How many songs does the 1964 Impala get a shoutout in? “All of them,” it seems like – if you listen to a lot of west-coast rap. This car has a lot of cultural significance beyond music, too.
- Car: 1964 Chevrolet Impala “Gypsy Rose”
- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Photog: The Petersen Museum/Kahn Media
- Camera: Unknown
The Impala in particular that you’re looking at here is known as “Gypsy Rose,” it’s probably the most famous lowrider on Earth having been displayed all over the place from the National Mall in Washington D.C. to the Petersen Museum in LA and of course at dozens of shows in between. It was the work of Jesse Valadez, who passed away in 2011, and is currently in the care of his son (also named Jesse).
I got to see this car in 2018 when it was part of the “High Art Of Riding Low” exhibit at the Petersen and I still think about it all the time. The intricacy of the artwork that adorns it is hard to even believe – it’s nothing less than majestic. Automobile Magazine has a great article on the car’s backstory if you’d like to dig in more. Here’s a picture from a few steps further back, so you can see the whole thing:
As to why the ’64 Impala, in general, gets celebrated in so many rap songs… I found this piece from the Global Policy Journal that describes this final year of the Chevy’s early ’60s bodystyle as “An End to Automotive Apartheid” which includes this interesting passage:
“In July, a strange coincidence catapulted the Impala from being an end-of-model-cycle full-sized car to being part of the urban civil rights movement. General Motors, as part of its product launch marketing, tried to get 1964 Impalas to dealers in each of its major city dealerships for its “Chevy Stands Alone Event” over the Independence Day weekend of 1964. Chevy enjoyed 28 percent market share at the time, down from 30 percent in the previous model year. The hope was to have a big product launch and sell as many 1964 models as possible before the model’s much-anticipated replacements became available. However, this meant the first 1964 Impala destined for the event happened to – purely by coincidence – reach the south Los Angeles Chevrolet dealership the same day the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. That car, Riverside Red with a Cream interior, was driven by its first owner – the black proprietor of a series of modest retail shops in Vermont Square – from Alameda through South Park and Florence. Since then, it has been owned by a string of hip-hop artists and is probably one of the most-photographed Impalas in the world.“
“Almost immediately after that Riverside Red Impala’s drive down from Alameda, the 1964 Impala became a symbol of urban black financial independence, freedom, and masculinity and began to show up in pop culture, with sixty-four Impalas in Blaxploitation films such as “The Split” (released in 1968, principal photography in 1966 and early 1967). In Sidney Poitier’s “The Lost Man,” two different 1964 Impalas are seen.“
I don’t think the above-described situation was the only factor contributing to the ’64 Impala’s more contemporary fame, but it makes sense that that would be part of its foundation. We might have to revisit the significance of this iconic car in a post longer than just a caption at some point. For now, I’d love to see some folks call out their favorite ’64 Impala references in the comment section here.