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Thread: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

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    1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet




    1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Written by Pete Dunton



    Link to this article with pictures:
    http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/...6&Itemid=10899


    There was a time when full-size cars were the hottest selling cars in the U.S. market and not the small market niche they are now. During this time the full-size Chevrolet and full-size Ford offerings were fighting for this “best selling” title year after year. Chevrolet by the 1970s had two very hot full-size sellers – the Impala and the more upscale Caprice. By 1976 both the Impala and Caprice/Caprice Classic (Chevrolet introduced the Caprice Classic as a top-of-the line Caprice in 1973) had become behemoths.

    The 1976 Caprice had a length of 222.9 inches, a width of 79.5 inches, and a wheelbase of 121.5 inches. Now if you are having problems computing how big the 1976 Caprice sedan was, try reflecting on its 4,300 lbs weight (this is back when a Chevrolet Nova weighed 3,500 lbs). The 1976 Caprice and most U.S. full-size cars that year, had become like Elvis was in 1976 - mega oversized. Just as Elvis was still popular even with his extra girth, so the 1976 Caprice was still popular among the buying public. And just as Elvis in 1976 still had the charisma, the 1976 Caprice also with its very sporty and stylish lines had its share of charisma.

    By the mid-1970s there was a mass exodus to smaller cars, and GM to its credit read the writing on the wall and acted swiftly. GM underwent an extensive program of shrinking its entire full-size platforms (both B and C bodies) to a much more manageable size for the 1977 model year. This was a bold move on GM’s part since its full-size cars were its livelihood, and if its new shrunken 1977 full-size car lineup failed it would have meant serious problems for GM.

    GM’s dilemma was how to provide a smaller full-size platform to a customer base used to the qualities of big car such as: a big car ride, plenty of interior room, plenty of trunk/cargo space, and plenty of power under the hood to propel the car smoothly to speed.

    The Caprice which had started off in 1965 as the top-of-the-line full-size Chevrolet, grew in popularity by the 1970s to where it rivaled the sales of its lesser-trimmed full-size Impala brother. Chevrolet’s “Caprice” formula - offering some luxury options and niceties for a reasonable price was paying off with increased sales year after year. The Caprice by the 1970s had become the regular guy’s Cadillac.

    The Caprice a GM B-body sales leader was a car that GM hoped would do very well in 1977. Worthy to note in 1977 Chevrolet called all Caprices – Caprice Classics, there would be no base Caprice for 1977. Chevrolet engineers spent a lot of time engineering and designing the 1977 Caprice and what would emerge was not to be an evolution but a revolution.

    The 1971–76 Caprice though a big car was very elegant with its rounded lines. The 1977 was the polar opposite; its lines were squared off and had a boxy look when compared to its predecessor. With this drastic change you would think the new Caprice Classic would not be appealing however this was not the case. It looked state-of-the-art and very modern. The Caprice Classic made most 1977 model year cars look very dated in comparison. Testament to this fact was the Caprice Classic’s body style that with a few minor updates lasted 14 model years before its styling was radically changed for 1991. However the 1977 Caprice Classic rear-wheel drive platform was used by the 1991–96 Caprice and 1994–96 Impala SS, giving the 1977 Chevrolet B-body platform a 20 year run.

    Though the new 1977 Caprice Classic was so much different than then the 1976, it shared a similar grille and quad rectangular headlight theme (the 1977 had a much flatter front-end). The 1977’s taillights were entirely new and much larger than the 1976, however they did have the common theme seen on the Caprice since the 1960s with each side of the rear-end having three separate columns of lights.

    Overall the 1977 Caprice Classic was much smaller than the 1976. In fact the 1977 Caprice Classic had the same 116 inch wheelbase of the heavier mid-size two-door 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and two-door 1977 Chevrolet Malibu (both the Monte Carlo and Malibu would have their turn being cut down to a more efficient size the next model year). The 4-door 1977 Caprice Classic sedan weighed in at a very light 3,600 lbs, which was 700 lbs lighter than the 1976 Caprice Classic sedan. The 1977 sedan had a total length of 212.2 inches which was almost a foot shorter than the 1976. However don’t let the smaller size fool you. The 1977 Caprice Classic’s trunk was a very large 20 cubic feet of cargo space, which was larger than the 1976 Caprice’s trunk. Headroom and rear passenger leg room had improved over the previous year making overall interior space larger than the previous year. Not to mention the interior was plush for a Chevrolet, and there was decent list of luxury options too. The interior was very well done; all the gauges and the general dashboard layout were very modern. The basic interior layout with slight changes lasted until 1991.

    The 1977 Caprice Classic came in three flavors: sedan, coupe, and station wagon. All had the same 116 inch wheelbase. The 1977 Caprice Classic coupe had the sedan’s boxy styling however it had a semi-fastback glass window, which gave it a very sporty look. The sedan as mentioned before was boxy but very stylish and modern. The 1977 Caprice Classic wagon measured 215.7 inches in length and had the sedan and coupe’s basic boxy looks which was good news. Unfortunately the popular clamshell style rear door from the previous year Caprice Classic wagon was history for 1977, a more conservative side-opening door replaced it. The good news was the familiar rear facing third row seat was still available.

    One area where there was a drastic change over 1976 was the loss of a large displacement V8 option. Chevrolet had ditched the big-block V8 for 1977, so there was no longer a 454 CID V8 available. The 402 CID and even the small-block 400 CID V8 were long gone, both were popular previous Caprice and Caprice Classic engine options. There were three engines available on the 1977 Caprice: the 250 CID straight 6 (110 horsepower, 195 lbs/ft of torque), 305 CID 2bbl V8 (145 horsepower, 245 lbs/ft of torque), and 350 CID 4bbl V8 (170 horsepower, 270 lbs/ft of torque). The 250 straight 6 provided very good gas mileage however took its sweet time accelerating. The 2bbl 305 was a decent performer and still provided fairly reasonable fuel efficiency. The 4bbl 350 was the LM1 350 which could also be found under the hood of the late 1970s Camaro Z28, so it was no slotch. The LM1 350 equipped Caprice Classic made you forget that the 1976 Caprice Classic’s 225 horsepower 454 CID V8 option had been dropped for 1977, it performed well for a full-size car. Of course the 1977 Caprice’s lighter weight meant it did not need as much horsepower or torque as with previous years to get the job done.

    Where the 1977 Caprice Classic really differed from its predecessors was in the area of handling. For a big car the 1977 handled well and felt nimble in the turns compared to previous years. This was not to say the pillowy ride was gone (for it was still present), the 1977 Caprice Classic was a much easier car to control in turns. And you were less apt to break out in a cold sweat when the road sudden threw hairpin turns in the mix with the new 1977 Caprice Classic. Surprisingly handling was not too far off the 1977 Camaro Z28 when equipped with the optional F41 suspension package. The F41 option gave the Caprice the best handling characteristics and feel of any large car during this era. The F41 equipped Caprice Classic made you forget real quick you were driving a big family car.

    The 1977 Caprice Classic was a bold move on Chevrolet and GM’s part, but it paid off. As mentioned before this new smaller full-size Caprice Classic had longevity and popularity that no one at GM back in 1977 could have ever predicted. Motor Trend magazine gave the 1977 Caprice Classic its coveted Car of the Year Award for 1977. In retrospect GM today could use another mega hit like the 1977 Caprice Classic, it was exactly what customers back in 1977 needed and wanted.


  2. #2
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Good review. I had one, with the 350 - good car although GM's QC wasn't the best. It cost GM a cylinder head and a tranny. In 27 months it hd 78K miles and was replaced.


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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Great "retro review," Pete!

    I can still call up memories of these cars from my childhood; also got to drive a few examples when I was a teen in the '80s. Big cars, as you wrote, were once the cars of the American middle class. Today, they are mostly the cars of the rich - and even then, they're really not all that big!

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    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Back in the 70's, I worked for a Chevy Dealer in Portland,Or. I remember the new cars for that year. Quite a contrast for GM. Though GM had a few problems with their new V-8's. they did have a good throttle responce. Alot of those new cars ended up as Portlands finest. Some were shipped with the standard suspension, I ended up replacing the springs, shocks, sway bars, bump stops, and beefing up the rear springs as well. They couldn't carry the extra weight of the gear required then, couldn't corner with a flip either. Portland also had a bunch of Novas too. Same problem. we ended up with a whole bunch of "New Old Parts." A few years later, we bought a 86 model Caprice Brougham. I was a very nice handling and riding car. Very agile on the road, good fuel milage, and very comfortable. I loved those seats. We kept that car until 1994. when the vinyl top started to have little volcanos pushing through the material. And the paint was not in the best of shape. That was when GM was using that water based paint, which was a joke. So thats when our GM CAPRICE went by by. We bought a Mercury Grand Monkey. Have had it ever since. 8)

  5. #5
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    <<That was when GM was using that water based paint, which was a joke. >>

    GM started using water-based paint in 1975, at least on F bodies. The only real problem thay had was lumps in the ELPO (the primer), which afflicted my 77 Caprice. So I'm not sure you're correct in blaming the paint problems you had on the water-based formulation.


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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    My dad got a '77 Impala company car. It had the 350, and he ordered the F41 suspension option thinking it was the heavy duty towing package. It really was pretty close to being a 4-door Z28, that car was "tossable" like no other full-size Yank Tank I've ever driven. It was easily the best company car he had between 1965 and 1990. (The '88 Taurus L was a very close second.)

    As tight as the '77 Impala/Caprice was, Chevy softened that car a lot between 1978 and 1990, by the mid-1980s the Caprice was barely recognizable, behind the driver's seat, as the same car. Ford did the same thing with the Taurus, for the first few years they were pretty decent then they started getting softer.

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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Quote Originally Posted by D_E_Davis
    Good review. I had one, with the 350 - good car although GM's QC wasn't the best. It cost GM a cylinder head and a tranny. In 27 months it hd 78K miles and was replaced.
    Thanks... You bring up an excellent point quality control was not the best during this era. I would imagine that since Chevrolet dropped the bb 454 V8 and with the added popularity of the Chevy sb 350 (GM was stuffing the 350 block in many Chevys along with the other GM division cars back in 1977) they were pumping them out very fast (too fast). Even a few Firebird models had the Chevy LM1 350 in the late 1970s. I had a defective rod in my low mileage 1982 Trans Am that threw a few years back destroying the original block. An engine expert determined it was a factory defect - back in 1982 the Chevrolet engine factory was pumping 305 V8s for a whole slew of GM cars (different divisions). Fortunately over the years quality control has gotten better.

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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel
    My dad got a '77 Impala company car. It had the 350, and he ordered the F41 suspension option thinking it was the heavy duty towing package. It really was pretty close to being a 4-door Z28, that car was "tossable" like no other full-size Yank Tank I've ever driven. It was easily the best company car he had between 1965 and 1990. (The '88 Taurus L was a very close second.)

    As tight as the '77 Impala/Caprice was, Chevy softened that car a lot between 1978 and 1990, by the mid-1980s the Caprice was barely recognizable, behind the driver's seat, as the same car. Ford did the same thing with the Taurus, for the first few years they were pretty decent then they started getting softer.
    Chevy was ahead of its time with the 1977 F41 Caprice/Impala, I am surprised that Pontiac (GM's performance division) never released a smiliar suspension on it's Bonneville/Catalina. The Catalina was kind of plain Jane stripper car and the Bonneville was closer to a luxury barge like the Olds 98 than a the F41 Caprice/Impala.

    And good point about the F41 softing up as the years progressed. Chevy did not offer a really good handling suspension again on it's B-body until 1994 when the Impala SS was released.

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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Growing up in the 1970s, I remember the 1977 Caprice well. It looked light years ahead of the competition for the first couple of years. Ford and Chrysler didn't get to downsizing their cars until 1979.

    I liked the sheared look of the 1977 models. It is too bad that they didn't have the 400 or the 454 that was available on the prior generation.

    With the weight reduction, these cars would have been FAST.
    I wish that the automakers could figure out how to shave weight off vehicles like they did back then.

    The ride was much smoother than the previous models as well.

    That article made me miss the good old days again. Nice trip back, Pete.




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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete


    And good point about the F41 softing up as the years progressed. Chevy did not offer a really good handling suspension again on it's B-body until 1994 when the Impala SS was released.
    I don't know about the F41 during those years, my dad's '77 was the only F41-equipped Impala I ever experienced. But the standard model got sloppier over the years. Did they continue to even offer the F41 option for the duration of the '77-'90 run?

    By the way, between 1988 and 1991 I rode in a lot of taxi cabs, and came to prefer getting picked up by drivers in the LTD Crown Victoria over the Impala/Caprice. As a passenger, the Fords were a lot more composed, especially over rough NY or New Orleans streets, and the Chevys tended to rattle a lot.

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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel

    I don't know about the F41 during those years, my dad's '77 was the only F41-equipped Impala I ever experienced. But the standard model got sloppier over the years. Did they continue to even offer the F41 option for the duration of the '77-'90 run?

    By the way, between 1988 and 1991 I rode in a lot of taxi cabs, and came to prefer getting picked up by drivers in the LTD Crown Victoria over the Impala/Caprice. As a passenger, the Fords were a lot more composed, especially over rough NY or New Orleans streets, and the Chevys tended to rattle a lot.
    The F41 (called the F41 Sports Suspension) lasted for 19 more years it provided a firmer ride and better handling than the standard suspension. To be fair I really have to look over the F41 skidpad stats from different years from 1977 - 1996 to see how the F41 handled especially from 1977 - 1990. Since a smoother less firm ride is not always an indicator of better handling. For instance the 1982 Camaro Z28 had a knock your teeth out when you hit a pothole firm ride and it hit .83 on the skidpad. A few years later the 1985 Iroc-Z had a firm suspension but it was not as tight as the 1982 Z28 yet it got a better .85 on the skidpad. So it's possible that in skidpad numbers of a more civiilized mid-1980s F41 Caprice may be better than the skidpad numbers of a 1977 F41 Caprice.

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete
    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel

    I don't know about the F41 during those years, my dad's '77 was the only F41-equipped Impala I ever experienced. But the standard model got sloppier over the years. Did they continue to even offer the F41 option for the duration of the '77-'90 run?

    By the way, between 1988 and 1991 I rode in a lot of taxi cabs, and came to prefer getting picked up by drivers in the LTD Crown Victoria over the Impala/Caprice. As a passenger, the Fords were a lot more composed, especially over rough NY or New Orleans streets, and the Chevys tended to rattle a lot.
    The F41 (called the F41 Sports Suspension) lasted for 19 more years it provided a firmer ride and better handling than the standard suspension. To be fair I really have to look over the F41 skidpad stats from different years from 1977 - 1996 to see how the F41 handled especially from 1977 - 1990. Since a smoother less firm ride is not always an indicator of better handling. For instance the 1982 Camaro Z28 had a knock your teeth out when you hit a pothole firm ride and it hit .83 on the skidpad. A few years later the 1985 Iroc-Z had a firm suspension but it was not as tight as the 1982 Z28 yet it got a better .85 on the skidpad. So it's possible that in skidpad numbers a mid 1980s F41 Caprice may have better skidpad numbers than a 1977 F41 Caprice.
    My '78 Camaro had the F41 suspension also - which in the case of the Camaro was virtually identical to the Z28's suspension package. Having owned and driven both it and the Pontiac equivalent (RTS) I can vouch that the Pontiac version gave better ride quality with what seemed to be as good or better handling/grip.

    I think skidpast tests at the time showed the RTS system was the better one...

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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    By the way, between 1988 and 1991 I rode in a lot of taxi cabs, and came to prefer getting picked up by drivers in the LTD Crown Victoria over the My '78 Camaro had the F41 suspension also - which in the case of the Camaro was virtually identical to the Z28's suspension package. Having owned and driven both it and the Pontiac equivalent (RTS) I can vouch that the Pontiac version gave better ride quality with what seemed to be as good or better handling/grip.

    I think skidpast tests at the time showed the RTS system was the better one...
    Every year in the second generation of the GM f-body the best handling suspension on the Trans Am/Formula got better skidpad numbers than the best handling suspension on the Camaro. It was not until the 3rd generation the best Camaro suspension could match the best Trans Am/Firebird suspension in skidpad numbers. However in the 3rd generation the Firebird/Trans Am handled the bumps much better, the Camaro Z28/Iroc had a much harsher ride than the Trans Am/Firebird WS6 handling package.

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    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    I wasn't the only one that had paint problems. My neighbor who also had Celebrity of the same vintage, had the same problem.Every time we washed the car, whether it was a car wash, or by rinsing it of with the garden hose, we both had paint that came off from normal water pressure. (about 74 psi). We understood that the primers that were being used was the problem. Gm did offer to repaint the damaged areas. But would not do anything about the paint that came off later. They must have hired Earl Shieb as their paint manager. Ford and others had the same problems into the 90's. If it wasn't the paint, it was the clear coat. And the just certain colors of paint. I still see some newer cars with some of the problems that started back in the 70's-80's. (Dang it is sure nice to see our old Friend back. Welcome back SPELL CHECK.) 8)

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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Quote Originally Posted by J. ZIMM
    I wasn't the only one that had paint problems. My neighbor who also had Celebrity of the same vintage, had the same problem.Every time we washed the car, whether it was a car wash, or by rinsing it of with the garden hose, we both had paint that came off from normal water pressure. (about 74 psi). We understood that the primers that were being used was the problem. Gm did offer to repaint the damaged areas. But would not do anything about the paint that came off later. They must have hired Earl Shieb as their paint manager. Ford and others had the same problems into the 90's. If it wasn't the paint, it was the clear coat. And the just certain colors of paint. I still see some newer cars with some of the problems that started back in the 70's-80's. (Dang it is sure nice to see our old Friend back. Welcome back SPELL CHECK.) 8)
    Some of these problems were due to environmental regulations imposed on the production factory. For instance back in the late-1970s and 1980s the paint quality was like night and day for the Camaro/Firebird depending on what factory one was produced in. During this time frame there were two factories that GM used to produce the Camaro/Firebird - Van Nuys, California and Norwood, Ohio. The Camaros/Firebirds produced at Van Nuys used a different paint formula due to the strict California environmental regulations. The paint used at the Van Nuys plant did not hold up as well as the Norwood plant paint which was a much better paint formula.

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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    JZ wrote;
    The Camaros/Firebirds produced at Van Nuys used a different paint formula due to the strict California environmental regulations. The paint used at the Van Nuys plant did not hold up as well as the Norwood plant paint which was a much better paint formula.
    My bro, who is in the motor trade (anyone in the screen repair business will know Screenman), has told me that that new legislation means that all auto paints (In Europe at least) within a very short space of time will have to be water based. I have used a water based household paint on indoor woodwork but was not very impressed, heavens know what it will be like on autos. ("Oh, just one thing, Sir, before you leave the showroom, we would advise that you don't drive it in the rain.') :

    Ken.
    Die dulci fruimini!
    Ken.
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  17. #17
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic - the Caprice that Went on a Diet

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete
    Some of these problems were due to environmental regulations imposed on the production factory. For instance back in the late-1970s and 1980s the paint quality was like night and day for the Camaro/Firebird depending on what factory one was produced in. During this time frame there were two factories that GM used to produce the Camaro/Firebird - Van Nuys, California and Norwood, Ohio. The Camaros/Firebirds produced at Van Nuys used a different paint formula due to the strict California environmental regulations. The paint used at the Van Nuys plant did not hold up as well as the Norwood plant paint which was a much better paint formula.
    Van Nuys used water-based paint from (at least) 1975 onward - I was in that plant frequently from then for 8 or 9 years.


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