(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!”
Our next door neighbor owned a 1965 Impala sports coupe. I came home on leave in the spring of 1970, he had bought one of these. When I asked him how he liked it, he exclaimed: “It’s a baby Cadillac”!
He was right.
Me? The last full-size Chevy or any other full-sized car for that matter I liked was perhaps the 1967 models with the exception of the 1972 Impala for some reason.
I admit the 1970 model looks nicer than the 1969, because I hated that wrap-around front bumper on the ’69s.
Overall, a big no-no on these for me. Too big, too thirsty, over the top in just about everything. At the same time, look at what I drove back then – life didn’t get any better, plus I was in California, still the “promised land” at the time!
Y’know, I wish I had the chops to write an article of my recent “Curbside Classic”, my beloved 2004 Impala I sold the other day after 8 years and 2 months of incredibly reliable and prideful ownership. Those MY 2000-2005 Impalas WILL be future “CC”s, for sure, and deservedly so!
Great story about a truly American car driven by typical Americans. Ah the 14 hour family trip by car. I liked the part about the fathers determination to “get to the front of the pack” by opening up the quadrajet.
My Dad was all too ready to pass me the keys at 16 and let me drive the family Olds 98 in 1978. I remember towing our 21′ boat to Islamorada Key in Florida. I think the quadrajet was open quite a bit on that trip! 3 adults, 1 16 year old, 2 weeks of luggage, coolers, offshore fishing gear, A/C blasting. And what? 185 horsepower from a Olds 350? I flipped the air cleaner lid upside down so you could hear the quadrajet open and suck air. Funny, my new Silverado makes a similar sound when you stick your foot in its ass.
Junior actually had the guts to ask about turning on the radio for some good old rock and roll. In my family car, that question was NEVER asked. Completely off limits, there weren’t going to be no damned “hippie music” played around my parents.
Syke, that’s funny.
When dad bought his 1960 Impala in 1965, it was the first car we had in 5 years that had a working radio!
At the time, Kx-OK radio in St. Louis was THE rock ‘n’ roll station and the evening show was especially good and my parents got a kick out of it. Most of the music they tolerated and mom made funny remarks about some of the songs at the time and actually liked a few of the tunes, as did dad, but that was a time when a R&R station played EVERYTHING from Sinatra to the Beatles to Roger Miller!
Funny you should mention that. My dad said, “I don’t care what KIND of music it is, as long as I like it!” We heard lots of Stones and Beatles as kids on road trips. Roger Miller and the Stadler Brothers, too!
My Dad had 3 new cars in his life, 59 and 64 2 door Biscaynes, and a 72 two dr HT Dodge Polara. None of the cars were bought with a radio. My mother vetoed such things, including whitewalls and full wheel covers.
Since the Polara came along when I had a job, initially the US Army and then civilian work, when the original tires wore out, I put whitewalls and full covers on the car. Also had an in dash radio put in. It was remarkable how whitewalls and the full covers dressed up that car.
The Dodge was always Dad’s favorite car. He had it until 1987, when a kid rear ended it. My Dad was taking it to be serviced, had 108,000 miles on it. After it was hit, the trunk was in the back seat, however, no windows broke and the car didn’t even stall out. He drove it to the service station a few yards away. It really was a good car, far superior to the Chevys.
After that, he drove one of my cars. He always had at least two of mine to choose from, mostly nice older cars I ran across. All had a radio.
My dad played the CB radio…and the fuzz buster…and did not drive legal speeds.
Olds 98’s in ’71 had 455’s. A two-bbl (why?!) and a Quadrajet.
The 455-2V was the final evolution of Oldsmobile’s Turnpike Cruiser concept, which Paul talked about a few months back. A big engine (the original TC package used the 400) with a very mild cam to put the torque peak low in the rev range, combined with a tall axle ratio, sacrificing peak output for stout mid-range torque and decent cruising economy. Of course, even with a hotter cam, a 455’s low-end torque isn’t going to be that soft and fuel economy won’t be that great regardless, but that was the idea.
Brilliant writing, Jack, particularly the passage about the young woman’s, uh, “foundation issues” as she stood along the highway in Little Rock.
So brilliant, in fact, that I had to share it with my better half at the breakfast table…and almost had to clean up a spew of coffee!
As a frequent visitor to Little Rock, I think I may have seen this woman last week. And Iris may not be a physicist, but she has an excellent grasp of the effects of gravity.
A cousin bought one of the 9562 convertibles made that year. Yellow with black interior. Great car. He still has it.
Speaking of 1970 model, I spotted at http://brandon.kijiji.ca/c-cars-vehicles-classic-cars-1970-Chevrolet-BelAir-2-door-80s-Mustangs-W0QQAdIdZ375926312 A picture of a 1970 Canadian Bel Air hardtop who had meet a sad fate.
It’s interesting to see this, because there was no 1970 2-door Bel Air in the U.S. Until 1969, a 2-door pillared model had been offered in the Biscayne and Bel Air lines (it was the only 2-door in either series; there was no 2-door hardtop). The 2-door pillared body style was dropped at the end of the 1969 model year, but the hardtop did not take its place in the Biscayne and Bel Air lineup. After 1969 there were never any 2-door Biscaynes or Bel Airs of any kind in the U.S.
A while back, it came up in a discussion that the Bel Air was built for longer in Canada than in the U.S. In the U.S., it was dropped after 1975, but I think it lasted until 1981 in Canada. At that time, Stephane posted a picture of a 1980 Canadian Bel Air 2-door coupe (by that time the coupes obviously weren’t hardtops any more). I knew that Bel Airs were still available in Canada in 1980, but I was surprised to see that they were still available as coupes. Not only had the Bel Air not been sold in the U.S. since 1975, but there hadn’t been any 2-door Bel Airs in the U.S. since way back in 1969.
You’re correct that the Bel Air lasted through 1981 in Canada. All of the Canadian low-trim full size cars were dropped at the same time – Chevrolet Bel Air, Pontiac Laurentian, Ford LTD Custom 500 and Mercury Marquis Meteor.
Pontiac offered 2-door hardtops in the Strato-Chief and Laurentian series beginning in 1969 after the Pontiac two door sedan body was dropped, and Ford offered a Custom 500 two door hardtop starting in 1970.
Just like Chevrolet, Ford built a full-sized 2-door pillared model through 1969, which served as the 2-door for the lower-line Custom/Custom 500, while the upper-line Galaxie 500/LTD came as hardtops. Unlike Chevy, I think Ford did replace the pillared 2-door in the lower-line models with the hardtop for 1970, but only offered the hardtop, at least in the U.S., for that one year. (I don’t have any reference materials handy at the moment, but I’ll check on this later to verify, if someone else doesn’t do so first.) From 1971 on, all Customs and Custom 500s were 4-doors, like their Chevy counterparts.
In the U.S., the base Custom was dropped after 1972 (same as the Chevy Biscayne) and the Custom 500 was last sold to the general public in 1975 (the Chevy Bel Air was dropped at the same time). The Custom 500 continued to exist through 1978 as a model for fleet sales only.
Oldcarbrochures got the full-size 1970 Ford LTD/Custom/Galaxie XL brochure posted http://www.oldcarbrochures.com/static/NA/Ford/1970_Ford/1970_Ford_Full_Size_Brochure/dirindex.html
I find it strange then Chevrolet and Ford didn’t kept the 2-door sedan for 1970. It could be interesting to imagine what if they had kept it for one more year? Meanwhile Plymouth jazzed a bit its 2-door sedan mid-year with the Fury Gran Coupe as a 1970½ model.
Here a vintage ad of the 1970½ Plymouth Fury Gran Coupe I spotted on Ebay.
The Gran Coupes in ’70 and ’71 came only in brown over metallic brown. My Uncle had a ’71. The vinyl roof and nylon weave cloth inserts had a stamped paisley pattern.
Based on that Ford brochure, I was wrong about the Custom and Custom 500 being available as a hardtop (in the U.S.) for one year only in 1970. The brochure shows the Custom and Custom 500 available only as 4-door sedans and wagons. I thought that I have or once had some book showing production figures for Custom hardtops in 1970. Maybe the reference was to cars built in the U.S. for export to Canada.
Two other notes:
1) The 302 was not mentioned in the 1972 advertisement that Paul posted the other day, but it was still available in full-size Fords in 1970.
2) You could get a 3-speed in a full-size Ford with any engine up to the 390. I’m guessing that very few 390s were built that way. (The 429 required the automatic.)
Speaking of 1975, there a picture of a 1975 Canadian BelAir coupe I saw on this French forum http://amateurdebeauxchars.forumactif.com/t12888-plusieurs-photos-chevrolet-bel-air-1949-1981
Do it still have the front hood molding and the trunk molding
Your brilliant write-up of this classic American icon prompted a photo from the archives. Pictured is a 1970 Caprice Coupe. This photo was taken in August of ’73 on the ferry in Mountain Home, AR over Lake Norfolk (to Krewer’s). My dad has often said this was the finest car he owned. It burned Ethyl, and for only $0.19 / gallon, was a fine way to travel. Sadly, this car was traded in ’74 for a Toyota Corolla. They purchased the Corolla because the motor locked up on the new Vega they test drove.
“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.”
I think you’ve left station wagons out of the equation. At that time, Chevy considered the wagons to be a distinct series for purposes of tracking production and sales, and from 1969-72 the wagons actually used their own distinct model names. My copy of the Standard Catalog shows that Chevy built about 162,000 full-size wagons in 1970. Production for the other series line up with what you wrote (as does the figure for the convertible, which seems to be the only model for which an exact figure is available; all other figures are rounded to the nearest hundred) except that it shows Impala production at about 612,000. Adding up the figures for each series in the Standard Catalog, I come out to a grand total of 978,600.
Given that the general sales trend for full-size cars in this era was one of decline, sales of full-size Chevys for previous years in the ’60s were probably even higher. To be sure, full-size cars were still by far the most popular type of vehicle, and would not lose their position of dominance in the U.S. market until the first energy crisis hit in the summer of 1973, just as the ’74 models were about to come out. But with each passing year, more and more Americans were becoming open to smaller cars like domestic compacts and imported subcompacts. And with Detroit’s tendency to make every new generation bigger and fancier, even some people who weren’t necessarily “thinking small” were concluding that full-size cars had just gotten too big, and a new intermediate was the functional equivalent of what a full-size car had been ten or fifteen years earlier. If their son had been older and out of the house, Jack’s grandparents might have considered a Chevelle Malibu sedan on a 116 inch wheelbase. That was the same wheelbase that the standard Chevys had been using 13 years earlier in 1957, and a ’70 Chevelle sedan is actually bigger than a ’57 Chevy in terms of overall length.
In another recent thread, we were talking about full-sized cars that were still available with sixes as late as the early ’70s. In 1970, you could still get a six in a limited assortment of full-size Chevys. This included the Biscayne & Bel Air sedans (a pillared sedan was the only remaining body style badged under either name) and the Impala Sport Coupe (not Custom Coupe) and sedan (pillared, not the hardtop sedan). In 1969, the Biscayne-equivalent Brookwood station wagon had also been available with a six, but for 1970 it was only offered with a V8. According to the Standard Catalog, production of sixes amounted to about 12,000 Biscaynes, about 9,000 Bel Airs, and about 6,000 Impalas, for an overall grand total of 27,800. Sixes accounted for one third of Biscayne production, about 10% of Bel Air production, and about 1% of Impala production.
IIRC, the six was available (with a 3-speed manual no less) in the Bel Air until mid-year ’73, when the 350/350 combo was made standard.
I believe that availability of the six in full-size Chevys in 1971-72 was the same as in 1970. For 1973, the Bel Air sedan was the only full-size Chevy available with a six, as the Biscayne was dropped and the six was no longer available in any Impalas. (Chevy went back to badging wagons under the regular model names in ’73, so there was now a Bel Air wagon as well as a sedan, but the wagon was only offered as a V8.)
IIRC, the six was initially listed as being available in the ’74 Bel Air sedan, but it was withdrawn early in the model year, and it is believed that none were actually built. It may be that the Bel Air six was embargoed at some point during the 1973 model year but for some reason it wasn’t officially deleted from the list of available models until early in the ’74 model year.
i think the fantastic number of chevrolets sold in 1970 can largely be attributed to a lack of competition. the big three constituted an oligopoly. today we have fantastic competition in the auto market but frankly i’m not sure the consumer has benefited from the proliferation of brands.
oh and great story. you really captured the spirit of the times.
There may be a proliferation of brands, but not of models. Try to buy a convertible or a station wagon, today.
The source I used, “50 Years of American Automobiles” by Consumer Guide, indicates wagon numbers are included in Impala and Caprice production numbers.
That said, I would be curious to know what production numbers were.
Very interesting — I had the wagon figures on my mind because I had looked them up for the recent thread on the ’67 Caprice wagon. The Impala figures are way off as well. Who knows which set of numbers is right?
An oddity with the Standard Catalog is that it has separate figures for wagons for almost every year, but there are two years (1969 and 1973) where it claims the wagons are included in the figures for each series. I thought that was strange–why would that have been done only in those two years?
I used to have another reference book put out by Consumer Guide called (IIRC) “The Encyclopedia of American Cars 1940-1970”. I think I got it in the early ’80s; it may have been an earlier version of what you have. My local library used to have a newer version that continued later into the ’70s but they no longer seem to have it. My copy eventually fell apart and I threw it away sometime in the mid 1990s because the book was trashed and I figured the Standard Catalog was a more comprehensive source anyway. Now I wish I still had it so I could cross-check the two against each other.
I also had another, smaller Consumer Guide book called “Cars Of The ’60s”. It didn’t have detailed production data but it had a chart at the back with yearly model-by-model breakdowns for most makes. The chart obviously only covered 1960 through 1969. I may actually still have that one packed away somewhere.
Great story! I have always loved the `70 Full-size Chevys. The bumper-integrated lights always fascinated me. Yes, I am easy to fascinate.
“Yes, I am easy to fascinate.”
I think that’s a prerequisite around here, Jordan! 🙂
Gosh, the photo of the dash transported me back to my 10 year old self. Sitting in the back seat of our neighbors new maroon ’70 Impala and it seemed so luxurious. I remember it was very smooth and fast and it was my first experience with car air conditioning.
Then years later a friend had one and it left the same impression…the epitome of the full size American car. The driving experience was superior to my Dad’s ’72 Buick LeSabre…while the Buick had a better interior it also had the (now inferior) updated frame. Model years ’69 and ’70 must have been some kind of GM milestone.
Funny how things change. I remember driving all over the place and much of it was the same ground. Interesting cars but I find myself focused on the people involved and enjoying the story even more. Most families who were lucky had an active older generation. Today I find myself part of that older generation. The cars and trucks I had would probably make an interesting read but it takes a storyteller like you to make them interesting.
Gramps had one of these, a ’70 Impala with the 350-horse 350. Going from a tired old ’55 Plymouth six it must have been a revelation for the old boy.
A great story told well. I think 1970 was one of the rare years when Ford outsold Chevrolet, but that was largely due to the GM strike that year. The other thing I noted was the Caprice to Impala ratio – I think that Ford had a higher penetration of LTDs to Galaxie 500s then, and was probably making more money per car as a result.
I remember my Dad renting one of these – a gold Impala – when we took a trip (probably on the train) to Philadelphia to visit family at Thanksgiving, probably 1969. I can remember thinking that it did not feel as “refined” as Dad’s 69 LTD. But it certainly felt better built than the 71s.
I do remember thinking how cleverly Chevy did the 6 taillights in the back bumper. It just now hits me that this car does not look right without the color-keyed Caprice wheelcovers. But I think it is illegal to drive an old Chevy nowadays without the sport wheels.
The Rallies are gorgeous on the ’69 & ’70 full sized Chevrolets, whitewall and all.
In my perfect world, these wheels should be confiscated from all vehicles except the ’69 & ’70 big Chevrolets, ’73 Monte Carlo, & C3 Corvettes. All repop “disc brake” center caps shall be thown inside the confiscated Street-Racer Imports before they get squished & sent back to China..
Now I’m seeing G-body cutlasses & Regals, and UGH…PICKUPS wearing these now, thanks to some Chinatown aftermarket supplier stamping repops with the 5×5 bolt pattern.
I think they all have “donks” now.
I got out of the service in 1969, at age 23, and thought i had to have a new car. Having looked at Pontiac’s, and knowing i could not afford a Thunderbird, i purchase one of the last 1969 Impala 2 door hard tops, left on the lot at Cooke Chevrolet here in Evansville, In. It was solid blue with blue cloth interior and held a 396 under the hood.
I did not know it at the time, but this car had a 2 barrel carb., not a 4 barrel. It was a set up that should never have been. Perhaps they were out of 4 barrels when the engine was assembled and they just stuck what they had on it. Anyway, the car was an excellent road car, but was always handicapped, due to it not being able to use what the engine was designed to produce.
I had a bad feeling about the car when i left the dealership and pulled across the street to a gas station to fill the gas tank. I kept pumping gas, and began to think that the tank must have been huge, when the traffic noise lessened and i heard the gasoline running out of the underside of the tank.
Immediately, i took it back to the dealer, and they found a hole as big as a quarter in the tank. It had been scraped during the off-loading when the dealer took delivery.
My bad feeling about the car, proved to be correct, as i had numerous problems with the car, which i believe where carb. inadequacy related.
’70 was transition to the more ‘luxo’ 71-76 tanks. Impala SS was dropped, even though Ford XL and Plymouth Sport Fury were still offered. I still love 69’s, last sporty ones.
I remember commercials in Spring 1070 with Lorne Greene of ‘Bonanza’ promoting an “Impala 400 sale”. I think it was the 400 motor was a free upgrade? Just that they ran many of the ads in Prime Time. Or maybe to clear out the 1970’s?
Big Chevys were all over middle class Chicago, from eldery driving BelAirs, to young parents in Impala Sport Coupes. Caprices were starting to catch on in ’70 and were all over by ’73-74.
That is one fine looking machine. My favorite features are the ribbed front & rear side marker lights & the taillights. For some reason the 396/402 wasn’t offered in ’70. The 454-equipped cars must have been rarities.
Strangely enough, some migrant workers living a couple miles down the road from me have a nearly perfect dark blue ’70 Impala sedan parked in the front yard under some trees. Other than one missing wheelcover, it looks brand new & I’ve never seen it move. I wish they’d move away because it’s really bothering me.
Great article, would love one of these with the 400V8.
No you wouldn’t, assuming you could find one that actually still had it’s 400 in it. To stretch the SBC to 400″ they used siamese bores. That means there isn’t a water jacket between the cylinders. They have “steam” holes instead. So the middle cyls run hot even in a mild climate. Those 400’s that didn’t meet an untimely death were robbed of their cranks and rods to stick in 350 blocks to make a 383. Of course the supply of GM cranks dried up long ago but the aftermarket makes them now with the 350 size journals.
The 400 was a small block? Why didn’t they keep the 396 around to slot between the 350 and the King Rat?
Plymouth makes it, Dan, 383 Golden Commando Sport Fury for you.
They did keep the 396 around for some vehicles but called it a 402 because they didn’t want a small block to be advertised as bigger than a big block.
IINM, there was both a small block 400 and a big block 400. The big block was only built from 1970-72 and was used for 4bbl applications in those years. The small block was used for the 2bbl version offered only in Caprices from 1970-73, and for all 400s thereafter.
I find the 396/400 distinction in 1970 to be confusing. It seems like those cars in which Chevy had invested in the “SS 396” brand were listed as having the 396, and everything else was listed as having the 400. I’ve been told that everything actually got 402 cubic inch engines aside from some cars built in the early part of the model year — but I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that.
It’s very confusing because the ’70-’72 402 trucks had “8-400” engine callouts on the fenders. ’71 and ’72 big Chevies with “400” emblems on them might be small block 400s or they might be big block 402s. Same emblem!
One Chevelle I’d love to have would be the Malibu 400. I think they were built from ’70 – ’72 and they too had 400 fender emblems identical to the one pictured above…but the Chevelle 400s were packing the rat, not the mouse. Many of these rare cars became SS clones which is sad.
The BB 400 actually was a 396 overbored to 402 CID.
In the big cars and non-SS Chevelles, it was promoted as the “Turbo Jet 400”. The Chevelle SS-396 got the same engine, even though it wasn’t really a 396 anymore. Anyway, in no case was the true size of the engine revealed in promotional literature.
Lying about the displacement is common though only Chevy called it by different numbers based on the car it was placed in.
The Ford 351, all 3 versions share the same bore and stroke as the FE based 352. With the original the Windsor it was presumably done to avoid confusion with the FE sharing the same displacement.
Ford 302 is really 4.9L not 5.0 the 400 is really 402
IH 392 is really 391 (and the factory intake gaskets say they fit the 345/391
IH T444 is actually 445 and that’s what Ford calls it in inches, better known as the 7.3
Pontiac 301 is actually 302, 350 is 355, 455 is 458
Buick 350 is 349, 455 is 456
Olds motors are what the called them
The SBC 400 is really 401
I’m sure I just scratched the surface.
With the later BOP engines i can see that GM wanted to avoid the one upmanship between the divisions so I can see why they said you are going to call them 350 and 455 no matter what it really was.
As for the various GM engines all being 350s, 400s or 455s, I also suspect that it was laying the groundwork for the eventual elimination of division-specific engines. Once you got everyone used to a 350, 400 or 455 in a GM car, most folks would think that their Buick’s 400 was the same engine as their neighbor’s Pontiac 400. I know that as an uninformed teenager I certainly did. It would be a lot easier to slip Chevy 350s into Oldsmobiles if the engine the Olds buyer was expecting was a 350 also. The only variation here was that Chevy kept a 454 while the other Divisions called their big engines 455.
The question that has always mystified me was why each of the big 3 had to have a 400 V8. If AMC had rounded off its displacement like the Detroit 3, the entire US industry would have had 400s. I understand why GM would have chosen the 400 number as an average for all of the divisional engines to use, but why did Ford and Chrysler do it? I always thought that “400” lacked soul and sounded flat. You had 383s, 390s, 394s, 396s, 401s, 409s, 410s, 413s. Then suddenly everybody has to have a 400? I was happy when Oldsmobile finally came out with a 403 in the late 70s. I knew nothing about how good of an engine it was, but I was just so happy to see something other than a 400.
The Chevelle 400 was like a blue collar Cutlass SX, the musclecar(ish) motor in the regular car. They are pretty cool, and rare too.
My great uncle had a ’70 SBC 400 2-bbl Impala sedan. What made this one an oddball is that it was mated to a Powerglide!
So with the problems I have learned about here does this make the Mopar the only devent 400 cid engine of that era?
I wouldn’t say that the mopar 400 was decent, being of the smog era and based on the 440 means burnt exhaust valves on a regular basis as well as water pump and exhaust manifold replacement frequently too. So you are stuck with the Poncho or very rare Buick 400 if you want an exact 400ci displacement. If it doesn’t have to be exactly 400″ then there is the Olds 403.
I can’t imagine the 400 being that bad of an engine since it remained on the full size Chevy 4-wheel drive truck option list until 1979 (or maybe ’80?).
The 400-2bbl engine in the ’72 LTD my dad used to have was very strong & ran like a sewing machine.
If you work a SBC 400 hard frequently they will start burning oil much sooner than a 350 that gets the same treatment. The heads also tend to crack for what ever reason since they are the same head as used on the 350 with the addition of the steam holes. Lay a 400 head gasket on a 350 head and drill 6 holes.
If you got a good Ford 400M you got a good engine, if you got a bad one you got a really bad one. Unfortunately I think the bad ones out numbered the good ones.
SBC 400 motors were at one time prized for drag racing…they were understood to be disposable engines though. What they did was de-stroke them by using a 327 crankshaft so that they could run higher RPMs. They would really scream and outrun everything else. For awhile. then you had to rebuild.
Eric, this might explain why the craigslist ad for it (found while editing this) stated the drivetrain has only 15,000 miles on it.
Good story…with the human element.
Seems your FATHER is a year younger than me. Good grief…and you’re buying and selling cars all over the place, while I’m making (in adjusted dollars) the same money I made in 1984.
This year’s been a wake-up on so many levels.
Anyway…nice write up about the “traditional” full-size Chevrolet in its last year. “Corn-fed” is an understatement for what followed it; and by 1977 the automakers were trying the 57 Flavors approach.
Don’t feel old…”Ron” is my uncle who came along 11 years after my mother, “Iris” and “Albert’s” oldest child. I’m still (barely) in my ’30’s.
Lying about the displacement is common..”
It’s just marketing, not “lying”, common people don’t care that much.
“…most folks would think that their Buick’s 400 was the same engine as their neighbor’s Pontiac 400.”
After 1969, there was no ‘Buick 400’. Their big cube motor was 455 up to 1976.
“I always thought that “400″ lacked soul and sounded flat. You had 383s, 390s, 394s, 396s, 401s, 409s, 410s, 413s.”
It was easier to advertise a ‘400’ to common big car buyers than all the numbers. Mr. Family Man thought 400 was ‘enough’. Muscle car fans wanted 455/454/460/440/426.
I know at least a few magazines maintained that Ford was lying when they were selling the original “5.0” and they would always list the displacement as 4.9l in their reviews. I do see the marketing reasoning behind it though since the 300-6 in the trucks also converted to 4.9l. So I can see that they wanted the V8 to sound bigger than the 6 since it was and since that same engine was in cars that couldn’t have the 6 they called it the same across the board.
In the late ’80s/early ’90s, Car & Driver made it a point to always refer to the 302 as a “4.9 liter”.
In cases where displacements were rounded off slightly (especially if they were rounded down), or where they were called something slightly different to avoid confusion with another engine (Ford 352 vs. 351, Pontiac 301 vs. Ford 302), I don’t think it’s that egregious. It’s interesting that engine displacements were not always quite what they were labelled as, though. The most misleading thing cited so far is probably Chevy’s practice during the 1970 model year of selling the exact same newly bored out 402 cubic inch engine as either the “396” or “400” depending on whether the model you bought had a history being branded as the “SS 396”.
Wasn’t the Pontiac 326 originally actually 336 cubic inches, but mislabled in an attempt to circumvent GM’s ban on any engine of 327 cubic inches or larger (intended to allow Chevy to use only the 283, not the 327) in any car that was smaller than full-size?
Yes it appears the 326 was a 336 in it’s first year then switched to actually being 326 to comply with the maximum 330 ci mandate for A Bodies. I don’t know why you would have misrepresented it down a full 10 ci though since it did not get them around the corporate mandate. Or was it called a 326 to keep it under Chevy’s 327 and/or Old’s 330 and significantly less than Buick’s 340?
The story I’ve heard is that it was called a 326 to get it under the Chevy 327, because there was a GM ban on using engines of 327 cubic inches or larger in any “compact” model. The Wikipedia article on the Tempest claims that this was because GM did not want there to be a compact with a bigger engine than the Corvette. The 327 may have also been a convenient marker to use to draw a line in the sand because it would not have entirely precluded Chevy from offering a V8 in smaller model, since they also had the 283. What’s odd about this, though, is that there wasn’t a whole lot of movement towards offering V8s of anywhere near 327 cubic inches in compacts prior to 1964, so it’s not entirely clear why this rule even existed. There was the 215, which was well below the 327 line, and that’s about it. Chevy didn’t offer a V8 in its compacts at all prior to 1964.
I’m not sure what happened when the A-bodies came out in 1964. Olds had the 330, which would have violated the old 327 rule. Buick’s V8 in the A-bodies was initially the 300, which was well below that. I think Chevy initially only offered the 283 in Chevelles, then added the 327 with the model year in progress. Maybe GM had already told Pontiac before this that if they were calling the engine a 326, it had better actually be 326 cubic inches.
Terrific story! Both the 1970 Chevy brochure and the print ad for the ’70 Gran Fury bring back big memories, because they were the two cars Mom cross-shopped (the Chevy would have been a Caprice 2-Door hardtop) before settling on a ’70 Mercury Monterey Custom Coupe.
And it’s nice to see a ’70 in the shape of the one you posted…this one is in a parking lot on the block where I work every day…A Bel Air that’s had a bit rougher life.
Although I haven’t seen it lately, within the past few years I’ve seen someone using a well-worn light green 1970 Bel Air sedan as a daily driver in my area. It caught my eye every time I saw it because you seldom encounter cars that old being used a daily drivers around here (I’m in Massachusetts) and because any full-size Chevy from that era that you do see will almost always be an Impala or a Caprice.
When the 1971-72 Chevys started appearing on streets more often, they made the 70’s look like compact cars!
Another funny thing is the above brochure pic of the green BelAir with the youngish couple. Back in ’70, more likely they would drive a Chevelle, Camaro, Monte Carlo, or Nova! Seniors loved the BelAirs then.
My first car was a 1970 Chevy Caprice, light green… in Buffalo, NY. That car would drive through an unplowed feild with four feet of snow on it if that was the direction i chose. The trunk was so dang huge you could put a ten speed bike in the trunk without turning the front wheel. The engine ran so smooth, on a dare i placed a glass of water on the heads and there were no vibration rings at all. That engine was amazing… too bad the undercarriage rotted out. I kept replacing parts of the frame until there was no point in continuing. I’ll bet dollars to donuts, if you found that old relic in the junk yard, even though the body wouldn’t budge… the engine would still turn over. I loved that car.
Oh yeah, as for those well protected tail lights… I foolishly backed into the front end of a K-car with my caprice in ’77. Though it occurred at a very slow speed, I managed to crush the entire front end of the kcar and push its engine under the car. As dumb as this was, it was also amazing. Amazing because I only had a scratch on my bumper and all six tail lights were fine. I’m not boasting about my idiot driving skills—but I am boasting about the tank-like quality of that bumper. BTW everyone in the kcar was fine and it was a rental and yes that doesnt change the fact that I was an idiot, but heck, even my tailpipe was untouched. The kcar had to lifted onto a flatbed and hauled away!
Love to read these reruns. Reading this while located about 5 miles from Cut and Shoot. Your stories have all been good Jason.
Corn-fed Chevy. Gold.
I love reading about the adventures of Iris & Albert. I feel like I know your grandparents. They should be so blessed as to read your stories about them and their cars.
I think THE best Chevy produced is the 65 Impala, and the next best Chevy is a 70 Impala. While I am also a huge fan of the 67 Caprice I think Chevy, for the most part, could have done without the Caprice in many years as they (unwisely?) duplicated the Caprice at a lower price point with the Impala Custom. The 2 door Caprice had a different, more formal roofline, than the Impala in 66 and 67….then “the powers that be” gave the Impala Custom that same formal roofline.
In the mid 70s, I had a 70 Impala 4 door as a “loaner” and that car made me start to think Chevys weren’t so bad after all. But, it was a bit of a disappointment to find a large, modern, sedan with a 2 speed automatic behind a good V8. I could ALMOST have accepted that in a stripper/6 cylinder powered version of these cars, but not a highish line V8.
That white with black Caprice on rally wheels is a real sweetheart….I would love to own a similar car, perhaps a 2 door?
After the brilliance of the 65-67 Impalas, I thought the next design was a bit doughy and nondescript. And I never understood the need for the Caprice at all. Why sublimate the Impala into some ersatz upscale badge? I liked it when six tail lights across the back of a big Chevy meant Impala.
The Impala in 1958 was some ersatz upscale badge too, replacing the Bel Air, or moving it down a bit. Then, for 1959, the Impala becomes the Bel Air, and the Bel Air moves down. The Caprice was a response to Ford’s LTD. What exactly Ford’s LTD was supposed to be is not clear to me. The Caprice was a higher end model, but the Impala could have been upgraded too. Chevrolet was in the habit of revising their series names.
One thing that seems to be the case, is that the market place more or less determines what a car will be in the long run. Both the Ford LTD and the Chevy Caprice become generic products for their lines. The Impala was for a time dropped entirely in favor of the Caprice.
Name debasement. It was common among domestics when they used separate series names for trim levels of the same car; now that it’s one nameplate per model the opposite is true, cars pack on size and weight at every redesign and once a decade or so they have to add a new, smaller model while the former smallest takes its’ established name upmarket.
Except that the 2014 CTS is larger than the old one and weighs less.
2013 CTS sedan AWD 4116 lbs
2014 CTS sedan AWD 3889 lbs
both with 3.6 V6
After the ’65-’66 models, I think this is the next best looker of the ’65-’70 generation. The 4 door, to me, looks even better than the 2 door, for some reason. I think if I was in the dealership looking to buy in 1970, I would have walked over to the new Monte Carlo and drove home in it. Except I would have had no money or license, being 14. Nice to read this again, love the Iris & Albert angle.
If it was 1970 all over again and I knew what was going to happen to fuel prices and insurance rates and jobs, I would probably buy a Plymouth Valiant 2door 225/6 with limited slip and a 4 speed if I could get it. And air conditioning. Then I would drive it for 20 years. And buy stock in Apple, Intel, IBM, and Berkshire Hathaway.
Our next door neighbor had a job where his employer bought him a new car every two years, they were always Impalas/Caprices. He put an amazing number of miles on them and usually in two years they had over 60,000 miles on them and a couple of them were on their 2nd trans when it was time for them to go. All were mid level trim, all had small block engines and auto trans. Most of them were dark blue, the one I remember that wasn’t was kind of a bronze with a white vinyl top. That one was wrecked when he fell asleep heading home one night. A dark blue replacement showed up 2 days later. His wife had an assortment of small Chevy cars, including a Nova, and for a short time, a Corvair. They had 7 kids, and I never understood why the small cars for her, they had endless whining when some kids had to be left home. Around 1973 or so, the wife suddenly had a Toyota Corolla, a brown stripper, even for a Toy back then. After that, she had nothing but Toyotas, until her last car, a dark green Camry in the late 80’s. By then, he had retired and was a Toyota fanboy too, he is pushing 100 and is still driving a later model Camry, with the same personalized plates he’s had forever. The wife, who was hated by almost everyone, including most of her kids, and for good reason (IMHO, she was one of the nastiest people I’ve ever met), died while playing golf back about 1990. A friend of mine was angry that she didn’t suffer, at least a little bit, all she did was say, “I have a hell of a headache!”, and that was it. I didn’t hate her that much, but I never was accused of stealing her watch like he was. It turned out it had just fallen down behind the couch. He spent a day in juvy hall for that, and he never forgave her for it. It was far more likely one of her younger kids had stolen it anyway, he was, and is, a drunken mess.
Love these personalized stories, especially as I didn’t see them the first go-round! Very entertaining.
My paternal grandfather also had a ’70 Caprice, so there’s a connection there too. Brown coupe with a brown vinyl roof and fender skirts–there’s at least one picture of it in old family photos. Sharp-looking car! Sadly, it met its end in the late 70’s when my grandfather swerved to avoid hitting a dog on the Garden State Parkway. The dog lived; Grandpa Muller broke his hip in the ensuing accident and the Caprice was totaled. Hence my father’s long-standing policy to never swerve to avoid an animal at freeway speed…