By on June 27, 2014

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After over nine hundred miles in a single night, the Impala and I bedded down in my little subdivision to wait for Mark and his U-Haul to catch up, which he did later Tuesday afternoon.

Come the sunrise on Wednesday… well, I was still asleep. But a few hours later, after airing-up the flat left rear and the flattening right front, we got on the move.

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83,929 miles: Down the street from my house, I put nine gallons into the Impala. At the counter, the clerk notices my “PRS Signature Club” T-shirt. “You play a Paul Reed Smith?” he asks.

“Oh yeah,” I respond, “I have four Private Stocks, some Wood Libraries, two of the Korina Collection, a Brazzy-neck Modern Eagle, some other stuff.”

“Man, I would love to have any of those,” he offers. We chat a bit more, and I talk to him about starting my own business in my twenties and the risk/reward equation inherent in doing so. Then I walk out to the car. When I drive past the window in the ’81 Impala, I see his face drop in disappointment as he realizes he’s obviously been talking to a poverty-stricken congenital liar. It’s all I can do to not run to the house, load the Chevy’s dingy cloth interior with guitars, and return. I feel like I’ve let him down. I imagine him in prison, twenty years from now, blaming his downward spiral on me. “Yeah, man, for one shining minute I thought hard work would pay off, but then I saw that the guy was actually driving a crappy old domestic. So I started harvesting copper pipes from senior-citizen housing.”

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84,190 miles: At the Love’s travel stop down the street from Kentucky Speedway, the racing vendors are out in full force and a surprisingly number of stunningly beautiful women are just milling around. I get the feeling it’s a meetup of the Bud Light girls before they work the event. Being painfully close to the Young MC lament of having no money and no car, I keep my mack game to myself. In any event, I’m more shaken than stirred; filling the tires all the way has revealed a dashboard-earthquaking periodic vibration in the Impala’s running gear. It’s enough to make my spleen hurt.

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I’ve come to a realization about this 1981 Impala, and that realization is like so: There’s absolutely nothing about it that would surprise or confuse the owner of a 1955 Chevrolet sedan. The twenty-six years between the tri-fives and this B-body barely exist. The technology is basically the same. The controls are the same. The amount of available power is the same. The cars aren’t that dissimilar in size, the 1977 “downsized” car basically returning to the 1963 form factor after a decade’s worth of bloat.

Where was the progress in two and a half decades? There wasn’t any. Disc brakes standard in front, better suspension geometry. That’s it. I love these cars, I love the GM full-sizers, I love the Panthers when I’m not recovering from side-impact accidents in one, but it’s no wonder the Japanese kicked our ass. A 1977 Accord is like a spaceship compared to this thing. You can’t sit still for nearly three decades and expect the competition to do the same. The fact that the 1984 FWD fullsizers were garbage just made it worse. YOU HAD ONE JOB, guys. The pace of change in cars, even GM cars, in the years between 1981 and 2007 completely dwarfed what happened in the quarter-century before. The ’55 Chevy owner wouldn’t have any trouble operating this Impala, but fast-forward the 1981 buyer to 2007 and he’d be unable to figure out ninety percent of the ancillary controls. Bluetooth? CD player? Tiptronic shift? Push-button start? How does all this work? How do you fix it when it breaks?

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Look at that trim blank. Who signed off on that? Who installed it? At any point in the enterprise, from drawing board to pre-sale inspection, did anybody give a shit? Who thought this would be good enough for the American people? The only part of this car that really holds up is the exterior styling, which is still light-years beyond the porky-pig-looking crap GM is trying to sell today. In 1977 General Motors led the market in design, if nothing else. Today they lead it in government assistance.

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84,219 miles: It’s been drizzling off and on. My biggest fear on this trip was that it would rain enough to make standing water the order of the day; the Impala doesn’t have enough tread on the back tires to maintain highway speeds in those conditions and I’d be a sitting duck for semis running up behind me with the hammer down. But as the rain fades and my concerns ease, I see traffic come to a halt ahead. For the next fifty minutes I bake in the sun while the 229 V-6 stumbles and fumes, moving ahead five feet at a time. I remember the phrase “vapor lock” and I think about how the Variable Venturi carb in my Marquis wouldn’t have been able to cope with this situation at all.

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Just when I think I’m going to start getting physically sick from the heat and the sitting and the general cumulative effects of the past two days, I make it past the closed lane. Just this one time, I pin the accelerator to the floor and let the big coupe fly for twenty or so miles, the windows down, pulling the heat and the agitation out, leaving it behind.

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84,255 miles: Nearly there! I’m confident enough to take a detour to the amphitheater in New Albany, Indiana for some photography and a brief look around. The tires have held pressure, the engine has run as well as I could expect. A few miles off the route can’t hurt.

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After some photos, it’s time to take the Impala the rest of the way, to Greenville, Indiana.

84,271 miles: Mark’s father is waiting for me as I roll slowly up the gravel driveway, waving me to a stop behind his ’67 Thunderbird. “You know,” he offers, “I think the ‘Bird is in better shape than this one.” He’s right. But that didn’t stop us from making the trip. While I unpack the car, he and I talk about the plans he has to work on the car with his son. For years, they owned a trucking firm together; now they’ll be working on this Impala in the evenings.

Here’s the thing when you write about cars, and it isn’t something you realize right away. Yeah, the new-car press events and the road tests and whatnot are primarily about the fresh metal and the specs and the performance and the plastic quality and the warranty and half the time we’d serve the reader better by just reprinting the press materials. But in the long run all of that stuff is meaningless. In the long run what matters is how we interact with cars, our human stories, the way they carry us, steel and rubber, down the skeins of our lonely existences.

This Impala has had a lot of stories. Some we cannot know; they are lost to us, though they may be vivid to the people who lived them. For the last 1,249 miles, the story of the Impala has belonged to me, and I’ve shared it with you, so it’s yours now, as well. The next chapters will be written by Mark and his family, and I can’t wait to read them.

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75 Comments on “Impaladventure Part 2: Jamming It Home, More Details...”


  • avatar
    NN

    wonderful writing, as always. Especially the part about the role of ego when interacting socially while driving a car that only you appreciate.

  • avatar
    319583076

    I got a chill up my spine reading the last two paragraphs. Well done once again.

    • 0 avatar

      “In the long run what matters is how we interact with cars, our human stories, the way they carry us, steel and rubber, down the skeins of our lonely existences.”

      Jack, yet again you’ve succinctly articulated why I love cars.

      This is why I read TTAC everyday.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      Yep, Jack at his finest. While most of us love cars, it’s car culture that really is the more fascinating subject.

  • avatar
    Curt in WPG

    When I was growing up friends of the family had an early 80’s Pontiac Parisienne like this B body. I remember they got it cheap because it was a factory oddball – the drivers side of the car had power windows while the passenger side was manual crank. At the time it was a shoulder shrug thing, no big deal. Our 81 Reliant wagon seemed light years ahead of it (4 cylinders! Wire wheel covers! Red velour interior!)

    We’ve come along long way since then.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Apparently the Rusty Jones rust proofing worked. The lack of cancer on a 33 year old New England based car, low miles or not, is impressive.

    I remember the ads as a kid, “Hello Rusty Jones, goodbye rusty cars…”

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I don’t know if you can credit Rusty Jones as much as the car’s location in Maine, where winter is winter, all winter long. The southern part of New England is slushville, where a salty, sandy concoction gets worked deep into the undercarriage, then partially melts during the day and refreezes overnight.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The coast of Maine is no different. Maybe way up north or in the western mountains this would not be the case, but the coast is freezing +/- 5F every day for most of the winter.

        VT should be colder, but cars there seem to rust way worse than anywhere else in New England. All the dirt roads?

        When I was an undergrad, I often drove the school’s pool Impala/Caprice wagons for events and club outings. They were utterly horrible cars. The thought of driving one today is just laughable.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      I can tell you, having been briefly an internal auditor for an unnamed and extinct global conglomerate, that Rusty Jones was much more effective at preventing rust on cars than generating profits. The financials and the related warranty claims were a scary thing to behold. We strongly recommended not buying the company. But the also unnamed CEO was a racing fan and this was going to be his baby.

      Now about that Western Open sponsorship…

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I will say that it did seem to work. My folks ’80 Subaru failed inspection in 3 years for rust. The ’82 went 6 years before needing welding. The ’82 had the Rusty Jones treatment. Still sad by modern standards (and it was junked at age 9) but better than the factory effort! And I don’t think there was a bit of difference between the ’80 and the ’82 in terms of factory rust protection.

  • avatar
    vtnoah

    Great story Jack.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    C’mon, Jack! “A ’77 Accord is a spaceship compared to this thing?” Back in the day, I dated girls with ’77, ’81, and ’82 Accords (respectively), and I couldn’t disagree more. That era of Honda simply wasn’t made to withstand American winters – they rusted to the ground. The ’77 didn’t even have a proper automatic transmission – it had a 2-sp Hondamatic that she had to shift herself. And they didn’t have reliable fuel injection like 1990s Hondas – they had crap Keihin carbs with a gazillion brittle vacuum lines. The ’82 developed an issue in which it would foul its plugs and refuse to start every 5K or 6K miles. Three mechanics couldn’t solve it, so I kept a spare set of plugs and when she’d call me because the Honda wouldn’t start, I’d swap in the clean set, clean up the fouled set, and keep them ’til next time.

    The B-body was roomy, comfortable, reliable, and built to last. Look up ’77-’85 Accords vs. ’77-’85 Caprices on your local CL. Oh, right – there aren’t any ’77-’85 Accords left. They were reduced to rusted shells and were crushed decades ago.

    A ’93 Accord is a damn sight better than a ’93 Lumina, but I’d take a ’77 Impala over a ’77 Accord every day and twice on Sunday.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The ”78 Accord is on a number of “worst cars” lists with aluminum engines and God awful trannies,

      But Jack’s point is valid to a degree, Detroit stood still, Japan innovated.

      As far as technology differences my parents had an 81 Caprice Classic B-Body with the 229. It lived at the Chevy dealer. Total piece of crap. They replaced it with an 86 Nissan Maxima, and there was nothing “space shipish” about the Maxima vs the B-Body when it came to functions and controls. HOW it was put together was vastly different, it was very well built compared to the Caprice.

      Alas the salt on Massachusetts roads chewed up the paint and sheet metal on the Nissan.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Foley

        The ’85-’88 Maxima was a great car. The first Japanese car I ever drove that felt “nice” to me was an ’85 Maxima 5-sp. It was quiet, fairly nimble, and fast for its day. The only thing I hated about it was the bitchy voice. [Ding!] “Fuel level is low!” [Ding!] “Fuel level is low!”

        I’ve never driven a B-body with a V6…too much car, too little engine. But I’ve driven a ’79 Caprice (305), ’84 Ninety-Eight Regency (307), and a ’96 Roadmaster (LT1), and loved them all.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Living in San Diego, I see 1st generation Accords from time to time. They tend to have crummy resprays, but otherwise look pretty good for their age. It is remarkable for any gas powered car made between 1976 and 1996 to be on the road here, because CARB insists on smog emissions checks for all cars after ’75.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        …because CARB insists on smog emissions checks for all cars after ’75…

        What, what, what?!?!

        That’s looney tunes.

        • 0 avatar
          319583076

          “That’s looney tunes.”

          Ehm, that’s California for you. When I left the first time in 2003 I had planned to move back. Eleven years later I’m fine with just visiting every once in a while.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            NOT ‘ looney tunes ‘ if you lived here back then ~ the smog was terrible 300 + days of every year , taking a deep breath outside felt life a knife stabbing you in the chest .

            The mountains 12 short miles away couldn’t been seen but for a few days each _month_ .

            Remember : I’m a Car Guy who only owns old vehicles but , I keep them sharply tuned and just for sh*ts * grins I occasionally put them on the smog tester @ work , they always run very clean indeed .

            -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Looney tunes is that clean tuning and low emissions won’t keep your car legal. It has to have all of its original smog gear in place too.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            The Evil Government… protecting its citizens from unhealthy air. Positively “Looney Tunes”.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    >When I drive past the window in the ’81 Impala, I see his face drop in disappointment as he realizes he’s obviously been talking to a poverty-stricken congenital liar. It’s all I can do to not run to the house, load the Chevy’s dingy cloth interior with guitars, and return. I feel like I’ve let him down. I imagine him in prison, twenty years from now, blaming his downward spiral on me. “Yeah, man, for one shining minute I thought hard work would pay off, but then I saw that the guy was actually driving a crappy old domestic. So I started harvesting copper pipes from senior-citizen housing.”

    I died. You’re very observant, I know this feeling.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      This immediately reminded me of that sinking feeling I used to have when my dad used Hefty bags as “luggage”, or complained to the salesman about the lack of power locks in the ’87 Mitsubishi Precis he was test driving. Meanwhile, the family was doing just fine.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        ” I died. You’re very observant, I know this feeling.”

        Me too but screw ‘em .

        I can drive whatever I want and I do .

        If others don’t like it, so what .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          PunksloveTrumpys

          +1

          “You’re the joke of the neighborhood, why should you care if you’re feeling good?

          Take the long way home,

          Take the long way home.”

    • 0 avatar
      koshchei

      I’d hate to be stopped in an ’81 gas fumes and oil-smelling B-Body with a back seat full of $5500 “investment” guitars.

      “Really, officer – I was driving them to the gas station because I didn’t want the attendant to turn to a life of petty crime. No, I don’t have proof of purchase with me or an insurance policy proving that I own them.”

      Instead, be like all smart B-Body owners and choose lesser-known artisan brands, like Suhr or Carvin.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Also, I would argue that in spite of there not being many clear improvements in this ’81 versus a ’55 of similar trim, these were still the right cars at the right time. GM couldn’t make enough of them when they were introduced. At the time, the 1955 Chevy 210 buyer was mature, probably had some money, and was looking for a another familiar Chevy in a long line of Chevies and these B-bodies fit the bill.

    GM lost out to the imports on the next generation who shunned their traditional cars and attempts at modern hardware in the 80’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I have to agree, the FWD GM X-cars of ’80-’85 produced more “ex” GM drivers than any other car generation, so the “X” designation was prophetic.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree. And I think they were better than the models that preceded them. The mid-sized RWD cars like the Malibu, Cutlass, and Century were good too. It was the X bodies that made foreign car buyers out of people.

      Even then, I suspect some of this may have been baby boomer rebellion. I doubt many of the Greatest Generation switched. When it came time for my grandparents to trade their ’78 LeSabre, they didn’t hesitate to switch to FWD with the ’87 model.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        >Even then, I suspect some of this may have been baby boomer rebellion. I doubt many of the Greatest Generation switched. When it came time for my grandparents to trade their ’78 LeSabre, they didn’t hesitate to switch to FWD with the ’87 model.

        Yep, this. The square-roofed and wire hubcapped GM H/C bodies were close enough for the Greatest generation. When the Boomers hit their stride of buying power is when GM share landslide really accelerated.

        Interestingly, my parents are Boomers and defected to imports early on in the 70’s with a Vw Super Beetle and a Mazda 808. Both were utter garbage and they went back to Detroit brands. My mother to this day has good things to say about her X-body Phoenix and only remembers how the 808 deteriorated to uselessness within a few years. The penalty box Super Beetle was replaced with a Dodge Colt (like the JY find that Murilee posted but in blue). Which I suppose is an import, but was a stop-gap until a real car with real features could be had, an ’86 LeSabre.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    “fast-forward the 1981 buyer to 2007 and he’d be unable to figure out ninety percent of the ancillary controls”

    There’s a certain guy here who will argue at length that the last 30 years present no significant uptick in auto tech progress over any other such period.

    I think they do and it’s mostly due to Japan for rationalizing production and Asia generally for commoditizing supply.

  • avatar
    kourt

    Did you really not mention TTAC to the gas station guy?

    I understand a degree of dramatic license, and “show, don’t tell”, but you’re publicly writing about this journey, so it seems very appropriate.

  • avatar

    >>>In any event, I’m more shaken than stirred; filling the tires all the way has revealed a dashboard-earthquaking periodic vibration in the Impala’s running gear. It’s enough to make my spleen hurt.

    If I remember correctly about last winter’s events, that means you must have had phantom pain.

    I can’t think of a contemporary family car that looks as good as this one.

  • avatar
    DougD

    Excellent article Jack, on this is the kind of content you are head & spleen above the rest.

    Great comments on the non-innovation of GM, my father had a 1981 Impala from new until about 1993. I loathed that car from the beginning, how could anyone who actually cared combine the torque-less 273 V8 with a 2.41:1 axle ratio?

    I also concur that in driving dynamics and interior design the Accord was so beyond the Impala. Corrosion resistance not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      GM didn’t make a 273 V8, Chrysler did, and bored it out to 318. You must mean the 268 V8 (or 4.4L) with all of 115 hp, and 3-speed auto transmission. That drive train was designed to get amazing EPA mileage, but it varied considerably. For economy AND acceleration, your dad might have done better to get the 231 Buick V6. It supposedly had less torque, but reached it at lower rpms.

      • 0 avatar
        DougD

        Right you are. I don’t know why but I’ve been occasionally calling the 267 a 273 since 1981. I guess I wished it was a 273. Correct about the Buick motor too, at the time our other car was a Regal with a 3.8 and it definately a more willing power plant.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    “Where was the progress in two and a half decades? There wasn’t any. Disc brakes standard in front, better suspension geometry. That’s it.”

    I would add one thing, at least: The full-size GM cars for 1969 switched from 14- to 15-inch wheels.

  • avatar

    My 1977 Corolla was far better than any American car of that era. Bombproof 1.2 liter engine, despite my abuse of it.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Hah! You compare a dinky ’77 Corolla to my ’81 Buick Regal with the legendary 3.8, real bordello-red velour and ice-cold R-12 based air conditioning? Why, my Buick was so good, so popular, that it was actually stolen!

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice piece. I have to disagree a little about the “no change since 1955″ comment. For one thing, the two-speed “Powerglide” automatic transmission that would have come on the 1955-1965 (or later) version of that car was infinitely worse than the three or four speed that was on your car. As I drove my dad’s ’63 6-cylinder Biscayne when I was in high school, I was infinitely glad that my dad had been too cheap to pop for the automatic. The 3-speed manual gave the car what little performance it offered, since second gear was good up to over 50 mph. As the owner of a 78 Accord (for six years, from new) the best that I can say about it is that it started and ran reliably and didn’t use much gas. As a small car, it was infinitely better than the VW Beetle. However, apart from the complex CVCC engine, I would not call it “advanced.” Like all small cars, it was infinitely more nimble than the big Detroit iron. However, I would never wish to drive, say, from DC to Denver in it . . . as I did with my folks in their ’63 Biscayne . . . which got an honest 20 mpg doing the trip at 70.

    I think the real failing of Detroit in the 70s was in assembly quality. Arguably, the cars were assembled no better than those of previous decades; and some would say they were worse. Both the VW Beetle and the Japanese cars were assembled with much more care.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Agreed.

      My mother had a ’77 B-Body Caprice Classic 4-door with almost every option. We learned after the fact (it was bought as a gently used car) that it had many police package options added to it. It was very powerful for 1977 standards, when emission controls were strangling the life out of everything. The car was put together very well, sans the AC system that died every spring.

      It was replaced with an ’81 B-Body 4-door Caprice Classic with the 229 V6. What a steaming pile of crap. It lived at the dealer. It had an endless list of problems. The latch to the glovebox broke after 3 years and it was going to cost over $1,000 in 1984 money to replace the whole dash to solve. That was the answer from the dealer. WTF?!?!

      There was no comparison in the build quality of the two.

      My father also had a ’77 Caprice Classic wagon. He traded it in in 1984 for this new idea that he told me would turn the auto market on its butt and kill the station wagon. Something made by Dodge called a minivan.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I’d like to see some Old Detroit-style cruisers assembled by someone who actually gives a shit about quality. The Big Three did not at any point during the ’70s and ’80s, when they were making the most conceptually honest blacktop cruisers ever. Think something that drives and lasts like a Lexus LS430 but has less Japanese minimalism, less fancy materials, more “Brougham” boulevard style, and a lower price. Such a thing has never been built.

    • 0 avatar
      PunksloveTrumpys

      The many classic American cars which have been fully restored with improvements such as better air conditioning, crate engines with performance parts, modern automatic transmissions and far superior rust protection/assembly quality fit your criteria perfectly.

  • avatar
    raph

    Enjoyed reading about your trek thoroughly Jack.

  • avatar
    tubacity

    “’55 Chevy owner wouldn’t have any trouble operating this Impala” This is mostly good. Uniformity of basic controls helps avoid accidents from being not familiar with controls. Remember the Highway Patrolman who crashed a Lexus unable to stop the car. The Lexus has a push-button start system that requires a three-second hold to turn off the car. He may have been not familiar with the three second push on the loaner car and was unable to shut the engine off when the floormat stuck the accelerator.
    http://autos.aol.com/article/toyota-tragedy-saylor-family/

    “but fast-forward the 1981 buyer to 2007 and he’d be unable to figure out ninety percent of the ancillary controls. Bluetooth? CD player? Tiptronic shift? Push-button start? How does all this work? How do you fix it when it breaks?” Yes, when electronics break down and parts or diagnostic skills are unavailable, the car becomes a junker.

    As to the 76 Accord spaceship? Too often a steam ship as the head gasket failed often.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    Wait a minute Jack. In your review of the 76 Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman you stated that the difference between the 76 and 77 Fleetwoods was greater than the difference between the 77 Cadillac and a BMW M5. Now you’re saying that there wasn’t any progress by GM between 1955 and 1981?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      They took three steps backwards and three forward ,IMO. I adore the fuselage cars for their looks but they’re worse cars than the 1963 Biscayne.

      But in terms of function, quality, features, reliability.. all the 77 cars did was undo some of the damage..

  • avatar
    GS 455

    Just checked my local kijiji. 115 1977-1981 Chevys for sale. The number of 1977-81 Hondas? Zero. I guess all those Accord Spaceships must be flying around Jupiter or something.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      To be fair. Vastly more 77 to 81 Chevys built than 77 to 81 Hondas, so in sheer numbers, its going to be uneven.

      With that said, as others have noted the 1970’s Hondas are looked upon with a very undeserved fondness.

      I learned to drive in a late 70’s/early 80’s Honda Civic, complete with a note taped on the dashboard from the driving school reminding you to never turn the car off, as it won’t restart if you do.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Here’s the original brochure for that thing if you’re interested.

    http://oldcarbrochures.com/static/NA/Chevrolet/1981_Chevrolet/1981_Chevrolet_Caprice-Impala_Brochure/dirindex.html

    “Some Impala value can be felt but not seen. It’s smooth ride stems, in part, from a full perimeter frame with 16 cushioned body mounts.”

    Ok. Yours are probably offering as much cushioning as 16 Oreo cookies by this point but hopefully you can take some comfort in this.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    Regarding the ’77 Honda versus late malaise GM, my experience might be more typical. My new (and still current) wife bought a ’77 Accord new, deposit, wait 3 months, pick it up. My dad bought a ’79 LeSabre a year later, and his misery with what was supposed to be his dream car, A Buick! by gum*, he swore off and at GM products for the remainder of his life, and in spite of being based in the Pacific during WWII, bought Hondas from the early ’90s on. GM screwed over a lifetime GM guy and he never looked back. * He had a few Buicks in the early-mid fifties and remembered them fondly. I have a bunch of pictures of me as a tyke sitting on the hoods of them.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Not saying you’re wrong about what happened to your dad but I doubt your experience is typical. The late malaise B-bodies were highly respected at the time. Consumer Reports constantly recommended them over their peers at Ford and Chrysler and Americans purchased them in huge numbers. Not a high bar to be sure but they were widely considered practical and reliable transportation, and the chassis survived largely intact through 1996 (refreshed by the “bubble car” body change in 1991).

      There were definitely malaise-era products that hurt GM but the B-body wasn’t one of them.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “In 1977 General Motors led the market in design, if nothing else.”

    De gustibus non est disputandum, I guess.

    While I think this is admittedly one of the better *domestics* of 1977, I think the w115 and w123 both did better, just before and then after it.

    Especially, as noted, in *interior* design and quality.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      To be fair, a Mercedes was *massively* more expensive. Like 2X a loaded Chevy, and probably nearly 3X what this stripper 2dr cost. A stripper w123 240D cost well-equipped Cadillac money. For that money, I expect a lot. A big Chevy is the very definition of “car by the pound”.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Just so ~ .

        My 1982 Mercedes 240D base model Sedan it still chugging along just fine and gets 25 + MPG in town and 30 ~ 34 MPG when I run it to Nevada and back full loaded up , 300,000 + miles and the original engine is shot , it burns a quart every 500 miles , one of these days I’ll have to rebuild it I guess .

        Not many 1982 Caddies left running even here in Southern California .

        This makes the $32,000 Mercedes quite the economy car even if it is dog slow .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Look at that trim blank. Who signed off on that? Who installed it? At any point in the enterprise, from drawing board to pre-sale inspection, did anybody give a shit? Who thought this would be good enough for the American people? The only part of this car that really holds up is the exterior styling, which is still light-years beyond the porky-pig-looking crap GM is trying to sell today. In 1977 General Motors led the market in design, if nothing else. Today they lead it in government assistance.

    The funny thing is when the 77s were introduced the general reaction by the press was “GM IS BACK BITCHES!” Rode in many late 70s to late 80s Bs and the up optioned models were decent for the time.

    It is unfortunate that the FWD that GM introduced in the 70s-80s weren’t a hell of a lot better from the get go.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I had a ’79 Impala wagon for 11 years. It had no dummy pieces on the dash. I hated the paint application, which was so poor you could vacuum it off. But the two-tone silver grey combined with the chrome roof rack was very handsome combination.

    It had classy-looking elaborate, and expensive, fake alloy wheel hubcaps that were so heavy they kept falling off until I replaced them. It had a 350 V8 that just loafed but would never stop leaking oil and got vapor lock once. A positraction rear end gave it great traction as long as it had weight on the back.

    I loved the 3-way tailgate, but hated the almost complete lack of headrests. 2 rows of 3 people was much more conversational than the isolation of the 3 rows in minivans. Then again, the lack of a simple thing like a split-folding back seat was annoying. How many years did GM build these wagons without a split back seat or rear headrests? Stupid.

    But it could get 20mpg on the highway, rode like a limousine but could haul stuff like a truck. It was faster than pickup trucks on gravel backroads. With air shocks installed in the back, handling was fine. Travel was like sitting in a living room for a while. Reliability was better than my experience with Ford and Chrysler cars.

    I understand what Jack said about the ’84 and it being backward, but the ’79 seemed up to snuff for it’s time. It certainly did the various jobs it was asked to do, including hundreds of forays up mountain tracks usually reserved for 4×4’s. The only problem was overheating the brakes coming down, but then it was never intended for that sort of use.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” Looney tunes is that clean tuning and low emissions won’t keep your car legal. It has to have all of its original smog gear in place too.”

    Yes it will .

    Obviously you are not a Mechanic and don’t understand how SMOG equipments work .

    Not long ago I bought a clapped out 1976 GMC with the 292 C.I.D. I6 engine and dual fuel tanks ~ it burned a quart of oil every 150 miles (!) and had ALL the incredibly complex California SMOG equipments there but disconnected ~ being the pedantic Journeyman Mechanic goofball I am , I ever so carefully re connected all of them , correctly , then tuned it (something like $300 worth of hoses on a $700 truck) and it *WHISTLED* through the SMOG test @ less than .02 % CO and under 400 PPM HC , it was allowed 700 PPM IIRC .

    It also ran like a raped ape and got 25 MPG’s .

    So yes ,it is possible to have the best of both worlds , you just have to understand what the hell you’re doing with that bent screwdriver in your greasy hand =8-) .

    BTW : from ’77 ~ ‘? Chevy _OWNED_ the P.D. Crusier Market ! .

    _OWNED_IT_ .

    I was there , those were terrific , good looking , great handling , _FAST_ cars that Panthers will never touch in any way .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Why was everything disconnected when you picked it up, are there advantages to running without it?

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        If he had to replace $300 of hoses, the previous owner probably thought the smog stuff was causing poor performance, when he really had vacuum leaks all over the place. The only real solution to multiple leaks is to do what Nate did, replace ‘em all, and the previous owner likely didn’t want to or couldn’t do that himself. Hiring someone would have upped the cost considerably.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Thx

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Actually ;

            The truck was a special order for North American Van Lines , they used it to move large heavy boxes so the long bed was in amazingly good shape when this old Mexican guy bought it and removed the rear window & installed a really solid heavy duty shell on it then padded the pass through and bed sides , used it for a decade or two to go from Los Angeles to his Ranch deep in Mexico full of laughing happy families and children .

            He said he ‘ saved money ‘ by having it ‘ serviced ‘ South of the Border and many of those down there simply don’t ken how to properly fix anything much less GM’s basic anvil on wheels that this truck was .

            Luckily they didn’t throw much out under the hood so I as able to re connect everything then do a _MAJOR_ tune up to make it run right as rain .

            What they’d done to the electrical system and dashboard was a whole ‘nother thing ~ I had to scavenge _everything_ from the plentiful selection of ’73 ~ ’87 Chevy/GMC trucks and Suburbans littering the Junkyards , by the time I was finished it had full DeLuxe dash and instrumentation including the quartz clock that kept perfect time , Delco AM/FM Cassette radio , on and on ~ .

            I bought it to make one important job , poured $3,700.00 worth or parts into it then stupidly gave it away to the rip off charity cars place , they talked big but only gave me a $500 tax receipt for it then back doored it to a used car lot that polished it’s original red paint to a high shine and stupidly left it street parked on sweeping day with expired tags so it was impounded by a cooked tow company…

            All in all it was a GREAT truck as most GM light duty trucks are .

            My Son saw it running around Monrovia , I wonder of it’s current owner realizes how solid it is underneath .

            -Nate

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    This car is such a contradiction. If you’re going to buy something as impractical as a full sized coupe, why go with the Impala rather than the Caprice? The Imapala makes far more sense as a four door sedan.


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