COAL: 1991 Chevrolet Caprice–Living Up to a Legend


(Unless otherwise stated, the pictures in this post are taken from Google image search)

This COAL is dedicated to my oldest son Samuel, who first came home in this car.

In our house, my long departed 78 Caprice was an object of reverence. That car personified good times, road trips, friendships and coming of age. Anytime I brought up my past, the car was inevitably included in my stories. It was a legend that occupied a place of honor in the Lore of Fred. In my eyes, the Caprice could do no wrong. I never regretted giving it up because it was in the spirit of friendship that I let it go, but in my heart I knew I wanted to have another Caprice someday.


Introduced in 1990 as early ’91s, GM radically restyled its surviving full-size, rear-wheel drive B bodies. In addition to the new rounded look, the cars also gained anti-lock brakes and a driver’s side airbag. The new look was very polarizing. People either loved them or hated them. As for me, I remember the day an auto transporter delivered them to Multi Chevrolet in Union, NJ. I had no idea which Chevy it was….. a Lumina, maybe? I had to go find out. When I learned it was a Caprice…I got goosebumps! I loved the new look! The Caprice name had always meant something to me, and I was very pleased that the car had been modernized to go with the times. Yes, it had an airbag and ABS, but still had V8 power and rear-wheel drive! It even had a cameo in my favorite movie at the time, Days of Thunder.  From that day on, I wanted one!


Not the actual car or car dealer

One day, while driving home from work in my Plymouth Acclaim, I passed a used car lot where I saw it. The gray 1991 Chevrolet Caprice with 63,000 miles filled my heart with desire. To me it represented the Caprice of my youth as well as the Caprice body style I always wanted. I wanted it at all costs! Because  I had no money (as usual), I traded in two cars, my ’92 Acclaim, and ’91 New Yorker, for the Caprice. It was not an even trade, as more cash was required by the seller for it to be mine. I gladly ponied up (how much, I am embarrassed to say). I knew I paid more than it was worth, but I didn’t care at this point. I even let them talk me into paying extra for the warranty.


Driving home in the car of my dreams, I was on cloud nine! I absolutely loved it…it was all I expected and more. I had to swing by Mom and Dad’s to show off my prize!


Thank God they were not home since what happened next would have been really embarassing. As we were leaving their house, the Check Engine light came on. Then it began to lose power and finally stall. It restarted but could not be kept running at idle. I had to either keep going or put it in neutral and give it some gas. We headed right back to the used car lot only to find that it had closed for the day. We headed over the next day, and I could not have been happier that I allowed them to talk me into getting the warranty–as it turned out, the car needed a new Electronic Control Module (ECM), which was nowhere near cheap. It was replaced at no cost to me, and the car was finally in good running condition.


For 1991, the restyled B bodies came standard with the 5.0-liter 305 V8 with TBI Injection, otherwise known as the LO3. This engine was rated at 170 HP with 255 lb-ft of torque. Taxi (9C6) and police (9C1) package vehicles had several options: Most had the 5.7-liter 350 V8, also with TBI injection, known as the LO5 and rated at 180 HP with 290 lb-ft of torque. Rarer still (and I’m not even sure of its authenticity) was a 4.3-liter 140 HP V6 (not to be confused with the 4.3 liter L99 V8 from 94-96) offered for fleet use only in 1992-1993. I read about only one documented vehicle with this engine many years ago, but I have not seen any pictures or read about any others that still exist. For 1992-1993 the LO5 V8 became optional on sedans and standard on wagons. There was also the LTZ version, which was essentially a police package car but with all the luxury trimmings, and the precursor to the 94-96 Impala SS. The 94-96 vehicles came with two new and more powerful engine options based on the Corvette LT 1 engine, which will be discussed in a future COAL.


You can always tell a ’91 model by its black B- and C-pillars and black door handle trim. Later models wore them in body color. My car was a Caprice, as opposed to the better equipped Caprice Classic pictured above. The base Caprice was equivalent to Biscaynes of the past, but this one’s previous owner had opted for power windows and locks, and the car was air conditioned.


The interior was very 1962. Horizontal speedometer, idiot lights (although LTZ models had a full set of gauges) and a front bench seat.  I must say, the seating was very comfortable and  wonderful for long trips. After a long day at work, it was wonderful to plop down into that seat at the end of the day. The air conditioning, on the other hand, was pretty weak despite the fact that it had recently been filled and sealed with new refrigirant. It was fine in the late spring or early summer, but when the temperature rose above 90, it was embarrassing and ineffective even when set to maximum.


Just like on my first Caprice, the trunk was pretty enormous. Needless to say, interior space was generous as well. I regularly carried six people in the car without feeling terribly cramped.


I did very much appreciate the torque on the 305 V8. Off-the-line pickup was good, occasionally even chirping the tires…not that I minded, of course. It was fun blowing away Neons and such at traffic lights. Its main problem was that it ran out of breath quickly. I remember following my parents in their 2004 Camry on the highway. Accelerating on the on ramp was fun and I was on their bumper until about 80 MPH or so. After that, I could still keep up with them but I noticed the engine working hard to do so.


It made a great daily driver. It was comfortable, reliable, and relatively low maintenance. Here it is pictured next to last week’s COAL.


In 2004,  our first child, Samuel, was born. We took him home in the Caprice. It soon became obvious that this was the perfect car for him. The large trunk could easily hold his stroller, his play pen, and whatever else he could possibly need. Its spacious interior could accommodate the cumbersome rear-facing child seat that newborns require AND carry additional passengers in comfort. Most importantly, its sheer heaviness and tank-like construction made us feel safe transporting our most precious cargo.


The writing was on the wall. My wife would be taking over the Caprice since she was home with Sam. Here she is, posing with her new daily driver.  As for me, I had not yet gotten B-bodies out of my system, so I sold the Cavalier in order to get my next daily driver, the subject of next week’s COAL.