(Editor’s note: the veracity of this autobiographical story cannot be verified. A number of those familiar with these cars in general are adamant that there never was such a car built by GM.) General Motors is a company that always confused me; when they did something right, they did it exceptionally well. When they did something badly, they did it exceptionally badly. In my experience this is directly proportional to their need to put up a good front at a particular time. I have written a lot about B-Bodies here, and not with any intention. It’s just I have driven some really gone ones, cars that GM made because they had to.
The topic of today’s COAL is a 1990 Chevrolet 9C1. In all fairness, it was not actually a 9C1 per se. It was an Iraq Caprice export, built by GM Canada in their Oshawa export factory. The cars were ordered, but the Gulf War interrupted their export. The cars were then very quickly sold off through government fleet channels. There was big money in these cars for GM, so they made sure they were perfect. The fit and finish was much better than regular Caprices. These cars were in fact made on a separate line with the best workers. In short, GM had to make these cars good and they really did. Shows what they could have done all along. The Oshawa plant was in those days like a Skunk Works; all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff came out of it that our American readers many not be familiar with. All the Caprices for the middle east came from Oshawa and all were equipped the same: all the 9C1 stuff, full power accessories, upgraded a/c, velour interior with bucket seats and the 5.7 litre V-8.
This was no plain Jane 350; it had no emission controls, a factory 2.5 inch dual exhaust with one can per side, higher compression, hotter cam and different carb and intake. As an interesting aside, there was an emission exemption in Canada so that the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) could use them. The purported rationale for this was so that the cars could be used up north on leaded fuel, which was still common in those days as the same fuel was often used for aircraft.
My estimation was the unsmogged motors made at least 300 hp and 350 lb/ft of torque. The Canadian cars were way faster than the US spec cars. These were the last of the shade tree mechanic cars. There were no electronics whatsoever on this engine, just a nice Small Block with a four-barrel on top of it, just like The Creator intended. They could be fixed almost anywhere for next to a pittance by anyone name Bob or Abdul. That is why both the RCMP and the Iraqi government wanted these cars. What is more, the frames on these cars were so strong you could keep bolting stuff on and off them for a very long time. They were tough as nails and very easy to repair.
I came across this car at the Crown Assets Auction in early 1991. It had a reserve price of $4200 on it and the best part was that it was already converted to LPG (more on that later). It had only 60,000 km on it. It had to be wrong so I had to look: it wasn’t wrong, the car was in perfect condition. What was scaring people away was the price of gasoline and the fact the media was, at the time, spreading fear about exploding LPG cars, kind of like the Toyota fiasco a little while back. I put in my sealed bid and much to my surprise, I got it.
The car was perfect and even with the LPG it still made gobs of power and wonderful rumbly noises off those fat duals. I then found out it had been part of the fleet in the City of Richmond, BC. I gave their fleet manager a call. I asked him why they had taken a bath on such a cool car and he told me that the car was racking up loads of photo radar tickets, which was a big cash cow for the government of the day, a blatant cash grab in the name of Political Correctness that led to their near annihilation. They had gotten the car cheap when Gulf War One broke out; then they found out it sucked gas like a semi when you booted it and resisting putting to the rug as often as you could was almost impossible for anyone. This led to the LPG conversion, as good as any we ever did. The tickets were the nail in the coffin for the car and it was sent to auction.
I was driving my Honda Accord at the time but my girlfriend also loved it, so I decided to drive the Caprice for a while. We didn’t want to make it a taxi right away, since the 9C1s always got the bark beat off them by the drivers. What we planned to do was sell the motor and put in a nice 305 done up for LPG. It was very easy to sell a Canadian spec 9C1 motor at more than enough profit to pay for the 305 swap. The Iraqi motor was the same block used in the GM Canada 2500 trucks, with forged everything in it, really strong and tough as nails. There were coolers for oil and power steering fluid and a huge extra transmission cooler. It was animalistic; the car just flew off the line with its 3.55 gears and would bury the 200 km/h speedometer with ease. It would also troll around the city with no complaints and was easy to see out of and park. With the 7004R transmission it was reasonably fuel efficient on the highway, too. It didn’t really matter since LPG was like $0.25 a litre and I got it for free anyway!
What was it like to drive? Well, in a word, a blast! The car had loads of torque and the suspension to handle all the power. The interior was like a real car, except for the awful, fixed back, bucket seats. The only downside other than the seats was the ox-cart ride that made that handling possible. On smooth roads the car was brilliant and you could add throttle to make it oversteer, which was tons of fun. The ride on rough roads was totally punishing and the seats offered no support at all. You sat on them, not in them. Still the car was a really nice road warrior so it was immediately set to road trip duty.
Cars of those days were really not all that powerful, and the Coquihalla Highway into central British Columbia was known as the Car Killer for a reason. The grade is long and steep and the climate very hot. You’d always see blown up Volvos, Audis and especially VW Vans at the summit. The Caprice didn’t even notice it. It was a really hot day, like 35’C and I had that Iraqi a/c blowing like a meat locker. I passed everything up that hill and crested it at like 150 km/h and what did I see right there? A Mountie aiming a radar gun at me! I almost had a heart attack and then the cop smiled and waved at me. He assumed I was a cop, too. I now had a get out of jail free car! I drove that car at ridiculous speeds in the barren wilds that are much of Canada, a huge and largely empty country. I took it across the prairie on that trip, and it was completely poised at 160 km/h and could go a lot faster. Several times I blew past cops and they just waved at me. It was really a blast, a totally fun drive!
That summer we traveled all over Canada in the Caprice and it was perfect at that duty. Fast, good handling, big trunk, cheap to run, ice cold a/c. We camped a lot and that huge trunk swallowed all our gear. When we were done five weeks later we had driven the Saddamobile (as we called it) more than 15,000 km. I loved the car and knew it was the last of an era and highly collectible some day. I decided to keep it and use it as a summer road trip mobile since it was the ultimate Q-Ship but you know, fate has a way of waving its fickle finger.
In September 1991 I was tooling along a street in Victoria at about the 50 km/h limit when I glanced at the intersection to the right, where there was a cross street. The stop sign and much of the intersection was obscured by a large Oak tree. I glanced to the right and saw a blue Honda Civic barreling right at me. I instinctively nailed the brakes and braced my right arm on the steering wheel. In an instant I had the nose of a Honda Civic about 50 cm from me. Coolant from the Honda was spitting all over me, burning my arm. The driver’s door was wedged against a pole.
At first I didn’t feel anything but numbness, and then I thanked Buddha that my girlfriend of many years was not with me. Then the pain hit and it was beyond description. The young woman in the Civic was dead and I was trapped in my Caprice. To get me out, they broke the back window and cut the back off the diver’s seat. I don’t remember much except the morphine shot going in. I do remember the three weeks in hospital and the year of recovery, though.
The stout cop car frame of that car had saved my life. The Civic was doing 70 km/h plus when it hit me. Apparently the woman had just been fighting with her boyfriend. The Caprice was a write off and I got a paltry $2500 for it. The insurance company wouldn’t even let my buy the wreck, stating it was against their policy to allow this. The injuries sustained from this accident still haunt me today.
The pictures here are from the web, but my car was identical except for the silly spot lights. Mine also had full wheel covers. The pic above is completely identical to what my car looked like, even the wheel covers. There are really none of these left now as they all got used by good old boys on the prairies or at the demo derby. The prairie cars ran a good fifteen years or so until abuse and rust got them, a testament to their toughness and ease of repair.
I loved that car and I knew what it was; I didn’t have a B Body driver after that, realizing that no B Body would ever rate with this Iraqi 9C1. I only ever saw a couple of them, too. I wanted to keep that car so much but really, it saved my life. Had I been hit like this in my Accord, I would never have made it. For that, I sincerely thank Saddam Hussein for ordering this car and then walking away from it.
Wow, no B-body story will ever top this.
Glad you survived that crash.
Tooling along in the wilds of Canada (or the US) sounds like it’d be fun.
There is nothing like an old cop car. I certainly had a lot of fun with my 1976 Dart Pursuit, and reading your piece brought back a lot of memories of it.
I’m glad you survived that terrible collision – I was going to say “accident” but given the circumstances that may not be the right word.
Years ago I read a letter to the in some car magazine from the owner of a Dart or Valiant A38. It seems he was at a car show and approached Galen Govier, some purported Mopar numbers guru, with some questions about tag codes on his car. He was snubbed because it was not a muscle car. That wouldn’t perchance have been you, would it?
Sorry to hear about the accident that took your hobbyhorse away. I was involved in a rear ender accident, it hammered my lower back and shattered my femurs below my knees (I slid under the dash) in 1992.. As I get older, that accident haunts me every day.
Weren’t there a large quantity of Iraqi Malibus built back in the early 80’s with similar specs? Saddam had the worst luck with Chevys apparently…
I have a similar story to your RCMP one. I used to work for a Tier 1 auto parts supplier, and they kept a fleet of cars for employees to use on company business. One of the cars was a dark blue Chevy Caprice, not unlike the ones used by the Pennsylvania State Police. Dog dish hubcaps, no trim moldings, plain as can be. I had a similar epiphany to yours one morning. I was on my way to a press check for some packaging I had worked on and I happened to wear my dark blue windbreaker jacket, and aviator style sunglasses. While cresting a rural freeway hill at about 75MPH (the roads there were rated for 55MPH) I happened upon a lounging PSP patrol car. Wonderful.
Sure enough, I thought I was toast. Much to my surprise, he just sat there. I kept looking in my mirror, but he never gave chase, never appeared in my mirror. Then it occurred to me, dark blue plain B-body Chevy, dark blue windbreaker jacket, cop sunglasses – he thought I was on the job!
After that, anytime I even remotely thought I was going to go off campus with the Caprice, I made sure I was wearing the dark blue windbreaker and sunglasses. It was great fun to roll up on a clot of traffic and just have them all move over to the driving lane RIGHT THIS SECOND! It was like a drug; no matter where I went, traffic slowed down and got the hell out of my way when I approached. In retrospect, I’m kind of amazed no one ever caught on to the fact I had civilian plates on the car…
Once the Cappy got to a certain mileage, the fleet manager rotated it out and got yet another Celebrity. I was bummed. My traffic clearing days were over. And, coincidentally, my days with that company were soon to be over, too.
Weren’t there a large quantity of Iraqi Malibus built back in the early 80′s with similar specs? Saddam had the worst luck with Chevys apparently…
“Iraqi Taxis” that Saddam ordered as Malibus with de-smogged 305s and 3 speed manuals, heavy duty suspensions,ect. When that order got cancelled those cars actually got sold to the general public. I always thought those were interesting cars too, I just would have wanted more gears than that.
The Iraqi taxis were all from 1981, when Saddam was involved with a war with his neighbour, Iran. They were all white, had 229 cid V-6 and three speed manual on the floor. There were 50,000 of them and they were fire-saled at cost or maybe even less. The cars sold for like $6800, since the manual would make them hard to sell at retail.
The Iraqi Taxis became like a cult car in Canada. They were everywhere, especially in lower income communities, people looking for a good, cheap car. In fact, they were the official car of Nova Scotia since they were on the dock there when GM liquidated them. They always got treated like the utilitarian devices they were and thus didn’t last more than a decade at which point they were all gone.
They weren’t all white, they came in many colors. I recall silver, blue and and limey-gold metallic ones as well. I had just bought a new ’82 Rabbit, had I not done so, I would have considered one of those. Similar or somewhat lesser price, and AC and stereo to boot.
Roger628 is correct, they were built in many different colors. I moved to Oshawa in 1989 and they were still everywhere. I was under the impression that most of them that went at the fire sale price ($6,800 sounds about right) went to GM employees. A co-worker had an immaculately maintaned one in light jadestone with a camel interior that he was driving until he retired in the late ’90s.
I sit corrected. I do recall quite a few greeish ones come to think of it.
Roger the three speed manual would not have been fine in Saskatchewan.
Why not? In the city, you’d just be in second most of the time. I have no idea what gears they had, I presume 2.73s or so, just like the normal ones. So the highway in third would have tolerable in my eyes. Besides, I had just come out of a ’76 Omega with the rare Borg-Warner T50 5-speed that was no end of trouble. Apparently, the torque rating on them was marginal even behind the feeble 260 V8. That 3-speed would have had anvil-like reliability by comparison.
Ooops, I meant the three speed would have been fine in Saskatchewan. My typo.
With a 2.73 rear end, some little calculator thing I’m using tells me they would’ve turned ~2200rpm at 60MPH. Not bad at all – in fact, the EPA rated the V6/3-speed Malibu at 20 city/28 hwy for 1981. That’s pretty impressive for a car of it’s size and shape.
Are there any “Iraqi Taxis” still kicking around up north? That would make a great CC…
I saw the last one about five years ago, in Surrey, looking much the worse of wear. I don’t know how many are kicking around “up north,” though. Probably very few, the climate is very harsh there.
My notoriously frugal Grandfather had one of the Iraqi Malibus. I remember the three on the floor and little else, like most of those mid size GMs they dissolved with rust, the back part of the frame fell off and it was gone.
Funny the Iraqi taxis still pop up from time to time in the kijiji and at bargain basement prices. They all look well worn but oh so tempting to buy.
I made a trip back to the Bay Area earlier this month. I didn’t ask for it, but did receive (from Budget Rent-A-Car at the Oakland Airport location) a white ’11 Crown Victoria. White. With blackwalls. Grey (albeit) leather seats. The fleet rental model as I believe, besides the last run of Police Interceptors, Crown Vics were sold only to rental agencies for ’10 and ’11 (fellow readers, correct me if I am wrong).
Suffice to say, driving a white Crown Vic, throughout Oakland and Marin, buttloads of people would “make way” and slow down when they saw this “detective’s special.” Probably helped that I had cut my hair short again, had Ray Ban wayfarers, a sport coat on and a straw weave fedora with a band.
I was visiting my mother in San Rafael; one of her elderly friends, whose late husband was a Marin County Sheriff at one time (as is/was her sons), remarked that she thought it was a County Detective car!
it was kind fun. And even though this Crown Vic was a single-exhaust rental fleet model, it did have some decent scoot. Quiet and wasn’t all that bad on fuel. Big fun!
Great stuff Len. I would totally have owned this car, but never found one so nice.
I’m sorry to hear that the woman in the Civic didn’t make it. I hate to read about stuff like this.
Still, a good story. I’ve often thought about hooning a former cop car, either a Caprice or Crown Vic.
The problem with cop cars is finding one that has not had the bark beaten off it when you get it. We did a few up as taxis and we found that we had to replace loads of stuff right off the bat, like the entire front end. They also needed a lot of interior work and almost always a transmission. This would easily add $5000 to the transaction price.
Then there is a the fuel factor. V-8 engines are not noted for their economy and when your $5000 cop car becomes a $10,000 cop car after you have made it safe and comfortable to drive, you have to think about feeding it. The cost of fuel in Canada means we now rarely see old cop cars tooling around like we used to. I kind of wonder where they go now. Perhaps the crusher.
I had no idea these ever existed. What a great car, and what a terrible way for it to go out.
There have been so few fast, big, good-handling cars made after about maybe 1965. I got goosebumps reading your description.
My 80 is an Oshawa built car, and as others have said,cars from that plant seem to be better put together than cars from other plants, even non B-body stuff. My friend had a Lumina from there he put close to 300K on.
Too bad about the accident, at least you made it, even though the Caprice had to give up its life to save you. There is something comforting about a big full framed car.
On the other hand, my dad’s 1979 Impala, also an Oshawa car, was a quality disaster…
On the other hand, I had an ’86 Cutlass Supreme Brougham (!) that was Oshawa built . . . it was sweet and extremely well built. BOF RWD G’s (formerly A’s) went to Oshawa, especially after Olds Cutlass assembly in Lansing switched over to N bodies for ’85 MY.
Really great, although depressing, story! I’ve always found it interesting that – even to this day – GM has a very large presence in the Middle East. You can still buy a new Chevrolet Caprice from a dealership in Saudi Arabia and order it set up very much like the one in this CC. That car is the fleet only “Chevrolet PPV” in North America, although they’re both really a Holden Statesman from down under.
Or Buick Park Avenue in the Middle East and China. RWD – Holden based. I don’t see why GM doesn’t bring this one to the U.S./Canada. I think it would be a hit. Possible (future) competiton w/RWD (resurging) Cadillacs, perhaps??
In reading this article, it occurred to me that this car’s description sounds about how many folks view the 80s MB S-classes. Big, fast, tough, durable, and definitely plain, i.e. not a Cadillac.
We had an 86 and a 90 wagon, and those were tough, but slow. I can’t imagine the joy of using this car as the author did.
The major difference between a 9C1 and an S-Class was the S-Class would not shake the fillings out of your teeth on a rough road. That and about $70,000.
another irony–the ’88 Caprice was used as a test bed for drive-by-wire technology. So GM bought a $70,000 750iL with V12 and put it in there.
I have always maintained the Ford Panther and the GM B-D bodies were the only things–not even the Mopar M-body–that, with the right engineering to go with the basic goodness of the platform, could have competed with the S-class, LS-series and 7-series.
I will refrain from the typical geezer habit of telling the story about my 77 Impala for the umpteenth time and just say: Great story. Very happy you are still here to tell it.
Great story about a great car!
This reminds me of some neighbors I had in Florida. They had a rather plain 1987 Ford Crown Victoria in solid beige. No vinyl top, standard hubcaps. They used to live in Maryland and they said it looked just like a Maryland State Trooper car. The husband used to always drive it while wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses. They said that he could drive anywhere and the cops never bothered him.
Around my town there is a man that has a black 2000 Ford Police Interceptor. He has the rear suspension beefed up and he keeps a bunch of little antennas on the trunk. I call him “Officer White” (He was never a cop). For a while he would be on the main road that goes through my town every morning when I would be on my way to work. People would see him and slow down and get behind him. I knew it was him, so whenever I had the chance, I would put the pedal down and pass him just so I could see the looks on the faces of the other drivers!
I salute you calling that guy’s bluff, ha-ha!
Great story Len, the end came as a real shock though. Puts everything into perspective I guess. Glad you lived to tell the tale (and plenty more I hope).
Len, your description of the accident is chilling. It’s a lesson, that even one that you survive can change you through the experience. Glad you made it and sorry for your pain.
Great story shame about the demise but if your gunna get hit a tough car is what to be in Im warming to these B bodies though they are rare here they sound like a fine open road hauler
Amazing, fascinating, tragic story. Thanks for sharing.
What a fantastic story. I didn’t know the Saddam connection but it makes for a very interesting tidbit.
Thank you, gentlemen, for the very kinds words. This accident has actually had some real benefits, though. To forestall chronic pain, I have to keep really active, going to the gym, walking, etc. The benefits of that outweigh the cost of the accident!
My Granny always told me to see the silver lining. Good advice.
I hope you get better, Canuck. I have an E120 Corolla. Tiny car, but got hit by woman in TrailBlazer going 30mph (48 km/hr) and it damaged it, but I survived.
I’d rather be in a B. 🙂
I have a 87 caprice 9c1 fire chiefs car from small town in CA I also have a 95 9c1 caprice chief of police car from ohio the 87 is a tougher car I believe it is a little lighter handles better but that lt1 in the 95 is hard to beat power and gas mileage are excellent I will be keeping both of these cars forever
The king of Sadi Arabia once ordered 70 pf these all the same color, two were bullet proof.
This is what an American car should be. Over-engineered, tough, fast, and conservative looking. V8 and RWD. I so want it!
Here is my Caprice Brougham LS from Iraq. 90k Milage, in a perfect condition.