The biggest Chevrolet Caprice was the 1971-76 version. They were the ultimate expression of long, low and wide, that first appeared on U.S. cars in the late Fifties. The last hurrah before fuel economy standards, changing tastes and increasing safety regulations changed cars forever.
I’ve always liked them. When I was a kid, caddy-corner to our house, one of the neighbors had a metallic kiwi green 1971 Caprice four-door hardtop. It still retained one of its deluxe ‘electric range’ wheel covers; the other three were off of a 1971-72 Olds Delta 88. This was in about 1990, and it seemed so old at the time to me, with my parents’ Volvo 740s sitting in the driveway. Of course I loved that car. It was still there when we moved in 1995.
These cars were still around during my childhood in the ’80s and early ’90s, albeit not in exceptionally impressive numbers. But every once in a while, we’d be in traffic, and I’d see one of these factory lead sleds float by while I was sitting in the back of Mom’s Volvo wagon. I liked them.
Upon their debut in Autumn of 1970, the fulsome ’71 Chevies were available in four flavors: Biscayne, Bel Air, Impala and Caprice. The Impala was unquestionably the biggest seller. In 1971 alone, 135,334 four door sedans and 140,300 four-door hardtops were sold.
475,144 Impalas came off the line that year, but the most populous single model was the V8 Bel Air pillared sedan, with 348,534 copies produced. That was most likely due to police and taxi sales.
Chevrolet was still king of the low-priced three during this time, but if you wanted more exclusivity, more chrome and more power options, one needed to look no further than the Caprice. Introduced in 1965 as a special trim option on the Impala four-door hardtop, it became its own model in 1966, and took off rapidly.
Caprices never sold as highly as its slightly less Broughamy Impala brethren, but they held their own for those who wanted a top-of-the-line Chevrolet. Between 1971 and 1976, no seriously drastic changes were made, though the usual updated grilles, headlamp/turn signals, taillights, and reshuffled chrome trim appeared year-to year.
As with the rest of 1973 Chevrolets, a large chromed park bench replaced the smoother, more integrated front bumper. In 1974, a matching 5-mph compliant unit was added to the backs of all big Chevrolets.
Also in 1973, all Caprices became Caprice Classics. For 1974, all the body styles returned as per usual: pillared sedan, four-door hardtop, two-door Custom Coupe, convertible, and two- and three-seat Caprice Estate station wagons.
Our featured car today, a lovely forest green over pistachio cloth pillared Caprice Classic sedan, is one of 43,367 made that year. Base price was $4,465.
Standard equipment over an Impala included courtesy lamps, fender skirts, electric clock and the 400 CID V8 (Impalas came with a standard two-barrel 350 V8). Power steering, brakes and Turbo-Hyrdramatic automatic transmission were standard on all Caprices, Impalas and Bel Airs. The bargain-basement Biscayne had disappeared after the 1972 model year.
I spotted this remarkably well-preserved 1974 Caprice Classic pillared sedan on the electronic bay back in August of 2013. It was being offered by a Chicagoland area dealer. As I recall, they had an equally nice 1978 Cadillac Coupe de Ville d’Elegance in metallic blue available as well.
I was impressed not only with the car’s condition, but with the very, very nice pictures included by the seller. Let’s face it, most eBay and Craigslist pictures are, shall we say, lacking. Heck, sometimes it looks like a really smart dog had a camera mounted on a special hat, and the pictures were taken remotely by the seller! So I stashed these pictures away, because how often do you see a mint green on green 1974 Caprice sedan? I have no idea what the car sold for, but hopefully it was purchased by someone who will keep it in its minty-fresh 1974 factory condition!
UPDATE: Sadly, it was not. A mutual car collector friend of mine has informed me that this car appeared on a demolition derby site, so it’s likely the car is Chinese refrigerators and toaster ovens now. Ain’t life grand? 🙁
A nice one indeed .
Sad twist at the end,
I miss the kind of person that would spend up for the nicer cloth and then cover it with that uncomfortable plastic. Having nice things comes with the duty to care for it.
How far we have come. Top of the line Chevy and no power windows, FM stereo radio, climate control A/C, power seats, recline, factory cruise control. Now we expect most of that stuff on base Hyundai and Nissans, but someone really loved that Caprice. Thanks for sharing Tom.
That cruise control looks to be aftermarket, but everything else applies.
And yes, a top-line Kia Rio has all that and more!
These were nice driving cars, but most had a tendency to leak water into the trunk under the rear window.
I had a 1972 Impala with the 165 hp 350 cui 2 bbl. (http://www.curbsideclassic.com/cars-of-a-lifetime/coal-1972-impala-sedan-brown-over-brown-behemoth/).
My business partner had a 1974, same model, 145 hp.
The performance difference between the two was noticeable to those who paid attention to such things.
Too bad about the demo derby, but at least it went down fighting.
I can’t believe that someone would buy a “survivor” like that to use for demo. derby, LeMons, etc.!
Good God, there have got to be some of these left which are one step from the junkyard! Grab a body and frame, along with a junk 350 and THM 350, and you’re set!
I really, really hope it turns up on ebay or elsewhere for sale. I don’t mind derby folks giving a clunker a last hurrah, but doing that to such a nice, showroom condition vehicle is just wrong.
I wasn’t sure of the spelling or origin:
Great write-up as usual, Tom! I think this is probably the biggest travesty in the car universe….destroying a mint condition 44 year old Caprice for a demo derby makes me sick to my stomach!
My father had a ’74 Caprice Classic hardtop sedan in baby crap brown with an off-white vin.yl interior. It was well equipped with everything but climate control and the power trunk button. Eventually mom got it. The 400 cid engine was rebuilt at only 54k miles as I recall and it definitely had an issue with rust around the lower portion of the rear window (this in LA, mind you). I learned to drive in that boat. If I was heavy on the accelerator, I got 9 mpg. If I feather-footed it, I got 13 mpg
These were nice cars as long as you didn’t try either to drive or park them. I learned to drive in a 1974 Caprice station wagon. You could drive 70 on the interstate and have, I swear, 4 inches of side to side play in the steering. On the other hand, I once made a 245 mile trip in under 3 hours in that car. Had to stop near the end and put in 2 quarts of oil, but otherwise smooth as it could be.
The detailing on this car is beautiful. Consider the frieze stamped into the simulated wood trim on the door panel. It’s a small thing, but such small things add up in the customers eyes. And this car ended up in a demo derby? For shame.
If it was up to me, demo derbying a car like this would be a felony, punishable by the perp have to breathe through a catalytic converter for the rest of his life.