71 Impala Donk – Chevy 1971 Impala’s history

71 Impala Donk on Forgiato’s

Big body 71 Impala Donk ride featuring  deep dish custom Forgiato wheels. Forgiato custom fiberglass interior. This tricked-out ride is fire!

1971 Chevy Impala Features and History

1971 was a big year for the Chevy Impala, both in size and how this car was categorized and perceived. Once viewed as a powerful car, the 1971 Impala expanded in length and became known as a fleet car. In a 1970 article, Car & Driver magazine called the 1971 Chevy Impala “Detroit’s leading car.” In a time when automobile trends leaned toward smaller cars, Chevrolet bucked the trend and released the Impala in its biggest size to date, increasing the wheelbase to 122 inches from 119 inches. Overall length of the Impala had grown, stretched out to full foot and a half longer and six inches wider than that of fifteen years prior, becoming the largest car ever produced by Chevy. The author of the 1970 Car & Driver article worried that if the Impala kept growing, it would be the size of Fruehauf-size sedan by the turn of the century. In fact, by 1976, the Impala had started to shrink, growing shorter to keep up with the changes in the automobile marketplace.


In 1971, not only did the Impala grow in length, but the car bulged out along the body and the hood giving it even more size and mass. Leg room for the first row measured out at almost 43 inches while the back seat passengers had almost 39. There was lots of shoulder room for all passengers with 59 inches in front and 58 inches in back. The fifth generation Impala was often compared to the Cadillac with its egg-crate grille and protruding front fenders. Today, it is still confused as a Caddy which could lead to speculation that that was the point of the Chevrolet money-makers. GM wanted to offer customers the same luxury and styling with the Impala but with a smaller price tag. ‘The Impala has played an important role in Chevrolet’s success,’ said Robert Lund, then-Chevrolet’s general sales manager, ‘by pioneering and consistently leading the industry trend to high styling and greater luxury in popular priced cars.’ It was an affordable option over the pricier Caprice, and the Cadillac, and Chevrolet dealerships across the country had no trouble moving the inventory. The 1971 Chevy Impala was available in four body types: two or four door pillarless hardtops, regular four-door sedan or convertible. The 5 passenger, rear-wheel drive, B-body automobile was the last of biggies. The size didn’t deter buyers. According to the New York Times in 1970, it originally sold for $3,460 which converts to $19,011 in today’s dollars. Affordability and styling drove customers to purchase the behemoth, opting for the comforting bulk of the Impala over the newest compact. Fully tricked out, the Impala could give the Cadillac a run for its money, and thus was its appeal.

The production numbers for the Impala proved wanting due to the 67-day General Motors strike in 1970 that began in September when the initial Impala production began. The strike didn’t end until November with the final totals for the Impala at 427,000 units with only a handful, over 10,000, of the inline sixes made. Still, almost half a million Impalas was pretty impressive, and the public was quite impressed as well with the all-new Chevy Impala.
The Impala engine went through some changes too. At the lower end of the Impala engine spectrum was the standard 250 cubic-inch, single-barrel carburetor, six-cylinder, but it had shrunk down to 145 horsepower. All engines across the board had lower compression ratios per GM corporate mandates to permit the use of lower-octane gasoline, thus dropping the horsepower accordingly. The lower compressions were implemented to prepare for the advent of the catalytic converter. The 250 cubic-inch engine was available in the four-door Biscayne and Bel Air sedans. One step up was the 245 horsepower, 350 cubic-inch Turbo-Fire V-8 that came standard in the Impala Sport Sedan, Sport Coupe, Custom Couple, convertible and Kingswood wagon. For the driver that wanted more zoom, he could upgrade to a big block, the V-8, 365 horsepower, 454 engine, one of the top engines of all time, or the 402 with 300 horsepower. The 400 cubic-inch, V-8, at 255 horsepower, was basically a super-stoked small block 350. Both of the big block engines came with turbos and standard 3-speed column shift transmission. Later on, the 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission was available as an optional feature for all the engines. The 2-speed Powerglide transmission was available for the 250 V-6s and the 350 V-8s. Looks can be deceiving in this muscular-looking vehicle as top speeds reached 103 mph, sometimes 109 mph, and could clock at 60 mph in 11.9 seconds. The car weighed around 4,000 pounds which definitely had something to do with how it performed on the race track or drag strip. But, this car wasn’t designed for muscle and speed. It was designed to attract those buyers who couldn’t afford the Caddy. It was designed as a sophisticated, grocery-getter choice for the suburban housewife or for the working stiff who wanted to show up on the weekend golf course in style. The Impala had a muscle car look, especially the sport coupe or convertible, while performing as a functional family car, and the middle class families of America took advantage and bought into GM’s marketing hook, line and sinker.
The sport coupe boasted a smoothly sloped, semi-fastback hardtop that reminded one of the days of the 1961 bubbletop styling with its sleekness and aerodynamics giving the sport coupe a clean look. The customer had his choice of a wide range of colors that were offered for the Impala. Red, blue, yellow/gold, brown, black and white. Yellow and brown were the most popular color choices and were thought to enhance the appearance of the car. Not sure if that color palette would be the popular color choices with today’s car-buying public. After further research of ’71 Impalas that are on the classic car market today, the brown and gold colors prove the theory that the Impala has the look of a fleet car. Possibly, trends in fashions and home furnishings helped with the popularity of these colors back in the seventies.
Some other interesting specs were included with the Chevy Impala. In addition to standard features of the previous models like rear disc brakes, flush door handles and inside hood release, an Astro ventilation system that was introduced in 1970 was included in the ’71 model as well. Astro ventilation system is not a fancy name for an A/C unit. It’s a vacuum-operated system that draws air through lower dash vents and out rear vents in the deck of the car whenever the climate controls are in full-cold position. If full-cold is turned off, the vents close to preserve heat in the car, but, complaints about water-leakage through the vent louvers on the trunk soon poured in, and the newer vent system was touted as not optimum and it was dropped the following year.
Other improvements to the Impala included a double panel roof that provided better protection for passengers in the event of a rollover. Seatbelt use and airbags were not a safety device that a customer relied on like in modern times. In the event of an accident, the extra metal in these dinosaurs are what you relied on to keep you safe. In the stunning, legendary video, a 1971 Chevy Impala was crash-tested, rear-ending a 1972 Ford Pinto which burst into flames. In slow-motion, the front end of the Impala looked relatively un-crushed as the Pinto’s rear-end crumpled like an accordian, erupting into fire. It took 45 seconds for the crash test team to completely douse the flames. Today, one might wonder if these large-car monstrosities would be preferable to car buyers for their seemingly safeness over airbags and plastic bumpers.
In 1971, the Chevy Impala was also available as a convertible, a popular choice for consumers. This model provided a smooth, sporty ride with a 350 V-8 Turbo-Fire Powerglide engine. There were over 4,500 convertibles made, and today a restored model could sell for $25,000.

71 Impala Donk car - Forgiato Custom wheels

71 Impala Donk car – The Chevy Impala is all white with custom Forgiato chrome wheels

Interesting fact about the ’71 Impala station wagon was that the power tailgate was the first of its kind. It replaced the manual tailgate in earlier station wagon models which required some massive strength to lift it up from the storage. Power-assisted, the rear glass slid right up into the roof as the tailgate dropped into the load floor. This design was shared with other models of GM wagons, and made loading those groceries or golf clubs a lot easier.
Today, 1971 Chevy Impala is popular with gearheads, Donk car enthusiast, Chevy buffs and car restorers, making the classic a favored project. Classic ’71 Impala owners say they love the comfort, handling and speed that this big car provides. The body is solidly built, and the engine is easily tuned and relatively uncomplicated. Maintenance, repair and restoration are easy with a wide variety of online parts distributors, even ebay, providing replacement parts catering to this model. From interior and soft trim to exterior sheet metal, molding, emblems and weatherstrips, any engine or body part can be found to make the Impala into the car of your dreams. Impalas are revered today for their their big block engines, and Chevy classic car enthusiasts eagerly hunt them down as their next project. Fixer-uppers hover around the $10,000 range and could resell up to $30,000 or more, depending on how much money and time put into the restoration. But, once you get a hold of this beauty, you might not want to let it go. They can be a simple restoration or a custom job that could be easily molded into the mechanic’s preference, souping up the engine or tricking out the body. Take the 350 small block for example. It could be bored out to 355, add a four-barrel carburetor, some jet hot headers, and aluminum intake for added power and speed. Add a Muncie four-speed, close-ratio transmission with a Hurst shifter that is a must for any GM muscle car with a 12-bolt rear-end with 4:11 gears and positraction, and you’ve got a performance vehicle just waiting for the track or street or showroom.

Some classic car purists might not like the trend of turning B-body 1970s cars like the Impala into donks, such as the feature 71 Impala Donk car and touted as the ‘Most Hated Car Culture,’ but it is certainly a trend that looks like it’s here to stay. A full size General Motors vehicle is the most popular style for adding oversized rims and lift kits to turn these classics into cruisers that can tower over a Cadillac Escalade. 26-inch Forgiato Pianura wheels seem to be the favored rims on these donks while some donk owners aim bigger with 28 and 30-inches. Do you think Mr. Lund, the GM sales manager, would consider this an abomination to his high-styling Impala? Donk owners feel they are giving new life to these cruisers that would ultimately end up under a junkyard crusher, but car enthusiasts consider it a sacrilege to cut up a classic and exploit in such a flashy, garish way.

The only drawback for past or present time Impala owners? Fuel economy. The Impala gets 12-13 miles per gallon so not the most fuel-efficient in today’s hybrid-driven world. The gas crisis was just around the corner in 1971, so the option of either unleaded or leaded fuels being available at the pump was nice, but the frequency of having to fill up your tank with your low-mileage gas guzzler and waiting in those long-lines at the station was probably not.

71 Impala Donk car

71 Impala Donk car

The 1971 Chevy Impala has some famous followers and has appeared in films. It was featured in the movie, Machete, the Robert Rodriguez action flick. But, the most famous Impala belonged to Hunter S. Thompson, and it’s called the Red Shark. Dr. Thompson’s Impala has made many appearances in his books as well as the biopic movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, starring Johnny Depp. The fire-engine red convertible was used in the actual film and Mr. Depp drove the car for several weeks prior to shooting to get a feel for it. Lucky man.

The high power and big bodies of the 1971 Chevy Impala made them a top seller throughout the 1970s until the Impala went out of production in 1985 before returning again in 1994. Deriving its name from the South African antelope, the Impala remains a classic and deservedly so. If you’re into car restoration and come across the ’71 for sale, snap it up. The longevity of this GM Big could give you hours of pleasure on the road or in the garage regardless if you maintain its factory for or decide to customize it into a 71 Impala Donk car for the custom car shows and magazines.

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