Curbside Classic: 1970 Chevrolet Caprice – Iris and Albert Make a Trip to Houston

(first posted 7/26/2012)   Iris and Albert were tiring of their 1964 Chevrolet Bel-Air.  Having had it since it was new, and having put many miles on it, they sought something nicer.  Albert had often said the interior of his Bel-Air was about as luxurious as the interior of a phone booth–and just as speedy, thanks to the 230 cubic inch (3.8 liter) six-cylinder engine and two-speed Powerglide transmission.  In February 1970, they purchased a new Caprice at the Chevrolet dealer in nearby Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

They had debated what size of car to get, although it never was a serious debate.  Iris had just turned 43 that month and Albert was about to turn 46.  Their two daughters had married and moved out of the house.  However, their son, who had come along much later, was only 11 and still at home.  They also knew he would be tall, like them, making the decision to get a “regular-sized” car a simple one.

Their decision to get the 1970 Caprice proved wise.  They liked its style and comfort, and it had been quite reliable.  During their first two years of ownership they had endured several large life-changing events.  The hellish period from the middle of 1970 to early 1972 had been torture, and they were happy they didn’t have to worry about getting where they had to go when they needed to get there.  The Caprice always got them there.

By the summer of 1972, Albert and Iris decided to go see Iris’s parents and her two siblings in Houston, Texas, and her other sister Margie and her husband John in Cut and Shoot, Texas.

At this point, clarification is needed.  Iris was the one wanting to go see her family; Albert agreed to the trip to pacify Iris.  As a World War II veteran, he found an international conflict easier to endure than those involving Iris’s siblings and their parents.  As Albert said, in the war you knew who the enemy was, and it was a constant–unlike in Iris’s family.  He was glad they lived 14 hours away from it all.

Bright and early the next morning, Albert and Iris loaded up the car, and their now 13-year-old son, Ron, and headed south to Houston, Texas.  The Caprice had made the trip twice before.  Albert and Iris were quite happy with their Caprice since it was a great road car and was quite comfortable for any length of trip.  Albert, a big believer in never getting a first year model of any vehicle, was happy he’d bought a ’70 model.  He knew the ’70 model was based on the same platform that ushered in the 1965 Chevrolet line.  Albert thought that the new full-size Chevrolets  introduced for 1971 looked bloated, calling them “corn-fed Chevys.”

Albert drove for most of the trip.  A few miles down the road, when all was quiet, Ron asked, “Hey Ma, does Aunt Margie still carry a thirty-eight in her purse?”

Iris responded by stating that was a terrible thing to think about.  Albert said, in a total deadpan, “Well, you could go through her purse.”

Iris looked at Alfred and said, “That’s a helluva way to find out.  Why don’t you just ask?”  As she said this, Albert smiled ever so slightly and roared around a slow moving Fairlane, prompting the secondaries of the Rochester Quadrajet to go to work.

Several hours later, they encountered a pretty bad traffic jam near Little Rock, Arkansas.  Traffic was sitting still and several cars started to overheat.  The Caprice and its 400 cu in (6.6-liter) V8 remained as cool as a cucumber, unfazed from idling in the Arkansas heat.

Ron was watching some of the people walking around due to the standstill.  One young, perky woman in her early 20’s really caught Ron’s attention.  He even turned around to look at her through the back window of the Caprice.

“Hey, Pop!  Do you see that, that gal over there?  I don’t think she’s wearing a…”

Iris interrupted.  “Ron, it’s time for a little life lesson here.  Since you are so interested in female anatomy, let me educate you.  We all know she’s not wearing a brassiere.  A lot of women are not wearing them these days, which is dumb.  Give it a few years and a kid or two and gravity is going to work her over.  Those things will be resting on her hips and a rough road will give her black eyes.  She will need a gunny sack to hold them up.  A wise woman keeps those things supported…if God wanted everybody to see them he would have put them on her face.  They aren’t playthings, you know.”

Both Ron and Albert rolled their eyes.

A short while later, after traffic was moving and Albert was feverishly trying to get to the front of the pack, Ron piped up again.  “Hey Ma, could you turn on the radio?  I want to hear some Jimmy Hendrix.”  Ron’s request was strongly vetoed because, as Ron was told, turning on the radio would put more strain on the engine and cause it to use more fuel. Of course, it was a ruse.  Albert refused to listen because he deplored pop music.  Instead, they listened to the burble of the V8 as they passed all the slow moving vehicles.

After 14 hours and two stops for fuel, the three weary travelers arrived at Iris’s parents’ house in Houston.  The Caprice was a true champ, running great the whole time and eagerly doing everything asked of it.  When Albert parked it, he put it in his typical parking place in the grass next to the driveway.  His father-in-law would later grumble “He drives that son of a bitch down here non-stop and those hot tires kill my damn grass!”.

Albert and Iris would keep their ’70 Caprice until the ’77 models were introduced.  By late 1976, the Caprice still ran great, but there was noise in the transmission and before it got worse, they opted to swap for a new, downsized Impala, brown body/tan roof, equipped with a 250 cu in straight six.  The ’77 Impala is the first car of my grandparents’ that I can vividly remember riding in.  Yes, Albert had broken his rule about buying new models; it would prove to be true, thus leading him to buy a Dodge the next two times around.

The full-sized Chevrolet line was introduced September 18, 1969.  The base price of the Caprice featured here was $3,527; the base price of an Impala (my grandparents had a green one) was $3,132.  For 1970, Chevrolet offered four levels of its full-size car – the fleet-special Biscayne, the skinflint Bel-Air, the bread-and-butter Impala, and the upscale Caprice.  As a point of reference, a V8 Biscayne sedan had a base price of $2,898.

Anymore, it is remarkable for a car to sell more than 100,000 units in one model year. Times have definitely changed, because in 1970 Chevrolet sold 92,000 Caprices.  The Impala, which was essentially the same car, sold another 505,000 units, including 9,562 convertibles.  Chevrolet would also find buyers for an additional 75,000 Bel-Airs and 35,000 Biscaynes.  That’s approximately 707,000 full-size Chevrolets built for model year 1970.

When I found this Caprice for sale, I remembered a ’70 Chevrolet being on my short list of cars to possess.  However, the timing was horrific despite the $4,500 asking price.  I’d already bought two vehicles before March 1 of this year, so I needed to let it rest.

“Iris” is now 85, and “Albert” is now 88.  Both are in outstanding health and they currently have a 2007 Chevrolet Equinox and a ’92 Ford F-150. Mentally, both of them are as strong as they were in their 40s, and their memories are fully intact.  My grandfather still remembers every detail about scraping a dragline in 1948 using only a case of dynamite and a sheet of plywood.  When I called them to verify where they bought their 1970 model Impala, both were surprised I was asking such a question, yet they both remembered.  My grandfather added, “Jason, that was a long time ago, before you were born.  Dang, I’m getting old, don’t go asking me such questions!”