COAL: 1976 Chevy Caprice Classic Coupe – Cheap Big California Classic


COAL 76 chevy

Biggest Chevy Ever with the biggest socks ever!

In 1989, I went to Newport Beach, California, to work as a sailing instructor for the summer at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, and I needed transportation.  My godfather, my dad’s childhood buddy, lived in Newport Beach and had a friend whose aunt had recently passed away, leaving behind her 1976 Chevy Caprice Classic Coupe with 16,000; yes 16,000 miles.  The tires were lumpy from sitting, so my God-father’s friend replaced the tires and then sold it to my dad for $1,000!  The car had one smash on the front and one on the rear from parking lot type of accidents, but was otherwise in original shape, with shiny paint, a 350 V-8, and seating for six.1970 Caprice

The Caprice in my mind’s eye

When my dad first told me that Tony, my godfather, had found me a 1976 Chevy Caprice, I was excited, but the picture I had in my mind’s eye was not of the 1971-1976 Caprices, but of the first generation Caprice, which I still find to be a far more attractive car.  Upon seeing the car in my God-father’s driveway, I was a touch disappointed on a comparative scale. But once I got used to the bulbous looks of the 1976, we hopped in and took a ride, and it was a time machine back to a time I barely even remembered.  My grandparents were Ford people in the 70s; my parents mostly drove imports (except for a 1975 Jeep Wagoneer); and most of the GM cars I remembered were the downsized B-Bodies from 1977 and on.  I can remember one friend having a clamshell wagon, and I had once ridden in a 1975 Cadillac Series 75 Limo, but that was my entire experience with the 2nd generation B- or C-Body.

1972 caprice interior

The first thing I noticed upon getting in the driver’s seat (well the driver’s side of the bench) was the size of the car, but the second thing I noticed was the very small steering wheel and very short column-mounted shifter.  My dad mentioned that it was his recollection that in response to complaints from female owners about the size of the car, GM had downsized the steering wheel and transmission lever to make the car easier to drive.

8-track adapter

The third thing I noticed was the 8-track player and stereo speakers in the doors.  Fortunately we knew about the 8-track in advance and a friend of my dad’s who owned a 1977 Thunderbird lent me his cassette adapter, so I had music!

Caprice Low Rider

1976 Caprice Coupe Low Rider

The next day we took the car to get inspected and licensed, and when we took it to the shop for inspection, the mechanics said to us “do you realize this car only has 16,000 miles?”  We said “yes”, and they said “no really, the carburetor has never been adjusted, it still has the factory caps over the adjusting screws! You could take this to East LA today, even with the damage on the corners, and get $3,000 – $4,000 for it right now!”

Well they got the car in tune, and off we went.  Despite being a V-8, it sounded a bit like a sewing machine.  It did motivate the car pretty well in comparison to my Honda (68hp) and Saab (110hp), about the same as my 1981 Buick V-6 Skylark.  The steering took a bit of time to get used to, with a lot of power assist and a bit of play in the center.  The front disc brakes slowed the car pretty well, but I learned quickly to watch 1/2 a mile ahead on the southern California interstates, as sudden and unexpected slowdowns caused panic stops that made the rear of the car quite light and threaten to swap places with the front of the car.  The Caprice was quite fun to drive around town, with room for three across in the front, and simple, one-hand steering.  It had huge body roll and understeer on off ramps, but otherwise, southern California didn’t challenge the car with lots of corners.

cheech and chong caprice

Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie

One night, I was watching a movie at a friend’s house, and it was Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, and the only thing I remember about it is that the mechanic seemed to be right; 1970’s Caprice low riders were everywhere in East LA, at least in the movie!

1976 Chevrolet Caprice Coupe Trunk

Trunk big enough for a 10-speed!

One time I needed to take my bike somewhere, which was a basic 10-speed I had borrowed from my godfather, and I thought well maybe if I take the wheels off, it will fit in the trunk.  On a lark, I tried just putting the whole bike in the trunk, wheels and all, and it fit without a problem!


Gas cap behind the license plate

When it came time to fill up the car, I would put about 22 gallons into the tank through the filler behind the license plate (couldn’t find a picture of a 70s Chevy so equipped, so this Pontiac will have to do).  I would get about 210-220 miles before my next fill up for a 9.5 – 10 mph average.

Well the summer came to a close, and as much as I wanted to drive the Caprice cross-country back to my mom’s house in Rhode Island, I didn’t even have 5 days between the end of my job and the beginning of college and I didn’t have a buddy to share the driving with, so it was time to sell it.  Turned out a business associate of my dad’s had a nephew who was heading to San Diego State University and needed a car, and so we sold him the Caprice for what we had invested, $1,089 (I had killed the battery and the new battery was $89), and paid the cheap transportation forward.