After my experience with last week’s COAL, I was hooked. Except this time, I was searching for the ultimate Caprice. Starting in 1994, Caprices had two engine choices, both derived from the LT1 engine that powered the C4 Corvette from 1992-1996. That’s right…the Corvette. The two engines were the 4.3-liter L99 version, with 200 HP for fuel economy, found in standard Caprices; and the 5.7-liter LT1, with 260 HP for performance, found in station wagons and optional on sedans and the 9C1 police-package cars. Used Caprices were cheap back then, especially retired 9C1 police-package Caprices. So for less than $2,500, one could obtain a decent example with Corvette power. In my opinion this was the best kept secret of American car enthusiasts.
Needless to say, my requirements for the “ultimate Caprice” included an LT1-powered example with the 9C1 package (which included items such as four-wheel disc anti lock brakes, limited slip differential, motor and transmission oil coolers, heavy duty alternator, frame, and suspension, as well as a calibrated speedometer). I also preferred a ’95 model, since that was the year they got the large foldaway heated side mirrors vs. the smaller, “bullet style” units.
I found one for sale online. It was located about 3 miles from me, had 105,000 miles on the odometer and was priced at $2,000. I took it home for $1,800 cash. I was extremely pleased with my purchase, a white ex-Hanover, NJ police cruiser.
Thankfully, there were no police stickers that had to be removed. There were holes in the roof and trunk that had been plugged, as well as holes in the dashboard. It still had the extremely bright ticket writing light behind the rearview mirror, as well as the driver’s side spotlight. I found both extremely helpful at night. The ticket writing light was helpful when reading or filing out paperwork at night and the spotlight for illuminating our door when we came home late at night. There was also a “stealth button” on the dash that killed all illumination inside the car including the dash lighting. It is my understanding that this feature was used on stakeouts to prevent the dash lighting from reflecting on the driver’s face and betraying the fact that someone was in the vehicle watching the bad guys.
The car had a blue interior with cloth-covered front buckets (which had anti-stab metal built into the seatbacks to protect the driver and front passenger), a vinyl rear bench seat and rubber floor for easy cleaning. The AC and all power accessories worked. Unlike my civilian ’91 Caprice, the AC in this car was quite effective. Since the car was an in-town unit, it did not have cruise control. The austere interior appointments worked to our advantage the day after Thanksgiving, when my son was about six months old. We were coming back to Jersey from Maryland and, sure enough, there was a car fire and accident on the Delaware Memorial Bridge and a few accidents on I-95. This turned our usual four-hour trip into a nine-hour odyssey stuck in gridlocked traffic with no place to pull over. Thankfully, the heavy duty cooling system allowed for endless idling without fear of overheating. In addition, we had to do about four diaper changes (filled with the heavy stuff) and multiple Gerber feedings in the car while stuck in traffic. The vinyl rear seat and rubber floor made clean up simple after we finally got home. There was no stained upholstery to worry about.
The previous owner had tried to make an Impala SS clone out of it. He ordered and installed the leaping deer symbols on the side as well as an Impala SS grille. I prefer the stock look myself (especially since the Impala SS was never offered in white) and quickly replaced the grille with a stock ’95 Caprice grille. I did not remove the leaping deer emblems for fear of damaging the paint.
Actually, I prefer the 9C1 to the Impala SS because it has the same engine, but also has a higher ground clearance and indestructible green “lifetime” hoses in the engine compartment. I saw the 9C1 as a “ruggedized” Impala SS for daily use and abuse.
For 1993, Chevrolet opened up the rear wheel wells and revised the tail lights on the sedans in an attempt to improve the “bloated whale”look of the 91-92 cars. Model Year 1994 brought revised interiors with a passenger-side airbag, climate controls with rotary switches and a digital dash with Corvette styling cues.
As you can see from this pic, the previous owner, Matt, installed a custom air intake and air cleaner system which allowed the engine to breathe better–not that it needed it. The LT1 delivered as promised. The car was fast. Snap-your-neck fast. It started with an aggressive roar, and acceleration was simply amazing…one uninterrupted burst of power. It did not stop accelerating strongly…it was I who ended up letting off the gas for fear of going too fast. It lived for triple digit speeds. It was easily the fastest, best handling car that I have ever owned.
Despite the lack of cruise control, it was great on long trips. It was very roomy,and the engine and suspension made driving very entertaining. I remember once on a whim, we decided to drive from Northern NJ to Annapolis MD for dinner. It was a very easy, very fun, very relaxing sunset trip. On the way down I-95, we encountered a pack of at least 20 bikers on Harley Davidsons. They formed a cordon around the Caprice and “escorted ” us south at high speed, giving us thumbs up all the way.
I was so proud of the car that I didn’t want just anyone servicing it. After doing some research, I found a shop about ten minutes from where I lived that specialized in LT1 cars. To try them out I made an appointment for an oil change late in the day.
The shop was quite impressive. It looked like the Hot Wheels service station playset I had as a kid. There were about four Corvettes there and two Buick Grand Nationals in the service bay.
The owner was very nice. He hoisted my car on the lift as his assistant drained the oil. He complimented my decision to buy the car saying that the Caprice/LT1 package was “absolutely bulletproof.” He gave the car a quick inspection and everything checked out. He did want to give the steering a closer look, but he said that could wait until next time. All that was left to to do was reset the “Change Oil” light on the dashboard. This was done by pumping the gas twice within four seconds with the ignition in the “run” position. The first few tries were unsuccessful and he was getting impatient so he jammed his steel-toed boots down as hard as he could several times until the light finally went off.
I thanked him for taking me so close to closing time and drove off. I was about a block away when all of a sudden, the gas pedal became unresponsive and the car could only creep forward very slowly. The 4L60E transmission was the Achilles heel of this platform so I was sure that this was the issue here. I felt sick knowing that there was no way I could afford a new transmission. I turned around and crept slowly back to the shop. Sure enough, it was closed and locked up tight. I banged hard on the door anyway and the assistant who helped change the oil appeared. Upon investigating the problem, it turned out that the accelerator cable had come loose and was no longer connected to the throttle. Five minutes later, I was back in business. I never did return to that shop.
Everything was great after that. I took the car everywhere and it was a reliable daily driver. I did notice an occasional creaking coming from the front end, but the car seemed to drive fine otherwise.
One day as I was turning into my parking space at work, I heard a loud bang and the car was tilted at the left front. I slowly completed my turn into the space with loud grinding and scraping. At first I thought I got a flat tire but upon further inspection, I noticed the tire tilted at an odd angle. It was not a flat. The lower control arm, tie rod, and shock absorber had failed, causing the front wheel to become partially detached from the car! Great!
I had it repaired, but somehow it did not seem to be the same after that. I did not have as much fun driving it and began to look for a replacement. Sure enough, a few weeks later, I found something that would fulfill my car buying requirements for the next five years.