Cohort Classic: 1965 Chevrolet Caprice – The LTD Reaction

Chevrolet 1965 Caprice tail

posted at the Cohort by Chris

Some days I feel like all I’m doing is stamping out internet bugs; you know the little inane critters that pop up constantly in articles and comments, expounding all sorts of truths and theories about how and why things happened in the auto industry. One of the more absurd ones, expounded by someone who has made that his stock in trade, is that the reason Chevrolet decided to offer its Caprice option package, which was introduced at the rather odd time of February of 1965, was solely because of a GM corporate edict requiring all division general managers to drive only cars from their respective divisions. Right; perfectly logical. And that’s how GM generally made its decisions on what new cars to introduce; it’s how they had become so successful.

Oh; and it obviously had nothing to do with the fact that Ford had introduced its madly successful LTD six months earlier.

And here’s the real irony of that story: the General Manager of Chevrolet from 1961-1965 was Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen, the man who revived Pontiac with muscle cars. And he did want an exclusive car to drive himself to the office every day, and he had cause to have it built for himself. But it was the furthest thing possible from a Caprice.

Corvette 1961 Mako Shark xp-755

Here’s Knudsen’s specially built daily driver. Knudsen so fell in love with Larry Shinoda’s Corvette Mako Shark XP-755 show car from 1961, he got a copy built for himself to drive. Yes; that’s how corporate privilege worked at GM back then; you didn’t cause a new car to go into production just because you wanted to drive a copy; you could just have a custom car built for yourself. If Knudsen had wanted a super-luxurious Impala decked out like a Cadillac Fleetwood, that would have been easy as snapping two fingers.

Corvette 1961 XP-755 knudsen

I’m not 100% sure, but I believe this is Bunkie with his Shark.

Corvette 1963 StingRayBunkieKnudsenConvertible1

It was replaced in 1963 with this customized Corvette. Even his wife drove a customized pink Corvette. And the rest of his stable of daily drivers? A specially prepared Corvair, Nova, and Impala SS convertible. Knudsen was a real car guy, like pretty much all of the divisional managers back then. Driving a faux-luxury Caprice was not his thing. Sorry, Jack; GM guys then were more into sports cars and such than broughams.

And what about the rest of the Chevrolet management team? They all drove Chevys, if their career at GM meant anything to them. The whole notion that these Chevy (or other division) managers were driving Cadillacs (or any brand other than the division they worked for) is utterly absurd. But that’s the essence of this theory: that the GM brass had to issue an edict to get them to drive only cars from their respective divisions. Only someone unfamiliar with how things worked at GM could get behind that story.

Ford 1965 -Ford-Ad06

On to the real story: Ford’s new 1965 LTD was one of those very rare game changers; it launched the whole Brougham Epoch, in terms of bringing Lincoln-level luxury appointments to the low cost sector. And it must have scared the pants off Chevrolet and GM, who had been caught totally asleep behind the wheel when the Mustang became an explosive hit just a half year earlier.

Chevrolet 1965 Caprice lfq

It would take Chevy two and a half years to respond to the Mustang with the all-new ’67 Camaro, but responding to the LTD was a whole lot easier and quicker. All it took was to bring out a new optional package available on the Impala Sport sedan, with some new exterior badges, a nicer interior, a to slap on Impala SS wheel covers for good measure. (Update: there were also changes to the chassis to make it stiffer and revisions to the suspension to make it ride better.) By February 1965, the Caprice was available at your friendly Chevrolet dealer.

Chevrolet 1965 Caprice engines

And in a case of fortuitous timing, Chevy’s new 396 Turbo Jet V8 was also production ready just a few months earlier. And the most excellent THM 400 three-speed automatic was now available too, although only on the 325 hp version of the 396. It made for a terrific combination on this car, arguably the best drive train in that engine size on any of the popular-priced Big Three cars. Or even the higher-priced ones; it didn’t really get any better than this in 1965, at any price, in terms of a harmonious drive train for a big sedan. Well, perhaps except for the handful of folks that ordered the solid-lifter 425 hp L-78 version, backed by the four speed. No sixes available with the Caprice package; sorry.

In a Popular Science test that we reprinted here, a 396/THM Chevy creamed the Plymouth 383/TF and Ford 390/C6 equipped cars with a 0-80 time two and three seconds faster than the competition.

Chevrolet 1965 caprice int

No four-on-the-floor here. I can’t make out the shift quadrant, but if I had to guess it’s the Turbo Hydramatic, as most 396s seemed to come with that instead of the Powerglide. The Caprice’s dash had lots of genuine fake wood inserts, and a very LTD-ish “panty-cloth” type of fabric.

chevrolet 1965 caprice_1965_id432

So why is there a rear armrest and none in the front? It’s one of the many mysteries of Detroit thinking back then. Isn’t there always a driver who would enjoy using one when the car is being used? And how often did anyone in the back actually pull it out and use it?

Chevrolet 1965 Caprice tail

I’m going to re-use the top shot again here. How’s that for encapsulating the ’65 Caprice in one shot? Those tail lights were…different, and unexpected. And controversial, as they soon went away again in 1966. That makes this one of the easiest cars to learn to spot. Not that I had any problem with that; I’ll never forget the night at the Chevy-Buick-Cadillac dealer in downtown Iowa City for the official unveiling of the ’65s. Holy Bill Mitchell! What will they do to top this?

Chevrolet 1965 caprice fq

It would be some years before the Caprice caught up with the LTD, despite the new 396. But no worries; Chevrolet still managed to sell some 1.65 million full-size Chevys in 1965, compared to some 980k Fords. That would be the last time such huge numbers of full-sized cars would ever be sold. Given how many were made, it ought to be easier than it’s been to find a ’65 Chevy on the street, but I’ve been looking for a proper one for a CC for years. Just a couple of months ago I spotted a very original (with some patina) one coming the other way in traffic, an Impala hardtop coupe in this same Evening Orchid hue and black vinyl top. Now if I can just find it again; there’s so much yet to say about the ’65 Chevy (Update: I found it. Link below)

But in the meantime, at least we’ve put one GM conspiracy theory to bed; hopefully forever.



CC 1965 Ford LTD: It Launched The Great Brougham Epoch

CC 1965 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport: The Peak Chevrolet Experience; The Peak Full-Size American Car Experience