1971 Chevrolet Impala Custom Coupe: Unearthing a Junkyard Treasure

1971 chevrolet impala coupe in colorado wrecking yard

Today, I present a Junkyard Treasure that even the most discerning vintage Detroit iron aficionado must admire—a 1971 Chevy Impala pillarless hardtop coupe, boasting a fuel-swilling Rat motor under its hood.

Currently residing in an excellent family-owned independent yard just south of Denver, this Impala’s interior shows the effects of decades of outdoor storage, but its body remains in solid condition.

1971 chevrolet impala coupe in colorado wrecking yard

In 1971, the Caprice stood at the pinnacle of Chevrolet’s full-size lineup. A Caprice buyer with an appetite for options could easily spend more on this model than on its Oldsmobile or Buick platform-mates. Positioned one step below, the Impala still held its own as a credible luxury machine at a competitive price. The 1971 Impala Custom Coupe had an MSRP of $3,826 (equivalent to $29,016 in 2023 dollars). However, this price tag was for a car equipped with a 350-cubic-inch small-block V8, three-on-the-tree manual transmission, and no air conditioning. The final out-the-door cost for this car would have been significantly higher, as we’ll soon discover.

1971 chevrolet impala coupe in colorado wrecking yard

In the 1971 model year, Chevrolet offered five engine options for its full-size cars: a straight-six with 250 cubic inches (4.1 liters), small-block V8s with 350 or 400 cubic inches (5.7 and 6.5 liters), and big-block V8s with 402 or 454 cubic inches (6.6 and 7.4 liters). The specific Impala in question came equipped with the 402 big-block, known as the “Turbo-Jet 400 V8” according to Chevrolet’s nomenclature that year.

1971 chevrolet impala coupe in colorado wrecking yard

Interestingly, the small-block 400 was also referred to as the “Turbo-Fire 400 V8” and received the same 400 fender badges as the 402, leading to occasional parts-counter mixups over the years (similar to the confusion around Ford’s 351 engines).

The 402 engine was essentially a bored-out version of the 396, with Chevrolet’s decision to retain the 396 designation for certain models causing further bewilderment. This particular 402 engine was rated at 300 horsepower, slightly lower than the 330 horsepower of the previous year due to an emissions-related drop in the compression ratio. However, during 1971, GM switched from gross to net power ratings (in compliance with California law for the 1972 model year), resulting in this engine’s nominal output being declared as 260 horsepower, without any actual loss of power.

Despite the car’s interior being scorched by the relentless High Plains sun and the absence of the entire rear axle assembly, this Impala has the potential to ascend from “hooptie” status to “pretty nice” with some additional investment, surpassing the cost of purchasing a decent, drivable ’71 Impala Custom Coupe. This two-door gem, equipped with the 402 big-block engine and showing no major signs of rust, stands as a testament to the enduring allure of vintage American automobiles.

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