COAL: 1991 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 • The Crapiece

With the ’85 Volvo declared unroadworthy, I went seeking a replacement. I looked at a metallic sky blue $200 Reliant or Aries that had been hit hard in the left rear, a ’90 or ’91 Crown Victoria just to check if it seemed any better (it didn’t) than the Stinkoln Clown Car, and a 383-powered ’68 Chrysler priced too high—probably a good thing, or I might’ve bought it, and it was very much not the kind of car I needed.

I don’t know what possessed me to fixate on a Caprice. Maybe it was memories of the ’78 and the ’84 my folks had, but I got a bug to pick up a Caprice. I went looking at an ’86 semi-locally; it was in good shape with low miles, but I thought the price too high at $4,300 or so, and I was skittish about buying from a used car dealer, anyhow.

Surely the local used-car scene can’t have been all that barren, can it? Probably not, if I’d been more thoughtful about it and considered costs other than the purchase price. Once again, though, that uncommonly good experience with the remote purchase of dad’s ’62 Dodge drowned out all contrary experience and memory.

So I acted rationally: I went on eBay and bought a 1991 Caprice that had been retired an owner or two ago from the Scituate, Massachussetts cop shop. I think my winning bid was closely around $2,500, which was just right; I had a weird psychological thing where a good car was supposed to cost between about $2,500 and $3,000. The ’62 Lancer and ’65 D’Valiant had been right in that range, and I guess that’s what set the expectation—I still struggle with this expectation that a good car should cost less than they tend to.

I got a mileage ticket from Untied, and flew to Massachussetts with a duly registered Michigan plate in my briefcase (emission tests? Safety inspections? Pshaw, not in Michigan; what are you, some kinda communist?!).


The car was certainly used, but it seemed basically sound, intact, and as presented. The transmission was rebuilt by a non-SCAAMCO shop, the radiator was a new Modine, the intake manifold gaskets and valve stem seals were new. It had a new DieHard Gold battery, a factory-upgraded TBI 350 engine with heavy-duty everything and coolers for all fluids, factory silicone heater and radiator hoses, power locks and (uselessly tiny) sideview mirrors, extra-fast power windows, and heavy-duty seats in police-only dark blue. It had a cop motor, cop shocks, cop brakes, and it was a model made before the LT1, so it’d run good on regular gas.

It had GM’s “Package, vehicle anticorrosion, hot melt type”, and was substantially unrusted. It was my first car with ABS—a primitive, lame Bosch system. Digital speedometer (certified, but with no mph/kph switch) and full gauge package. Electric trunk release. More-or-less working factory air, a driver airbag, and that disagreeable split-rocker headlight switch GM were so madly in love with.


It was ugly from every angle, but it was an ex-police car. I ran fun mind-movies of putting half a dozen antennas on the roof, an A-pillar teardrop spotlight, a set of front push bumpers, a black hairdryer combined with one of those cigarette pack-sized radar detector setter-offer things, and I’d be all set for scare-to-order traffic gaps. Vehicle adornment could take the form of small letters “I am” and big reflective ones speling out “POLITE” down the side. Also, “Emergency dial 911” on the trunk—always good advice!—and a fleet vehicle number (oh, say…2327) in vinyl stencil numerals.

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