B is for B-Body-in this case, the Caprice Classic. 1977 was a big deal. Downsizing came for all biggie GMs, and the results were most excellent! The downsized 1977 B-bodies took the U.S. market by storm. While all the various corporate variants were well-received, from Impala to LeSabre, there is no doubt the Chevrolet versions were the top sellers.
The 1976 Caprice Classic was the last of the gunboats. It had been around since Autumn 1970, when the smooth, swoopy and gigantic 1971 B-Bodies debuted. All 1976 Caprice Classics sported an attractive new nose with rectangular headlights. But it was just a place holder, despite the great new look. There were some very different big Chevies just around the corner.
It truly was “The New Chevrolet”, as the ads and showroom brochures proclaimed. To buyers used to Nimitz-class Caprices it was a revelation. They were also much better road cars, thanks to their trim dimensions and an available F41 suspension package.
The top of the line Caprice Classic was available in the usual coupe, sedan and station wagon body styles. The Caprice Classic Landau returned as well, but the four-door hardtop body style was gone for good, with only pillared sedans remaining.
I was very familiar with the 1977-79 Caprice Estate. There were two on my block when I was a kid in the 1980s. A pristine cream-colored one and a slightly more weathered dark brown one Both had the woodgrained sides, both were 1977 models. There was also a yellow Citation, light green ’80 Continental Town Car, dark blue Ninety Eight Regency, Cedar metallic 1982 Cutlass Ciera Brougham and a beige Fox-body Ford LTD sedan on our street. My folks were the odd ones out with their 1984 Volvo 240GL sedan, 1986 240DL wagon and Dad’s old ’51 Porsche 356.
The best looking version was the bent-glass rear window featured on the Caprice and Impala coupes. It really lent a sporty air to what was otherwise a rather Broughamtastic conveyance, especially on the Caprice Classics.
As previously mentioned, the Landau coupe was again available, this time with a forward canopy vinyl roof instead of the 1975-76 Landaus, which had the traditional rear-quarter vinyl top.
But as snazzy as the Caprice coupes were, they were small potatoes compared to the sedan’s when it came to production. Yes, the Caprice Classic sedan was king of the Bs! 212,840 sold in inaugural ’77. That was even better than the ’77 Impala sedan, which saw 196,824 units out the door.
That was quite an impressive jump from 1976 Caprice four-door sales. Even when accounting for the additional hardtop sedan in 1976–a model that disappeared for ’77, that was close to double 1976’s Caprice sedan sales of 102,719. 1977 was also the first time the Caprice sedan outsold the Impala sedan. Folks were looking for more Broughamge, so it seemed.
Yes, in the late 1970s, more and more folks wanted luxury if they were springing for a full-size car. The new car market was getting more fragmented by the day: subcompacts, compacts, midsizers, full-size cars. Triumphs, Hondas, Corvettes and Chevettes! For those still sticking to biggie Detroit rolling stock, it was go Brougham or go home! At the same time, Bonnevilles were outselling Catalinas, and I suspect that if you looked at production stats for other big sedans from the 1975-79 period, you would see fancier models superseding the “plain” version of the same car, production-wise. Broughamier minds were prevailing. Indeed!
For the 1978 model year, less was more design wise. Why change such a fresh, new hot-selling car? The Caprice Classic received only the most minor of updates: new grille, new taillights, and a new steering wheel were the most noticeable changes.
Caprice Classic sales repeated their strong 1977 output. Production broke down to 203,837 sedans, 37,301 coupes, 22,771 Landau coupes, 24,792 two-seat Estates and 32,952 three seat Estates. Only Caprice station wagons received a V8 as standard equipment, a 145-hp 305 V8. Sedans and coupes came with the 145-hp six. Optional on all models was the 170-hp 350 V8. When combined with the 350 and the F41 handling package, you had yourself a formidable Brougham indeed: Luxury AND handling.
Despite being the top-trim model, Caprice Classics could be loaded up with lots of additional options–like most every other Detroit car of the time. Selected accessories included power windows, a power antenna, AM/FM-CB radio, the aforementioned F41 package, Comfortron automatic climate control, a 50/50 divided front seat and, newly available in ’78, a power Sky Roof.
The Caprice Classic at the top of this page was spotted at the annual car show in Cabridge, Illinois back in August 2012. I ran across the rain-spotted ’78 Classic sedan in downtown Bettendorf, Iowa in May 2012. Both cars were clearly well-loved originals.
Both blue cars had the optional 50/50 split-bench front seat, in blue velour. Neither of these cars had the somewhat common late ’70s GM droopy headliners. They both had to have been garage queens their whole lives. They were that nice.
The blue ’78 in Cambridge was showroom new! Sparkling paint, perfect upholstery. And pretty snazzy with its sport wheel covers.
The downsized Chevy B-body lasted through the 1979 model year with its original ‘sheer’ sheetmetal. Aside from new, more aerodynamic sheetmetal in 1980 and minor facelifts in 1986 and 1987, the design carried all the way through the 1990 model year. Not a bad run. By anyone’s standards.