder engine delivering 145 horsepower. The 350 CID Turbo Fire V8 with 245 horsepower was standard on the Sport Sedan, Sport Coupe, Custom Coupe, convertible, and Kingswood wagon body styles, and optional on the sedan. The 400 CID Turbo Fire V8 with 255 was also optional, along with the 400 CID Turbo Jet V8 with 300 hp, and the 454 CID V8 with 365 horsepower. Soon after its introduction, the Impala came standard with three-speed column shift manual transmissions and manual steering as standard equipment, and two automatic transmissions and power steering were optional. Power front disc brakes were new standard features, along with a revised Astro-Ventilation system that utilized air distribution grills in the trunklid, and an inside hood release.
Sales of the 1971 Impala were strong, but a 67-day corporate-wide strike at General Motors that began in September of 1970 affected the output of all GM products. The 427,000 units produced in 1971, including 425,400 with V8 engines, were well below 1970 totals.
1972 was the final year for the convertible body style on the Impala and was moved to the top-line Caprice Classic series for 1973. Styling changes were minimal, mostly focused on changes to the bumper. The lower height grille extended below the bumper, and in the back, the taillights were repositioned in the bumper. The vents used by the Astro Ventilation system were relocated from the trunk lid to the door jambs resulting in improved reliability and efficiency. Due to the slow sales of the six-cylinder engine, it was removed from the equipment list early in the production year and relegated to the lower-line full-size Biscayne and Bel Air sedans. The three-speed manual transmission was also moved to the lower lines. 1973 Chevrolet Impala
Pricing for the 1973 Chevrolet Impala began at $3750 for the six-passenger sedan while the station wagon sold for just over $4,100. Standard equipment included a double-panel roof construction, a power ventilation system, conceal windshield wipers, a left-hand outside rearview mirror, disc brakes in the front and drums in the rear, and wood-grained instrument panel accents. Other standard features include a concealed in-the-windshield antenna, vinyl-trimmed pattern cloth upholstery, foam rubber front seat cushion, luggage compartment light, three-point safety belts with a warning light, floor carpeting, and a deluxe steering wheel. The station wagons had power steering, a vanishing tailgate, a hidden trunk floor stowage compartment, and carpeting. The nine-passenger wagons had a forward-facing third seat.
The larger, shock-absorbing front bumper was added to comply with new federal mandates which required 5-mile-per-hour impact protection. New square lights were mounted in the carry-over rear bumper, and improvements were made to the chassis resulting in better readability.
The base V8 engine Chevrolet offered was an overhead-valve unit that displaced 350 cubic inches, had five main bearings, hydraulic valve lifters, a two-barrel carburetor, and delivered 145 (SAE) horsepower at 4,000 RPM. Standard equipment included a Turbo Hydramatic transmission, variable power steering, and power front disc brakes. Optional engines included a 175 (SAE) horsepower 350 Turbo Fire V8 with four-barrel carburetion, and the 454 Turbo Jet V8 with 245 (SAE) horsepower. The Impala Custom Coupe, Sport Sedan, and station wagons could be equipped with the 400 Turbo Fire V8 delivering 165 (SAE) hp. This engine was standard on the Caprice Classic series.
For the first time in the Impala's history, only closed body styles were offered. The sedan was priced at $3,750, the sport coupe at $3,770, the hardtop sedan at $3,820, and the Custom Coupe at $3,840. The six-passenger station wagon listed for $4,120 and the nine-passenger version was $115 higher. The Bel Air was priced from $3,250 to $4,140, and the Caprice Classic listed for $4,065 to $4,500.
Chevrolet's full-size production for 1973 was 941,104 units compared to 989,600 units of the previous year.
Air Bag Technology
Airbag systems were created as early as 1951 by German Walter Linderer and American John Hetrick. Linderer's system used compressed air that was released either by the driver or bumper contact. It was later determined that compressed air was not sufficient to inflate the airbag quickly enough to provide the necessary protection. In 1968, Allen Breed filed a U.S. patent for a crash-sensing device for an electromechanical automotive airbag system. Another airbag system was developed in 1964 by a Japanese automobile engineer named Yasuzaburou Kobori, that used explosive devices to trigger airbag inflation.
The need for some sort of safety technology became even more prevalent in the late 1960s following the Ralph Nader inquiry investigation into better-protecting drivers in car accidents. The Ford Motor Company installed airbag technology into a fleet of vehicles in 1971 and General Motors installed systems in 1973 Chevy Impalas for government use only. The first car with a passenger airbag sold to the public was the 1973 Oldsmobile Toronado.
1,000 Chevrolet Impalas were fitted with airbags in 1973 and used the dash fascia of the contemporary Oldsmobile as it best suited the spaces required to house the airbags. These were part of the lease sales fleet used in a variety of locations so that they could test their capabilities in different climates, altitudes, and varying road conditions. Before long, data from real-world accidents produced unscathed but often slightly bemused drivers and passengers. One of the victims was a doctor whose Impala had been crushed by the trolley bus in his local town having fallen asleep at the wheel. Onlookers witnessed a large white cloud at the point of impact and they thought they were in heaven, but instead was the airbag.
The success of the study led to the arrival of airbags on the optional lists on the top of the line Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobiles. It would be another decade or so before they appeared on production cars. As airbags became more commonplace, they were still not as well designed as the Air Bag Chevys of 1973. The 1973 airbags had a secondary internal cushion that compensates for all passengers, protecting small children from the over-powerful airbags.By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2013