Deputy Wayne Gray of the Carson City (Nev.) Sheriff’s Department stands beside his newly redesigned patrol Impala. Photos JP Molnar
Although it looks similar to the first-generation Impala, almost every dimension was changed to make the new Impala a better police vehicle. Photos JP Molnar
Chevrolet widened and lowered the trunk opening for better access. Note the bean-bag shotgun mounted in the upper area for easy access.Photos JP Molnar
Chevrolet thoroughly modernized the dash and placed it much further forward in the cabin. Photos JP Molnar
FEATURED IN VEHICLE OPS
With more than 18,000 police agencies nationwide, there’s certainly a need for police-oriented vehicles even though, numerically, the police vehicle marketplace remains minuscule compared to the overall automotive landscape. There’s no denying manufacturers derive a sense of pride and contribution when their particular vehicle is used for law enforcement use. And the same holds for us officers in the field—we all know the pride and excitement of driving a new police vehicle that looks great, drives well and allows us to do our job with ease.
Unfortunately, unless your agency has a trust fund or recently won the lottery, we also know the embarrassment of driving a creaky spare unit with more wires hanging out than a 12-year-old with braces and paint more faded than Vanilla Ice’s career. It’s defeating, unprofessional and not very motivating. Thankfully, manufacturers in recent years have collaborated with law enforcement agencies to develop vehicles that will remain enjoyable to work out of even as they get older.
Exhibit A: the newly redesigned 2007 Chevy Impala 9C1 Police Package. Chevrolet also makes the 9C3 Police Package, which is an undercover version of the 9C1, but in this article I’ll concentrate on the patrol-package Impala.
Trotting Through History
To refresh, the Impala nameplate has been with Chevrolet since 1958 when it was offered as a trim package on the Chevrolet Bel Air. Named after an African antelope, the Impala joined other muscle car nameplates in the 1960s with its SS trim packages featuring ground-pounding 427 cubic-inch engines. In the 1970s, however, driving “performance cars” such as the Impala was pretty much like dancing with your cousin at a wedding: You were there because you had to be, you didn’t really enjoy it, your cousin didn’t make it much fun and you really couldn’t wait for it to end.
The Impala nameplate was discontinued in 1985, but in 1991 Chevrolet turned the police vehicle market on its ear with the introduction of the Caprice 9C1 police package. This platform featured the classic components of a great police car: big interior, big trunk, big engine and a live rear axle. While styled a bit like an upside-down bathtub, the 1994-1996 model years of the Caprice Classic Police Car still won the hearts of many an officer. With its dual exhaust, 3:08 rear-end ratio and a thumping 5.7-liter engine more or less borrowed from the Corvette (and making 260 hp and 330 foot-lbs. of torque), the Caprice Classic blew every other police vehicle available into the proverbial weeds. My agency still uses one for various training duties, and officers still woo over the throaty exhaust, ample power and big interior.
An offshoot of that Caprice was the 1994-1996 Impala SS, which featured items culled from the police-package Caprice, speaking volumes about the effectiveness of that packaging. For whatever reasons, Chevrolet killed off the Caprice/Impala in 1996 and didn’t re-enter the Impala nameplate into the lexicon of automotive choices until 2000.
The introduction of the 2000 Impala left those with thoughts of another powerful rear-drive behemoth adrift in a sea of V-6 engines, cramped quarters and front-wheel drive. The 2000 Impala was a sign of things to come: smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles with front-drive packaging for lower cost and better efficiency. The 2000 Impala featured two engine packages, a 180-hp, 3.4-liter engine, and a 3.8-liter variant making an even 200 hp. Compared to the Crown Vic, the Impala was nimbler, more fuel efficient and ran circles around the Crown Vic in the snow with its front-wheel drive.
Still, it had issues. As one who put many miles on the 2000-2005 Impala, it was ill-suited for highway-patrol work. While stable at high speeds, it lacked top-end power, suffered from heat exhaustion and drive-line fragility, and ground clearance was a real problem when it came time to enter medians, things my Crown Vic had no issues with. Plus, it was cramped with a dash much too close to the driver, door openings that were too small, a center radio console that eliminated much-needed cup holders and a digital speedometer that cast a blue hue over the inside of the car. Visibility was also poor out the rear windows, the trunk was tight and the only officers who seemed to fit in these cars were either smaller females or skinny males. Huskier officers like me invariably ended up dislodging half the gear on their duty belt each time they wedged themselves behind the wheel. Plus, its oddly boxed looks and narrow profile made it difficult for the average citizen to take it seriously as a police car. And while some agencies like the NYPD grew to swear by these first-generation Impalas, it was clear changes needed to be made for the Impala to compete with the Crown Victoria and the newly introduced Dodge Charger.
Enter Mark Clawson. As the marketing manager at Chevrolet for mostly truck-based platforms, Clawson was approached with the task of taking over the Impala program. Clawson agreed with the condition that he be allowed to make the changes needed to bring the Impala to an acceptable level. The result? An almost complete redesign of the Impala in 2006. You can still see the Impala’s 2000-2005 heritage in the new model, but it’s vastly improved in many areas.