Here’s the latest Impala in Jason Bagge’s life-for now! He acquired it, like he has so many other times with his vintage rolling stock, by being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes this can be both a blessing and a curse.
Vega is a four letter word. Literally and figuratively, of course. Why, you’d think only Chevrolet made subcompacts with questionable fit and finish in the 1970s. Um, Datsun B210 Honey Bees, anyone? Rapid-rusting ’74 Corollas? Pardon me while I roll my eyes. OK, where was I? Yes, well, today I’m not going to add more to the blogging cannon fodder directed at the Chevrolet Vega. No, today, I’m here to talk about the good parts, the fun parts. And no Vega was more fun or more interesting than the Cosworth.
If you’re in the market for a midsize car today, you have plenty of choices. Well, for now, as the ever present crossover is rapidly compelling the manufacturers to kill off the traditional midsize sedan. Several nameplates from which to choose–Camry, Impala, Fusion and Optima and of course Accord, to name a few. And they all come in the same flavor of competent albeit repetitive design and styling. Where’s the flair, man? Once upon a time, before safety standards, emissions and plain old public demand trumped style, a buyer could get virtually whatever their heart desired, right down to colors, options–and yes, Virginia, even a body style other than the now-ubiquitous four-door sedan. Want an aqua Skylark convertible with a white interior, V8 and four-speed? Done! How about a red Lark Wagonaire with a red interior, 350 McKinnon (nee GM) V8, power retractable roof over the cargo area, and automatic transmission? No problem. You could have those cars and everything in between–in 1965. Everything from cheapskate beige two-door post with manual everything to fully loaded sports convertible with a fire-breathing powerplant. So let’s set the way-back machine to Autumn 1964 and see what we can get.
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!
This is the car that brought personal luxury to the masses. The 1970-72 Monte Carlo. Sure, personal-lux coupes had been around for years, but generally they were flossier high-end cars. Cars like the first of its type, the Ford Thunderbird, which had more or less set the mold in 1958 with its low-slung lines, bucket seats and soon-to-be-ubiquitous center console.
Other makes immediately set their sights on the T-Bird, with cars like the Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Riviera, and Oldsmobile Toronado. A case can be made for the 1967 Mercury Cougar as well, with its luxury touches, but really, it was still Mustang-derived and thus a ponycar, not a personal luxury car. Yes indeed, luxury coupe mania spread like wildfire throughout the Sixties, but there really were no offerings for the “Low Priced Three”, Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth. Until 1970.
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.