If you’ll recall my recent post on the baby blue 1973 New Yorker Brougham, it was sold by my friend Anthony Rose, of the greater Cleveland area. Well this morning, just before I clocked in to the office, he posted this survivor of ’80s suburbia: a very above-average condition Caprice woody wagon. I immediately tagged my friend in Boston, Matt Smith. “Issa Caprese.” Oh, sorry. Private joke.
This past summer, I had a need, as I often do, for frozen Jewel-brand Supreme pizzas, Gordon’s gin, Canada Dry tonic water, and other miscellaneous must-have household items. As is my wont, I headed over to the nearby Jewel-Osco to restock, and as I parked, what did I spy, but this rough but still running silver-over-gray 1977 Caprice Classic sedan. Rough. But still with us!
NOTE: Today’s guest post is by Mark Davidson, another ex-Cantankerous Coot commenter whom has migrated over to RG. He is a fellow Broughamophile and some of his other cars include an ’88 Olds Custom Cruiser and a 1959 Super 88. Please give him a warm welcome! -TK
So good evening. Would you like for me to tell you a story over cocktails?
I’ll start out with this. The next block over from the Avenue of the misfit toys where I live, a friend of mine sold a house and behind that house was a ’65 turquoise color Corvair, a ’65 Mercury Monterey breezeway, a Mercedes of sorts and a ’76 Chevrolet Caprice Estate Wagon.
I knew him when he had that wagon on the road and it was gorgeous. As a matter of fact, I would drive by his house in my 1988 Oldsmobile, which I just bought back last September, and do a side-by-side comparison in the middle of the street. I was so envious of Woodie’s wagon.
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.
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.
A good friend of mine is the “Brougham Whisperer,” Jason Bagge, also known as Mr. Caprice, ha ha! He buys real cars about as often as I buy model cars. Which is to say, a lot. Most of those cars are 1970s land yachts, though not exclusively so. But one of his favorites are the Nimitz-class 1971-1976 Chevrolet Caprice. He’s owned several over the years, but perhaps the coolest one he had is the subject of today’s Klockau Classic. The 1976 Caprice Classic Landau. In triple black, no less!
Living in the Pacific Northwest, he is in a great position to find clean old cars that just need a little love to be really nice. In fact, it’s uncanny. Every time he finds a new car I think, “Holy crap! I haven’t seen one of those since about 1993!” And then he sells it. And then, three months later, he finds ANOTHER one, often times nicer than the last one. The man has a knack for this stuff!
1977 was a big year for GM. Their full-size cars, their moneymakers, their bread and butter, were completely revitalized. The short version is downsizing, but it really was more than that. It was very nearly a new kind of car. All the growth and weight in pursuit of longer, lower and wider, which had been progressing since the 1950s, came to a full stop. Yet the 1977 B- and C-body GM cars had a style of their own, but with a dash of practicality. They were smaller, lighter and more efficient, but actually had better interior room and trunk space. Not a bad deal. And of course the lion’s share of these new cars came from Chevrolet. And for those with Cadillac tastes but a more modest budget, you couldn’t go wrong with a Caprice Classic.
The 1977 B-body’s development and history are well-known and worth a post of its own (one of these days, perhaps), but for now, let’s just focus on the two-door version of the Chevrolet. The ’77 full-size Chevy coupe was initially available in Caprice Classic and Impala flavors, as had been the case for years, though the two cheaper big Chevrolets, the Biscayne and the Bel Air, had both disappeared by the mid-Seventies. The coupe and the sedan shared a 116″ wheelbase, a fact touted in ads like the one above. Yes, stretch-out room for rear seat passengers was not a problem. A far cry from personal-luxury coupes of just a couple years earlier; Mark IV and Thunderbird, I’m looking at you.
It was inevitable. The Brougham era was, while not gone yet, well on its way. 1990 was the last year you could get the 1977-style “New Chevrolet.” The aero-style 1991 Chevrolet Caprice was waiting in the wings. But before that happened, perhaps the Broughamiest Caprice of them all was still available. The Chevrolet Caprice Classic Brougham LS-a car almost as long as its name.
This was a time when these cars were referred to by its maker as “The Chevrolet”, not Impalas or Caprices. For decades, the full size Chevrolet had been the standard bearer of the Chevy lineup, the meat and potatoes American family car. But the writing was on the wall, when in 1980 the hot new Citation sold over 800,000 units, (a staggering 811,540 to be exact, over an admittedly long model year but still quite a feat). As they say…things would never be the same again. For the Chevrolet, for GM, and for the way that people looked at full size cars.
The timing of the launch of the Citation couldn’t have been better. Introduced as an early 1980 model right after the 1979 oil embargo, the Citation and its X-Car brethren represented the wave of the future: front wheel drive, space and fuel efficient with transverse mounted 4 and 6 cylinder engines. With the Citation and its most modern layout and packaging, cars like the Caprice and its competitors were done for. What was new and revolutionary just three years before in 1977 was now the dinosaur staring at the comet of the 1980’s raining down on it.
Once upon a time, back in the ’70s, there were full-sized cars. And unlike today, lots of people bought them. Single people, families, professionals, you name it. It was the Time Before SUVs And Combovers..Oops, I Mean Crossovers. People bought actual cars. True, there were SUVs and Jeeps and pickup trucks, but people who bought them back then were more likely to use them for something besides schlepping to work and dropping the kids off at school. There were, of course, any number of compact, subcompact and mid-sized cars, but back in 1976, there were still plenty of people who stepped up to a big Chevrolet. And the Caprice Classic was the Broughamiest of them all.