By on July 26, 2013

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In the first part of this article, I introduced you to the world where the fabled “diesel, manual wagon” is not the enthusiasts’ wet dream, but a boring, sensible man’s choice. And now, I am going to show you that this also works the other way around. Because the second wagon I will drive is something your grandmother probably owned – and what you, as a young motoring enthusiast, probably considered the most boring thing in the world (at least until the birth of the minivan).

Like with the Mondeo from the first part, I used to own a car very similar to this one. Mine was just one year older, and it was a sedan. Which meant it was much less cool, even less practical, and it had a 305 Chevy engine instead of 307 Olds, so it featured an ability to actually accelerate. And, after throwing a bunch of shiny parts from Summit Racing under the hood, it was even able to do burnouts, donuts and generally raise hell. Did I mention I bought the thing as a 21 year old college student?

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Which brings me to question a lot of you are probably asking right now – why would someone in Europe, where we have so many splendid and sophisticated automobiles and on top of that, roads with the strange thing called “curves”, and cities with streets too small to fit anything bigger than a Fiat Panda, buy such a thing?

Well, the first possible reason is obviously the fact that you are a 21 old college student dreaming about muscle cars, but lacking the necessary cash. In that case, anything with suitably enormous proportions, lots of chrome and a V8 will do. And lots of American cars in Europe are bought for such reasons. The looks, the size, the V8 roar and maybe the ability to light up the rear tires are all that matters for many owners of American cars in Europe. Or the soft couches and wallowing ride, if you’re into that. In fact, there are even lots of guys who are perfectly satisfied with their car having just the American badges and name – those can usually be seen in minivans with chrome wheels, chrome bars and American flags.

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But I always liked to think that I haven’t chosen my Caprice just for its country of origin. I was quite certain that I, as a budding motoring journalist and avid reader of British car mags, was above such lowly reasons. I was sure that I chose the Caprice because it offered me what I wanted and needed from a car. And I even thought that the fullsize, body-on-frame sedan with a V8 in the front and driven axle in the back is still what I need, and what suits me better than legions of brand-new cars I have driven since.

So, naturally, I was a little afraid that driving a nearly identical car after all these years (I have sold my Caprice about three years ago, and it was out of service for two years before that) will reveal that I have idealized it in my memories, and compared to all new cars I am used to drive, it will just suck.

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But when I was handed the keys and sat in front of familiar dashboard and ugly blue plastic steering wheel, I immediately felt at home. Memories started flowing in, and for first few dozen miles, I just enjoyed reliving the days when I was young(er), with windows down and big V8 burbling through the fat exhaust with decidedly non-stock muffler.

Only after the initial joy faded away a little bit, I was able to start thinking about reasons why I loved this car so much in the first place. And tried to remind myself that I should be a balanced and impartial motoring journalist. But I cannot promise you that I totally succeeded – so let me say up front: I don’t think that driving an old American fullsize wagon in Europe is an especially bright idea. In fact, it is in fact a pretty dumb one, although it means loads of fun.

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So, what are the principal reasons for driving an old US barge in Europe? As I mentioned before, the first is the looks. And the size. Just seeing the thing parked among tiny European hatchbacks will give you giggles again and again. While I’m pretty sure that even in America, the B-body looks like a dinosaur, here it looks like a dinosaur in a kindergarten. And then there is the chrome. And the in-your-face showiness of the thing. Remember that ordinary European cars, even the beautiful ones, are always very sensible and restrained. No designer in Europe would ever think of putting a +100-pound hunk of metal on the car and calling it “bumper”. Nor would any non-luxurious brand use such a thing as a hood ornament. The whole package is just a giant middle finger to the rest of the world, saying “I can afford THIS”.

But at the same time, you can see sense in many of those brash features – like bumpers that actually serve their original purpose, being able to hit stuff without receiving damage. Once, after I overlooked a huge patch of ice, I hit a huge and empty metal box on a gas station. The damage on the box was about $1,500. The damage on my car, after the policeman refused to write “zero” in the form, was $25 for a little scratch on the rubber strip on my front bumper.

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And even more important is the fact that American engines, as well as the rest of the car’s mechanicals, are built in a much more pragmatic way. It seems that Europeans are obsessed with power-to-displacement ratio, and regard big, lazy engines as something wasteful and stupid. It may be caused by the decades-long practice of taxing big displacement engines, which alienated big, lazy, torquey engines to us. Or by widespread belief that the fuel consumption is directly proportional to the displacement – countless times I was told by people that my car can’t possibly get better fuel mileage than 20 l/100km (something like 10mpg), because their 1.6 litre gets 7 l/100km, so it’s not question that my car gets at least three times as much. I was even called a liar for insisting that my Caprice actually got 13 l/100km if I wasn’t driving like a lunatic.

Also, the “don’t fix what isn’t broken” attitude and large production numbers mean that the average US car is not only very reliable (Don’t believe me? Volkswagen is considered supremely reliable brand here… and it’s not because our VWs are better, but because we also have French and Italian cars), but also have incredibly cheap parts. Costly shipping, customs and taxes? Yeah. But even with all these added costs, parts for average American car are still cheaper than for most European ones. Add the fact that most classic American stuff is designed to be fixed with a large hammer and to sustain heavy abuse, and you get surprisingly low overall running costs. Something quintessentially European, like Renault or an Alfa, will be cheaper to feed – unless it’s a V6, in which case it will singlehandedly out-drink American lazy V8 – but the repair costs will kill you.

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This is especially true if you live in a country like mine – where the spotless tarmac you may know from Germany or France is replaced with a sea of potholes and ruts. On my W124 Mercedes with Sportline suspension, a front-end alignment lasted for three days, before I hit the first hole large enough to screw it up. With my old Caprice, I managed to go over five-inch curb sideways at 30 mph after failed attempt to drift the roundabout, and it escaped totally unscathed.

Which also means that driving old American iron on 15” steelies with high sidewalls is incredibly comfortable, compared to modern European cars with sporty suspensions, which are wonderful for canyon carving, but lousy if you want to relax and get to your destination with as little fuss as possible.

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But there are big, comfortable European cars. And there are easy to fix European cars with cheap cars and great reliability record – although the combination of these virtues is quite rare. So finding rational reasons for driving humongous Detroit dinosaur on our tiny roads is pretty hard, leaving me with irrational ones.

And besides aforementioned looks and sound, the biggest allure of the Caprice, or US fullsize cars as a whole, is the way they drive. Remember that we live in a world where everything, from superminis to family wagons and even minivans, has to be “sporty” to sell. Most our cars have manual transmissions, (relatively) deep bucket seats, heavy and feelsome steering sharp brakes. Which means you either constantly feel that you’re going unbelievably slow, or use their capabilities and go like a madman. So, driving a car with a couch instead of front seats, suspension that makes it float above the road instead of following it closely and with a helm that lack any sense of connection with front wheels is strangely refreshing.

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I can imagine that someone who’s used to driving European cars, and tries to drive a Caprice in similar fashion, must conclude that the thing is absolutely terrible and worthless. Even finding a proper position behind the wheel is nearly impossible and feels just wrong. But relax, sit comfortably, grab the wheel with one hand and sail away, and you start getting it. After some time with a car like this, you will start using the overassisted steering, unbelievable front wheel lock and torque available right from the idle to your advantage. It’s easy to recognize someone who is used to driving these cars – he ditches the precision and sophistication, instead driving the car like a motorboat. A huge stab of throttle, few single-handed turns of the wheel and another burst of acceleration. Soon, you find yourself driving like in old movies – with the car wallowing like a barge on a rough sea, tires squealing and the chromed ingot in the front missing the obstacles just by inches.

This also answers the last of the questions usually asked about American cars in Europe – how can they fit our roads? In fact, much easier than you would think, at least if we’re talking old, boxy ones like the Caprice. Compared to European vehicles from the late 80s onwards, the first difference is you can actually see out of them – and you also see where they end. So you can go centimeters around stuff without hitting anything. And then there’s the steering lock. With longitudinally mounted engine, there’s loads of room for front wheels to turn around. Which, combined with relatively short wheelbase, means that the Caprice offers unbelievably tight turning circle. Fun fact: when I bought mine, I was still living with my parents, and my father had a 1997 Skoda Felicia Combi. Which is about the size of a Golf, or maybe even smaller. And while I was able to do a U-turn in our street with Caprice, I had to do three-point turn with Felicia, which was four feet shorter. And after gaining some experience, I was even able to fit the thing in most parallel parking spaces.

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Is that enough to outweigh the fact that you feed a large V8 to get power and torque of a 2,0 TDI, or the fact that the front “couch” in the Caprice is, in fact, quite uncomfortable, and the rear one has unbelievably lousy legroom? Or that the surprising ability to fit in the most parking spaces still means that no matter how you try, there are loads of parking spaces that are just smaller than your car? Or that while parts are cheap, you will usually wait a week for them? For a rational human being, no. But for someone who enjoys the V8 burble, the attention classic US metal gets here (my NYC Taxi Caprice got more attention than average new supercar), the fun you can have at low speed and general “suck it, world” attitude these boats ooze make driving fullsize American wagon (or sedan) fun enough to put up with all the troubles that come with it.

And my personal conclusion? Yes, as I anticipated, the Caprice is not as wonderful as I remembered it – mostly because it isn’t really all that comfortable. But it still is wonderful to me. And I have to get another one… or, maybe, some kind of Panther this time?

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Photos by Radek “Caddy” Beneš

 

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73 Comments on “A Tale Of Two Wagons, Part The Second: 1989 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Estate, or “The Granny Wagon”...”


  • avatar
    NN

    Awesome article, Vojta…driving cars that are outside of their immediate cultural environment is fun for so many reasons. That is probably why some American enthusiasts (like myself) desire to own Alfas or Citroens…not because they’re really any good, but rather because they are so different, and for that, so fun. I love it and totally understand when I meet Europeans here who have gone out and bought a massive pickup truck or a Challenger or something of the sort.

  • avatar
    bachewy

    I think it’s those cars we experience as young folks that we remember the fondest.

    Example – All through high school I drove a ’72 4-door Impala. It was a beast and got maybe 8mpg. One of my best memories of that car was slowing cruising around town, Springtime, windows down, AM radio squawking out Def Leppard. Despite all the car’s drawbacks I miss it greatly.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Caprices rule.

    If I could afford the gas, I would be driving one right now. They’re super cheap to buy and maintain, but of course very bad on fuel…

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      And remarkably stable with the speedo needle buried…

      Thanks, Dad for loaning me your work car all those years ago…

    • 0 avatar
      PonchoIndian

      You might be surprised
      I drove a LeSabre with the 307 and 3 speed auto for about a year. That damn thing would get 20 mpg no matte how I drove it.

      I’ll bet it would have been pretty good with the 4 speed auto.

      Find yourself a Caprice with the 4.3 V6 and 4 speed auto and you’ll have a large car that pulls down fuel economy equal to most mid sizers, or better than V6 mid sizers in the same price range.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        But it would be GLACIALLY SLOW.

        Not sure how much a Caprice weighs, but likely still over 4000 pounds. That’s a lot for the 4.3 to lug around.

        • 0 avatar
          PonchoIndian

          Nah, under 4000lbs

          and the 4.3 is probably just as quick as the 307.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            That just means the 307 really sucks.

            Though at least with the H/O parts used on the Hurst/Olds and 442, you could put the 307 on par with the L69 305.

          • 0 avatar

            The 307 does suck. Mom and Dad had an 84 Delta 88 with the 307. It couldn’t drag itself through a wet paper sack. The 76 Chevelle we had had a 305, and it could get out of its own way, the Olds was just.. slow, even with the 4bbl carb on the 307, it still was a slug, but it did have some legs.

            I think mom and dad got 25mpg on the Olds on the highway, and something like 15-18 in town. The 76 got no better than 14/18.

            That Delta 88 also weighed in at 3600 pounds.

        • 0 avatar
          mkirk

          The little 4.3 LT1 based motor would be the winner in my book.

      • 0 avatar
        texasspeed

        My mom had a LeSabre. Something that always bothered me… doesn’t “LeSabre” just mean “the saber” in French? When my mom would say, “Let’s take the LeSabre” I wondered if that was like saying “Let’s take the The Saber.”

        Sorry for the digression.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Well put , thank you .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Piston Slap Yo Mama

    I briefly dated a woman in Japan who drove her very Caprice-like Toyota Crown in the fashion you detailed: relaxed, one hand on the steering wheel while rocketing down impossibly narrow noodle shaped streets. She was the opposite of every stereotype that’s ever been applied to women, Japanese or otherwise. But I digress.

    I love sportscars and have owned my share but the nautical sensation I get when behind the wheel of my ’72 Country Squire is the diametric opposite. At just shy of 19 feet long it’s about a half foot shorter than the biggest car ever sold in America. Driving it is epic, and no other car I’ve owned has resulted in bikers and old timers at dive bars buying me a round, and that’s in America. I can only imagine how much fun it would be in your neck of the woods. The caveat would be my fuel consumption of 26L/100km in Europe. Gahhh!

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    I haven’t thought about these Caprices in a long time, and didn’t really think much of them when I did. But looking at the pictures in the ad at the top of the article…damn, what a cleanly-styled, attractive car. Maybe even beautiful? Maybe it’s just the gloppy styling of today’s mainstream cars that, in contrast, makes the Caprice so striking today.

  • avatar
    lastwgn

    My daily driver is a Mazda RX-8. I have a showroom condition 1983 Mazda RX-7 for nice summer days and weekends. And then there is the Colony Park. A 1991 beauty that is swathed in acres of thick, soft velour riding on 15 inch tires with high sidewalls. Sometimes it feels good to just sink into those classic American seats and follow the hood ornament way out there as it reaches for the distant horizon. Toss in some classic tunes and the world can disappear around you for hours on end. And if kept under 65 mph, 22 or 23 mpg is very easy to achieve.

    Excellent article!

  • avatar
    gmichaelj

    A neighbor has a 4 door Caprice Sedan and it still looks very good. Better looks than my 2006 Impala.

    And yes, an excellent article.

  • avatar
    Monty

    Vojta Dobeš:

    A beautiful spoken word love paean to one of the most underrated GM vehicles ever.

    You touched on why the B bodies were awesome – they were practically indestructible. There are still 100s of thousands of them on the road today. I just saw a Chevrolet coupe with the wrap-around backlight at Home Depot last night. Then, when I stopped at another store, there sat a 98 Regency Coupe of the same vintage. Both appeared used, but not abused. Not bad for 20 to 30 year old “POS” detroit products.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      B bodies seem to be surprisingly rust-resistant. Every example I’ve seen, no matter how badly the paint has faded, has very little visible rust.

      • 0 avatar
        Monty

        The quality of GM paint in the 70′s though the 90′s was laughable. It wasn’t uncommon to see the hood, roof and trunk several shades lighter than the sides, or in the instance of my father’s 79 Bel Air wagon, bare metal was present within three years. No rust though.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Yeah, I’ve seen a Lumina that lost its white paint in several places, yet didn’t have a speck of rust.

          Oddly enough the black paint on my car hasn’t faded one bit, but all the black exterior plastic has.

        • 0 avatar
          Beerboy12

          Don’t worry, paint quality was not good for anyone during that period. Especialy the 80′s after the oil crisis. 90′s onwards saw some good advances in paint tech and some interesting new ways to get the body to resist rust. I forget the exact details but one of them has to do with running a current through the body when the car is driving.

          • 0 avatar
            amca

            I suspect it had something to do with moving to water based paints and the new clear coats. It took a while to work out the kinks, and early examples from every maker had problems.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            amca, you are correct the bulk of those problems were due to the early Low VOC paints and the fact that they were rushed into use before they were fully tested and developed. That is why the majority of cars you see with those problems were ones that were built in the US or Canada. Outside of the US they could still use the same proven formulations.

  • avatar
    Kamaka

    Great article Vojta!

    I’ve always been attracted to the Caprice Classic Wagon, Olds Vista Cruiser, and Buick Roadmaster.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Thank you for the great write-up! Please do more.
    And I am with you on British car rags, albeit mine would be from an earlier era, I think.
    Pre-1997 CAR would be my main resource, not just for all things automotive, but a great quality English language text book. Gavin Green, Phil Llewellin, LJK Setright, late George Bishop – they were my English teachers to much greater extent than any University prof could be.

  • avatar
    Johannes Dutch

    Black Caprice Wagons have always had a strong reputation here: as a hearse. The handling doesn’t matter, how can the main character in a funeral possibly be in a hurry ?

    My brother and I own classic American V8 iron as hobby-vehicles.
    Mainly because of the “exotic aspect”, the sheer sound being a crucial part of the fun.
    I mean, what’s so special about driving a 6 cylinder BMW here ?

    Late sixties pony cars and CJ Jeeps for example aren’t that big after all, driving early seventies Buick or Cadillac land yachts on narrow and bendy roads is yet another game ! Although there are many enthusiasts for these vehicles too.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      Reminds me of how Swedish car nuts apparently love Cadillacs and have them shipped from America to Sweden regularly.

      • 0 avatar
        Johannes Dutch

        Importing US cars from the fifties, sixties and seventies into Northwestern Europe is big business. All price classes, original or fully restored.

        Parts ? Online suppliers based in the US.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    I owned and loved my ’77 Pontiac Catalina that I bought in ’92 for $800. It had the smallest displacement V8 offered, I believe 304, and over 200K miles, though will admit its a guess because the odo stopped around 75000. Three speed auto, roll down windows, A/C that worked when it felt like it (interestingly, when it was the hottest out), and gorgeous blue smurf-fur interioer and not one blemish in the expansive dash. Eight sets of seat belts for the large, plush bench seats, posi-locked rear hub and a trunk so large that homeless people envied its liebensraum, meant that I could fit eight of my friends in the land barge, cruise comfortably at 75 mph to the beach, drive out on the sand and unload the beer coolers, hibachi, charcoal, grill food and munchies, chairs, towels, baggage, Jimmy Hoffa, you name it. Great, great car. Best feature ever in a land barge, that six foot long bench seat. Perfect for girlfriends and nap taking after a hard night.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    I bought one of these CCWs (Caprice Classic Wagon) for about 1.5k, cash, at a police auction on my 16th birthday. Painted it rattlecan black and put black steelies on it (which I bought at the same police auction for 25 bucks).

    Had a stenciled sticker of Icarus on the back, called it the Led Sled. Only mods besides that were brain melting stereo and mountain bike and kayak rack.

    Drove it close to 60k miles, for a grand total of 200. Took it from Mobile to Denver in a single day.

    Never had a single problem.

    Best car I ever bought.

  • avatar
    lojak

    Excellent post. One thing you missed about why American cars are, in part, designed the way they are was alluded to by FJ60LandCrusier – America is a gigantic country and we will drive everyfuckingwhere if you give us a chance.

    I’ve driven from North Carolina to Los Angeles several times. To give you some perspective, that’s approximately the same distance as Prague to Volgograd, Russia (almost on the Kazakhstan border). Sporty European cars are awesome but 3 12 hour days in one will leave you crippled if you’re not young.

    • 0 avatar
      Johannes Dutch

      Agreed ! And the sad part is that we had very comfortable long distance cars like the Citroën C6 and Peugeot 607.

      But now we all drive the “German School”: harsh riding and uncomfortable cars. Or as car journalists say: a sporty and dynamic ride….

      Sure, like we’re all on a race track every day, trying to set new record times day in day out.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      I dunno ;

      I’m crippled now yet I still love driving the avatar car and my old Mercedes Diesel Sports Coupe as much and as far as I can…..

      -Nate

  • avatar
    Searcher

    Vojta mentions the difference in driving style needed which I had noted in various Youtube videos that had Europeans driving various American cars. They almost invariably try to overcontrol the car. Everything from strongarming the column shifter and making it difficult to hit a gear instead of just getting it over the Park detent and casually letting it drop into Drive to holding the wheel firmly with both hands when straightening out after a turn causing little left-right oscillations instead of just relaxing and letting the steering unwind on its own.

    eta:And why do almost all of the vintage American cars over there sound like the timing is severely retarded?

    • 0 avatar
      Johannes Dutch

      Don’t know, switching to gasoline with a higher octane rating without advancing the timing ? I advanced the initial timing from 6 degr. BTDC (“US setting”) to nearly 13 degr. BTDC. (using fuel with octane rating RON 98~AKI 93) Regular gas is RON 95~AKI 90. A lot of German gasstations even sell RON 102~AKI 97 as pump gas. Then the timing could be way off.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Thanks for two great articles. We want more! Notwithstanding Sajeev’s Panther love, for my money, the Caprice was the apotheosis of the big B-O-F American sedan. I grew up driving its predecessors, a ’63 and a ’66. “European cars” evolved because, for the most part, “motorways” were late coming in Europe (with the notable exception of the German autobahns). So, the cars that were built, were optimized for curving, narrow 2-lanes. With land being cheap and widely available, two lanes gave way to freeways much sooner in the U.S. Hence the “slab cruisers” like the Caprice. With the U.S. having a domestic supply of petroleum (unlike Europe) there was no need for the government to discourage fuel consumption by taxation, as Europe did and does.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I think its Sanjeev whose in love with Panther, Sajeev is on record as a Fox lover and somewhat indifferent to Panther Love.

    • 0 avatar
      jimbob457

      Well said. Also note that in Europe and parts of eastern North America most big cities have an “old town” built well before the automobile. Their narrow streets favor smaller vehicles.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    As a fellow B-body fan and serial owner since buying my first at the age of 23, I too salute you for finding and falling in love with these (in Europe) obscure and ridiculous-looking vehicles! I have the feeling these will forever be my go-to ‘beater’ cars – until they box (pun intended) me up. If I could ask one thing, it would be to please help teach the next generation to appreciate these rolling time capsules. Godspeed, my brother!

  • avatar
    willbodine

    What a great read. I have driven thousands of western European kilometers in a ’71 Ford Country Squire and an 94 Buick Roadmaster Estate. You might want to take a look at one of the “aero” B-body wagons from 1992-96. Front seats definitely more comfortable. And when equipped with the LT1 5.7 (’94 thru ’96) quite fast. Best bet would be a ’96 with OBD-II.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    One of the main reasons a FWD car struggles with it’s turning circle is the limitation of the CV joint. Over time they have made them much better and more reliable. I still hear the tell tail cluck, cluck, cluck on older FWD’s now and then.
    There is a story about the Opel Kadette’s from the late 80′s / early 90′s where the the drive shaft supported front wheel. If the CV joint blew up the whole wheel could come off. I am not sure if that was a Kadette problem or a common design issue for the time.
    This would never be an issue for RWD.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yup the CV joints are the reason that FWD vehicles have limited steering angle. I’ve never seen a set up where the CV joint failing would cause the front wheel to fall off but I have seen vehicles where the stub shaft is carried by bearings and the rotor just slides on the splines of the stub shaft. Undo the nut and the rotor will slide off. The Honda 600 was that way.

      Now while the front wheel won’t fall off due to a drive axle problem on a RWD but the rear wheel can fall off if the axle shaft (or C clip on axles so equipped) breaks on a semi-floating axle.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      If you have a C-clip style rear axle then you can most definitely have a wheel come off in the event of a broken axle. If you have a full floater this is not an issue but the only big domestic rides I have seen with full float rear axles are cars that are driven 1/4 mile at a time or very slowly over large rocks.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Did you get a lot of comments about your “dollar-grin”?

    As a teenager I spent the summer with my best friend and his folks traveling Europe in their ’69 Malibu SS 396. I wasn’t prepared for the attention this car got everywhere we went. A nice car by American standards elevated to a degree by the “SS 396″ trim level, but this car was a Rock Star in Copenhagen and Stockholm attracting crowds every time we parked it. Always kept hearing people say, “dollar-grin, dollar-grin” which was a somewhat snide, but a little envious reference to the broad chrome “smile” of American cars

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I have pictures of several GM B-body sleds from the 70s from a trip I took to Scandinavia back in 2005, including a mint-condition looking 1978 Olds Delta 88 Holiday Coupe with a “Touch This Car, And I’ll F— Your Dog!” bumper sticker in the windshield, in Stockholm or Oslo (don’t recall which)!

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    texan: What the 307 really needed was a conversion to TBI. But unfortunately GM was late to the fuel injection party (unlike Ford) and so they only really started using TBI engines after most of the 307 powered cars were gone.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      In the 80′s GM had fuel injection on X-cars, A-Bodies and F-Bodies even the lowly Iron Duke powered F-body yet oddly enough it was not offered on mid-sized G-Bodies and on the full-sized B-Body but with only the 4.3 MPI. So a Camaro Z-28 with a 305 came with Tuned Port Injection but a Monte SS had a carb.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Amen!!!!

    I live here in America, in one of the better slightly-southern states. My daily driver is a 78′ Chevy Malibu sedan. 3.3L V6, 3-spd auto. Slow, gets about 20mpg, and is awesome. Potholes, rough roads? Yeah, no problem. Hitting things, people hitting my car? I’ve been in a few accidents with it, not my fault. Car actually looks better then before, because the 1st one netted me enough money to get the whole car painted and re-done ( I didn’t sue anybody, just took the check, did the body work myself, and used the rest for a paint job).

    Then when something breaks, it cost about $20-$50 to replace and an hour to put back together. Starter, water pump, fuel pump, rear brake cylinders. Yeah, it’s “broken down” before, but some simple tools and a little ingenuity always gets me home and never leaves me stranded on the side of the road.

    Comfortable big bench seat, and these old cars demand a respect and presence on the road nothing new could even hope of. They’re not for everybody; but if you get it you get it, and I’m glad to see that you do too!

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      See, that’s the kind of car I want. Something big and simple.

      Been trying to hunt down a D-body Caddy…the RWD version, not the FWD version.

      Or, to put it another way…the 1977-1992 DeVille/Fleetwood Brougham/Brougham.

      • 0 avatar
        lojak

        Oh Dear God! One day I will have a 77-86 Fleetwood Brougham. Replace the 425 with as 75-76 500 and put airbags on it so that I can lay it down on the street when it’s parked. One day, one day….

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          I’d be happy with scoring a 307 Bro-ham for dirt cheap and getting a good deal on a LS1…

          • 0 avatar
            lojak

            I had to look this up because I didn’t realize they even came with a 307. Honestly if I got one with a 425 that would get swapped after the airbags but a 368 would have to go first. 307 too.

            I like the oldskool 500s but an LS1 make more since if you live someplace like Cali where a 500 swap would be illegal. In NC, you don’t have to smog anything that’s not OBD-II and there’s a 30 year rolling exemption for safety inspections so in 4 years none of the Broughams will need inspections.

  • avatar

    When the 307 in my ’89 Caprice Classic Wagon need some repairs, I used it as an excuse to get some REAL power in there…

    …like a 350 TPI.

    Thanks to the grace of God and some sound advice from Jaguars That Run in Livermore, CA (“Make the engine think it’s in the car it came from”), I took two Helm manuals (car and engine), about six months and did the swap.

    In addition to the car actually being able to cruise in overdrive at highway speeds, I picked up 2 MPG just by virtue of the car now being able to get out of its own way.

    Get a Gen III/Gen IV, anything from a 5.3 to an LS7 will do, just do your homework and make the engine think it’s still in the car it came from…then go have a blast.

    Oh, an ’89 Caprice Classic wagon weighs 4200 lbs.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Are you alls unaware that GM sold these uber fine Automobiles in Taxi format ? .

    They all had the V-6 engine and over drive tranny , most of the Police ROP suspension bits and were not terribly slow although they did kinda run out of steam above 60 MPH .

    IMO , these cars were some of the best looking Chevies ever .

    We had the entire fleet of them at one point , B & W as well as Metros

    All of ours had the 350 V-8 , a very good if BORING engine .

    Gone but never to be forgotten , Panthers are nice yes but will never be as good as these were .

    My idiot ex BIL had a very nice 9 passenger Chevrolet Kingswood Station Wagon in this body style , it had every option available .

    I’ve forgotten what the actual year model was , he’d gotten it nearly free from a boss who was embarrassed to drive a five year old car .

    Said idiot of course , thrashed it into the ground in Yeoman Service , he never even hooned a car as a teenager but managed to destroy every Motor vehicle he’s ever touched .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I’ve had a 77 Impala wagon that looked just like this but had a 350/350. It would run and it would carry all the tools I owned.The two town cars weren’t very far behind with the 302 and four speed OD.

    I don’t really think we have had much in the way of improvement wince the seventies. I know we get better gas mileage but when I see all the nonautomotive waste I don’t much care. Have a 57 two door 210 wagon that isn’t nearly as good as the 77 was. Don’t know why I don’t just upgrade the running gear and have fun. I think I should have kept the 77.

  • avatar
    hawox

    here in europe these cars were all characters of the police movies!
    impala, crown vic., fury and monaco… back in those days american cars were so different from what we could see in everyday roads! from ’50s up to the mid ’90s american cars were 2x bigger and ahestetically less “sophisticated” than what they sold in europe so automatically everything was charismatic.
    maybe it worked the other way around, i.e. the alfa milano has alwais been considered ugly here.
    i admire the non compromise way theese cars were made: supersimple engines, cheap parts, suspension designed to jump over curbs, simple interiors….

  • avatar
    riccorizzo

    Gotta love GM.. Eurospec tail lights for the Chevy Wagon?? Sure.. Take the Buick wagon taillights, swap out the top lens for an orange one. Put it in the Chevy wagon. Done!! No one will notice.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I wonder if that was done to “Euro”-ize the car for importation (although the speedo looks to be in MPHs). (I’m also not seeing signal repeaters on the fenders.)

      The outside mirrors aren’t anything like we got here either–is there a requirement for foldaway mirrors? Oftentimes when I see ‘Murican iron in European pictures, these types of mirrors are present.

      • 0 avatar
        riccorizzo

        Pretty sure the lights are this way for Euro spec purposes..I think orange is required for the turn signals. If you look closely the speedo is in KMH and the temp gauge in celcius.. The sideview mirrors are wacky and I don’t think are original to the car.
        Heres another caprice wagon with those taillights but not the mirrors.

        http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?215977-Are-combined-amber-turn-white-backup-lamps-feasible
        And here are 2 examples of European spec Cadillac Brougham lights.. They look odd.

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/45904802@N08/4844175679/

        http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4076/4822951655_86742680c9_o.jpg

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I really enjoyed the article. I had a ’79 Impala wagon for 11 years. It had the 350cubic inch engine, with a 4-bbl carb. And positraction rear axle. I added air shocks to avoid that sagging rear end look.

    I regarded the wagon as an excellent design blend of pickup truck and limousine. It could get 20mpg without much babying, and with 6 people aboard it was surprisingly efficient per person. In addition, having 5-6 people in 2 rows instead of 3, in the quiet cabin, allowed everyone to participate in conversations. Travel in it was like sitting in a living room for a while, and it could carry more stuff than everyone needed to bring. Just the bin under the cargo area floor was as large as a small car’s trunk. And there was a waterproof bin in one rear side fender.

    Yes, the bumpers were REAL bumpers, mounted on shock absorbers. Not the delicate trim pieces on today’s cars.

    You didn’t mention or picture the amazing 3-way tailgate opened to the side. You did cover the impressive tight turn radius.

    Originally this car would have had the false wood paneling on the sides and tailgate. I think the monochrome paint job doesn’t do justice to it. My Impala was a classy metallic grey below the crease line around the car and silver above with a red pinstripe between them. The two-tone paint emphasized the length of the car. It had hubcaps that people mistook for honeycomb mag wheels, but it loved to throw the expensive things off.

    One dumb thing is that these cars never had a spilt-folding back seat. All or nothing. And no rear headrests. I believe they should have evolved into the Ford 500 wagon, shedding excess length and width and gaining some height. There was a foot of completely empty space between the grille and the rad, and the cargo area could have been shrunk. Of course, it would have lost the signature ability to carry a 4×8 sheet of plywood flat in the back.

    My car had endless paint and rust challenges. On the other hand, I always felt it went exactly where I pointed it, and making it drift on slippery surfaces was ho-hum easy.

    Odd that there are clubs of people in Europe who own similar full-size GM wagons.

    Another point is that the numbers of these cars have been decimated because they’re the standard car for demolition derbies in North America. An interesting variation is the custom Cadillac versions.

    Here’s a bit of trivia. These cars had the rear track widened so there was clearance for tire chains and still have room for that 4×8 sheet of plywood. Because the rear end was wider, the body width had to be bumped out along the rear doors. You can see this by sighting along the sides. On the other hand, Ford did not bother to use a wider rear axle on their big wagons. This made them look like the body was too wide for the rear track, and presumably they were less stable. The GM wagons were more stable and looked “right”, but the front and rear wheels did not follow the same track. An odd consequence of this is that people with Ford performance cars used up the positraction rear axles from the wagons, while people with GM performance cars couldn’t use the wider GM wagon rear axle. There, you needed to know that.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    No sure where the complaints are coming from about not being comfortable but any B-body I have rode or driven had some of the most comfortable seats I have sat in during the 70′s and 80′s. Wagons had the 307 from 1987 to 1990 and in 1988 changed over from a 2.73 rear gear to a 2.93 for a little better off the line feel. A 3.23 was still optional for trailor towing but mileage suffered with that ratio. The best B-body Chevy is the 94-96 wagon wit the 260 Horse LT1.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      A 350 was an option at least in the earlier years, and I think you could even get a 427. The 1977 was the first year for this basic design. The styling was smoothed a little for the 1980, and it got an entirely new “soapcake” body around 1990.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I love seeing a speedometer that goes to 200 in a Caprice! Also the right side mirror control being a cable driven affair under the IP. How hard was it to make power mirrors!

    Thanks for the article. My grandfather had an 83 or 85 Caprice 2 door that he loved. My folks got custody of it in 1995 or so, when he couldn’t do all the driving and my grandmother hated driving the Caprice. They bought a Buick Century. The Caprice had about 15k on it when we got it. It still smelled new inside.

    305, maroon in color inside and out, wire wheel covers. Very pretty car. We had it fr awhile, it was my Moms DD for about a year. My brother had it during high school and then sold it to an equally car loving friend of his who had for a long time. A great car, even though it wasn’t.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Thank you so much for this article. The two cars that have left the greatest impressions on me have been my ’65 Buick Wildcat and my ’97 Volvo 850 T5. I’ve always been able to articulate why I loved driving my Volvo, but I’ve never been able to do that with my Buick.

    Then I read your description of driving the Caprice and realized that you nailed it.


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