The cars we loved.
The Caprice was Chevrolet’s full-sized family sedan, also available as a 2 door coupe and station wagon. It was always the most expensive car sold by Chevrolet, save for the Corvette. First introduced in 1965, it had been America’s best-selling full-sized car almost from its inception. Chevrolet sold a more sporty version of the Caprice called the Impala, while the Caprice could be optioned much like a Cadillac, or more commonly, stripped down to bare essentials.
As far as I’m concerned, the modern rear wheel drive Caprice began with the third generation car introduced in 1977. The attractive, boxy and somewhat angular body style of this generation was more attractive and modern looking than it’s rivals. The basic style of the Caprice would become more common place in other GM cars as the 80’s arrived, one reason the design basically lasted for 14 years with little more than small exterior grill, bumper and interior changes.
GM took a small risk by downsizing the popular Caprice. Competition from Ford and Chrysler were still full-sized by older standards, as if the fuel crisis had never happened. The large but downsized (by late Seventies standards) car was designed to increase fuel economy and performance. Even with its smaller size it had more interior room than the 1976 model. The Caprice was right on time by the time the second fuel crisis had hit in 1979. Always available with powerful V6 and V8 engines, the de-tuned 1977s small bloc V8 made only 170 hp, but got close to 20 mpg on the highway. So popular was the
Caprice in its newer smaller full size, that Car and Driver awarded it the coveted car or the year award in 1977, calling it “the best full-sized sedan Chevrolet ever made”. Caught by surprise by the smaller competitor, Ford began offering a smaller version of the LTD to compete in an effort to comply with even tougher emission laws.
Over the years gradual improvements were made to the Caprices coil spring suspension and engine, boosting horsepower and refinement. The model line consisted of the Classic, the basic bread and butter Caprice to the fully optioned Brougham, a kind of cut-rate Cadillac with a little less chrome. More interesting was the early coupe, with its unique 3 sided rear window, giving it a near fastback appearance. The Caprice/Impala was built on the B Body platform shared by Oldsmobile’s Delta 88 and Pontiac’s Bonneville, the Caprice was the least expensive and arguably the most attractive of this trio, especially as a coupe.
Adored by everyone from rappers to retirees, the enormous popularity of the Caprice was fueled by its low price, long options list and reliable simplicity, making it a favorite with police forces and rental car fleets. Chevrolet consistently offered police packages featuring beefed up suspensions and engines. A similar car was offered to taxi and rental fleets and was the most common type of taxi seen throughout the 80’s. When the end of the model cycle came in 1990, Caprice sales were still robust. Its competitors had thinned out as the big lower priced family car had almost become the exclusive domain of Chevy and Ford (Toyota gave it a try in the 90’s with the Avalon). The market had begun to shift by 1991 when a new fourth generation Caprice rolled into showrooms. The new car immediately settled into the Caprice’s established role as a police/taxi/rental, while consumers were gradually gravitating to larger SUVs.