Chevy's Caprices, Biscaynes, and Impalas embodied everything that was great about America. These cars offered full-sized American value with glamorous shapes designed by pens and emotion, not by committee. Big chrome bumpers and stadium-sized interiors rested on a rugged full frame to offer a sublime and assured ride that could handle any roadway that came across its cast-iron path.
In the early 1970s, full-size cars were still selling briskly despite the temperamental OPEC situation that often relegated larger cars to the used car lots and the bottom of resale value charts. To meet the demands of its customers, in 1977 Chevy introduced an allnew downsized Caprice/Impala set on a shorter 116-inch wheelbase. In a move to improve fuel economy and ef-ficiency, the new car was offered with a 305ci V-8 rated at 140 horsepower, choked by a Rochester two-barrel and a pellet-style catalytic converter. But as the Caprice and most every other GM car during the 1980s began to lose market share to the imported competition, GM felt the traditional Caprice of yesteryear needed a radical makeover.
In a rather bold maneuver, Chevy prewent for a completely new concept with its replacement and put a rounded silhouette onto its full-framed chassis from model year 1991-96. Gone were the chrome bumpers and traditional styling cues. In their place came urethane bumpers, higher-quality interiors, and later on, LT1 power. Sales went into the toilet. The jellybean shape never caught on with anyone except those responsible for taxi and law enforcement fleet sales. The conventional Caprice buyer no longer paid attention. By the mid-1990s, the damage was already done, and in 1996 the last of the great ones rolled off the assembly line.
Still, these cars have their loyal, faithful fans. To find out what all the hoopla was about, we decided to pound the pavement in search of a "bubble" B-body for some real-world driving impressions and dragstrip thrashing. Our search soon steered us toward the police sedans equipped with the 9C1 police package.
After about a month of looking, we found a relatively clean '96 Caprice 9C1 from a friend who once roamed the Midwest with the Iowa State Highway Patrol. With 115K on the clock, it had faithfully served with no major issues, as the well-maintained example had no record of accidents or major failure, and was delivered to our office doors for $3,000 even. The seller even included the nifty spotlight on the driver-side door.
To Race A Caprice Is To Love A CapriceLooking at the spec sheet, the Caprice had a few things working against it for optimum dragstrip performance. The curb weight, at 4,085 pounds (with a half tank of fuel and the spare tire removed), was somewhat of a surprise. We figured that the stripped-down Copper would weigh less than 4,000 pounds, but we couldn't do anything about it and moved on. Based on previous experiences with these cars, we expected the factory 260hp LT1 to catapult this double-row sofa on four wheels into the mid-15s. But to our surprise, the first pass netted us 15.251 at 91.11 mph with a 2.22 short time. Certainly not bad for our 88-degree test day, but we knew there was more in it.
The first order of business was a trackside exhaust system upgrade. By replacing the factory cat-back and its four mufflers with a larger, freer-flowing Edelbrock system, we were able to benefit from the system's 2.5-inch mandrel-bent pipes all the way to the tailpipes. Also, the sound that we now had bellowing from the rear of our Caprice was more befitting of an American V-8 icon rather than a plebian civil service vehicle.
Back on the strip, the cat-back was worth .217 seconds, as our timeslips dipped to a 15.037 at 91.45 mph from our previous best of 15.251 at 91.11 mph.