The Truth About Cars » chevy caprice http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » chevy caprice http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Car Collector’s Corner: When Is It Time To Let Go? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/car-collectors-corner/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/car-collectors-corner/#comments Sun, 03 Mar 2013 16:32:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=479759

Cars are a little bit like pets. The years are not kind to either over the long run. The wear and tear begins to take a toll. They have less spring in their step, and moving around gets painful.

We notice the changes and hope for the best with a little more time together, but time waits for no one and no machine or pet. Sooner or later tough decisions have to be made and the pet or vehicle become a fond memory with a little heart-break when the decision to say goodbye is made at the end of the relationship.

It is essentially an ‘Old Yeller’ moment that forces people to move onward without a vital and fond link to their past. Sure we don’t typically have to shoot our pets like the young guy in the ‘Old Yeller’ movie, but we still have to take the final step in the circle of life for our cars or pets.

We had an email from a woman who was faced with the difficult task of a decision to get rid of her beloved 1978 Chevy Caprice station wagon. The car had been with her since she and her husband bought it as a low mileage demo on February 28 1979 from a GM dealership. She parted company with her beloved wagon on February 28 2013, exactly 34 years to the day it came into her family.

Station wagons were a few years away from execution by Lee Iaccoca mini-vans in 1979, so they were still the primary kid-haulers for most families in the late 70s in a Brady Bunch kind of way. This family was no exception and their $10,000-plus investment in the wagon was a sizable sum in 1979.

Her words: “The boys are now 40, 38 and 36. The husband took another road after 14 years while the car stayed with me and the boys for 34 years….the full distance to the present. The car was my most reliable partner in raising my three sons ..from nursery school to university years and beyond. Couldn’t have done it without the car and I will miss it dearly and always hoped that I could restore it eventually.”

That will not happen in this case. The grim prospect of an old car with many mechanical and body issues is an expensive reality for the woman. She has become a car guy by circumstance and loves her old friend the wagon because it represents a vital connection to her family and all of those fond memories associated with the car.

But the real world has crept into the equation and inflexible parking rules at her condo means that she had to get rid of her beloved wagon. She sees a lifetime of family memories in the wagon where others see a worn-out old vehicle, but the cold-blooded condo bylaw will win the day and the car that served her so well is a victim of a heartless regulation.

The car has been placed in the hands of a sympathetic car guy who labels himself as the “patron saint of unloved cars” to evaluate the future of the family legacy car. He wants to see whether he can save the car from death by crusher and I hope that the wagon gets a Walt Disney ending for this storyline – and not the Bambi’s mother kind.

For more of J Sutherland’s work go to mystarcollectorcar.com

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Curbside Classic: GM’s Greatest Hit #3 – 1979 Chevrolet Caprice Classic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/curbside-classic-gms-greatest-hit-3-1979-chevrolet-caprice-classic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/curbside-classic-gms-greatest-hit-3-1979-chevrolet-caprice-classic/#comments Tue, 21 Sep 2010 15:50:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=366238

[Here's my other contribution to Panther Appreciation Week; my prior Panther CC is here]

In the long, strange and sometime tortured evolution of the classic large American sedan since WWII, there are exactly two moments when that species really hit the mark: The 1955 and 1977 Chevrolets. Everything else was fun to look at, fantasize about, ridicule, look back on with rose-colored glasses, or endlessly debate about. Yes, the fins of the late fifties were amusing, as was the build quality. And the endless bloat of the late sixties through the mid seventies may have generated some memorable childhood impressions, but cancer isn’t exactly a sustainable model upon which to base the family sedan. But just as the whole segment was about to metastasize into utter irrelevance, GM gulped the chemo, and built the finest and final expression of the genre.

The problem with peaks is that they inevitably require valleys. We’ll come back to the ’55 Chevy soon, but lets just say that it was the final expression of the immediate post-war ideal; a delayed fulfillment of GM’s 1939 Futurama. A modern, powerful and stylish car, yes; but still practical, comfortable, and efficient. Unfortunately, that ideal soon got replaced with this:

The industry’s mid -fifties fascination with ever-more flamboyant and less practical modes of transportation soon overtook any serious consideration of what a mere sedan entails. And it was that preoccupation/ADD that largely contributed to the domestic industry’s downfall and near-demise. While the Europeans (and later the Japanese) took the matter of developing family sedans seriously, the Americans simply got lost, or caught in Sputnik fever. The results speak for themselves.

The 1955 Chevy sat six in comfort on its tall sofas, and had lively performance from its all-new small-block V8, despite it having only 162 (gross) hp. Tipping the scales at just over 3100 lbs, fuel economy was very decent, given the technology of the times. And its size and weight lent the ’55s a degree of handling and maneuverability that was soon a distant memory. By the early seventies, the big Chevies weighed over 4500 lbs, with fuel economy in the low teens.

In 1973-1974, the Obese Three got caught in a nasty trap of their own making. The energy crisis made the big barges more irrelevant than they were already on their way to becoming. Even the “intermediates” had swollen to well over 4000 lbs. and relied on big blocks to motivate them, the the compacts no longer were that. The cancer had metastasized, and was now deadly. The problem was in affording the cure.

Only GM had the ready resources to initiate a drastic downsizing across the board, involving essentially every vehicle in their vast lineup. It was to be the most ambitious undertaking and restructuring in the automobile industry since Henry Ford idled all his factories for months to retool them for the Model A. GM was about to reinvent itself, starting with its big cars.

The result was nothing less than shocking, if you were around in the fall of 1976. The new Chevrolet, and all the other GM B-Bodies, were the biggest single model year change since the crazy ’58-’59 one-two punch. Its wheelbase lost half a foot, and overall length was down almost a full foot. The tightly chiseled new body also lost 4″ in width, and actually gained 3″ in height; heresy! The literal decline of the American sedan over. But not at the expense of interior room: unlike any American big sedan for decades, the new B-Bodies were designed from the inside out; what a revelation! Interior dimensions equaled or exceeded those of its bloated predecessors, and the seating position was now distinctly more upright.

Starting with a seating buck doesn’t mean that the exterior has to be homely. GM rediscovered that it was possible to make a shorter and taller sedan beautiful, inspired by no small part by the big Opel sedans that arrived in Europe eight years earlier, in 1969. And of course, there was the Seville, which preceded the Caprice by two years. GM was adopting wholesale a new styling language that started with the Opel in ’69, and made last into the early nineties.

The new 116″ wheelbase was almost exactly the same as the ’55, and weight was also down by almost a thousand pounds from the ’76s, to as little as 3500 lbs. Sitting on a completely new frame and suspension, the new Chevy felt remarkably handy as well as competent, especially if optioned properly.

I’ve mentioned him before, but one of our engineers at the tv station at the time was an ultra-GM nerd, and he used the fleet arrangement we’d set up to buy lots of carefully-specced GM cars for the station, employees and friends. One of the most memorable was the ’77 Caprice.

He was desperate to put one of them together from the brochure, and talked one of his well-heeled buddies into letting him order one up. We pored over the option book, and the result was pretty impressive: a white sedan (no vinyl roof) with the 170 hp four-barrel 350, and every HD option number that could be checked off, including of course the F41 suspension package. When it arrived, we test drove it extensively before delivering it to its happy new owner. For the times, the F-41 Caprice was simply fucking awesome; a mega-jump forward from the flaccid lumbering barges Chevy was selling the year before, and everyone else was still peddling. For the first time in ages, GM gave me a ray of hope about it’s capabilities and its future.

And it wasn’t just us: the buff-books raved about the F-41 equipped big Chevies, and not just because GM had slipped them a ringer or a dose of GM Kool-Aid. During the B-Bodies’ long reign until 1990, an F-41 suspended big Chevy was simply the best handling big domestic sedan there was in the land. And don’t even mention the word Panther.

I admit to never having been bitten by Panther fever, and that probably a lot has to do with its earliest incarnations. It was simply inferior to the GM B-Body, period, in pretty much every conceivable way. Starting with its looks:

When Ford finally cranked out its new downsized LTD in 1979, it was all-too obviously a poor imitation of the handsome Caprice. The Ford had an even shorter 114″ wb, which hurt its proportions, and it rode on really tiny little wheels and tires, all-too often adorned with the cheapest and tinniest fake wire wheel covers this side of the Pep Boys. To the undiscerning eyes, the Ford may have been just the helping of mashed potatoes and gravy its Midwest buyers were looking for, but for someone cross-shopping (at least mentally) European sedans in LA in 1979, the Ford just came off as half-baked.

As were its dynamic qualities: the Panther’s suspension hadn’t been given the police car treatment yet; the 302 of the times was totally anemic, and Ford’s AOD transmission was a jerky-herky affair. Truth is, I wasn’t the only one; the buyers recognized it too.

The new B-Bodies propelled GM to a final upsurge in market share and sales, culminating in that grand blowout year of 1978: 9.66 million cars sold, and a 46% US market share. Heady times. And it was coming right out of Ford and Chrysler’s hide, pushing both of them into the verge of bankruptcy. GM’s bold and expensive gamble paid off, for the time being. Too bad it couldn’t maintain its momentum.

The downsized intermediate RWD A/G Bodies that arrived two years after the full-size sedans was never quite as all-round competent, and plagued with GM’s ever-tightening purse: non-opening rear windows, self-destructing downsized transmissions, etc. The B-Body was the high water mark, sadly it was all pretty much was downhill from there.

Did the B-Body have its flaws? Undoubtedly, and like all GM cars, generally the result of cheap components or assembly quality. Well, the interior wasn’t exactly much to look at either, if one had become spoiled by European standards. Whatever; those were the times when GM could still wow the Europeans with a good exterior styling job, but just don’t even open the door. It least it was comfortable and roomy.

For you young-uns who can only see (or imagine) a sea of yellow CVs as NY taxi cabs, it was once a very different story. The B’s utterly dominated the taxi and police market in their day, for plenty of good reasons. The Panthers only were embraced wholesale after GM pulled the plug on the B’s; well, or morphed it into the that Moby Dickmobile, the 1991 Caprice. GM totally lost (shocked) me with that; but I understand the pull it still has, especially with the wagon version, and here at TTAC. But the fleets were not happy: GM could still be building the ’77-’90 version today, as it frankly should be, like the Tokyo cabs Toyota still builds in Japan.

Why not? GM could’a/should’a have kept the 77-90 Caprice in production, and owned the fleet business all of these past thirty years, like Toyota’s Crown Comforts  (or whatever they’re called) in Japan. Just imagine ordering up one of them now with the latest in GM V8 power under the hood. And this week could have been B-Body Appreciation Week at TTAC.

More New Curbside Classics Here

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