Supernatural's Season 15 trailer teases that Sam and Dean Winchester's most trying times are ahead of them in the show's curtain call: returning evils from their hunting careers, a zombie apocalypse and war with God Himself. None of this, could be more of a shock to long-time fans, however, than the sight of the brothers stepping out of a car that was not their '67 Chevy Impala -- a car they've been driving since the very first episode.
It's rare that such an ordinary car should become as famous as its human passengers. Usually, this level of recognition is reserved for flashier fare like the Scooby-Doo gang's Mystery Machine or the Ghostbusters' "Ecto-1" Cadillac, or for the kinds of futuristic rides superheroes and sci-fi characters own: Doc Brown's DeLorean or the neon motors from Tron. And yet, the Impala, aka Baby, aka the Metallicar, has unexpectedly become a vehicular icon for television fans in the mold of Knight Rider's Kit or Adam West's Batmobile.
In the final episode of Season 5 -- once planned to be the show's conclusion -- the car's ordinariness gets a special mention from God himself, in his Chuck Shurley guise:
"Three days later another car rolled off that same line. No one gave two craps about her, but they should've. Because this 1967 Chevrolet Impala would turn out to be the most important car... no, the most important object in pretty much the whole universe."
More than just a statement vintage piece or proof of Supernatural's "road trip" premise, the Impala, as God/Chuck says, has huge significance to both the mythology of the show and the lives of its central siblings. It stores their weapons; it houses Dean's precious music collection and it's where the boys have had some of their most meaningful conversations -- whether they're sitting on the front seat trying tensely to not to make eye contact or perched on its hood with beers in hand making tearful confessions.
They've traveled back and forth across the country in it; nodded off to sleep in it; detained prisoners in it; driven their friends to safety in it. Dean's even gotten lucky in it. The Impala is both a perennial observer and active participant in their adventures, content to sit and wait outside a crime scene or become a speedy getaway vehicle when Dean puts peddle to the metal.
And it is (nearly) always Dean in the driver's seat. Given the Impala belonged to their father, John, Dean -- who idolized the gruff patriarch -- treats the car as a family heirloom. Considering the Winchester family never settled down again following the death of Mary, Sam and Dean's mother, the Impala really was the only worldly possession that John had to pass onto his children -- aside from his hunting journal. The time-traveling conceit of Season 4's "In The Beginning" even ties Dean to the Impala's origin story: persuading a young John Winchester in 1973 to choose Dean's future "Baby" over a more sensible Volkswagen van.
Dean's ownership of the car became a custodial rite of passage, and after his father's death, the Impala naturally took on even more significance. Between the constant beatings from the monsters he hunts and the fast-food he wolfs down on the road, Dean takes better care of his "baby" than he does himself. For the eldest Winchester son, keeping the car in pristine condition isn't just about petrol-head pride, but about preserving a certain way of life. His intense possessiveness of it, in turn, lets us know just how important the few people he lets borrow its keys -- chiefly Sam -- are to him.
The Impala, by design, invites this kind of intensity, which was why creator Eric Kripke chose it. "My first choice was a '65 Mustang. My neighbor said it has to be a '67 Impala because you can put a body in the trunk. He says, 'You want a car that when people stop next to it at the lights, they lock their doors.'"
But as intimidating as it might appear, the Impala is a tame beast to its owners. In Season 11, an entire episode, "Baby," was told from the car's perspective, eulogizing Sam and Dean's lost childhood memories when they scratched things into its seats or lost toys in its crevices. The Impala's also, as we learn in the pilot episode, the brothers' hiding place right after the murder of their mother.
As adults, the Impala is, for a long time, the only permanent "home" the brothers have in a life filled with a rotation of cheap motels and roadside diners. It's easy to think of the Impala as another character on the show -- the third Winchester long before Castiel or Adam came along. Even without Sam and Dean's sentimental attachment to it, the Impala is brimming with personality.
But we can also think of the car as the show's most crucial setting. It's notable that the Impala being compromised -- like a home invasion -- bookends Supernatural's first season: in the pilot it's possessed by the Woman In White and in the finale it's smashed to pieces by a demon truck driver. With Dean on life support and the Impala sitting in Bobby Singer's scrapyard early in the second season, Sam refuses to give up on either of them. And a healthier Dean later lovingly renovates the car to its former glory... before going at it with a crowbar to take out his anger at his secretive father.
Like a childhood home, good and bad memories are sewn into the Impala's interior. Perhaps having this constant reminder on the road with them is, through thick and thin, part of what's kept the Winchesters carrying on with each other for so long.