Curbside Classic: 1972 Chevrolet Caprice – Cadillac Carbon Copy?

(originally posted 3/5/2012)     In 1971, when General Motors unveiled the redesigned B-body and C-body lineups of full-size cars, the gap between the bread-and-butter Chevrolet and top-tier Cadillac narrowed even further. However, this was nothing new. Chevrolet has a history of trying to be a junior-class Cadillac.

In 1932, the Chevrolets were beautifully restyled, and a popular choice among collectors these days. Both the Confederate Standard and DeLuxe adopted styling that looked suspiciously like that of the Cadillac V8, V12 and V16 models, including the grille shape, hood side vents and overall body proportions.

Although Chevrolets became more and more luxurious between the 1930s and 1950s, the next truly Cadillac-inspired Chevy was the 1958 model. While they didn’t sport the trademark fins, the 1958s looked a lot like contemporary Cadillacs – particularly at the front end. And the new, top-of-the-line Impala was clearly a luxury vehicle, with its multi-tone interior and two-door hardtop and convertible-only body styles. It made sense to add a bit of Cadillac style to the Chevrolet; after all, both makes were part of General Motors, and it gave people with Chevrolet pocketbooks a taste of the General Motors flagship.

The problem was, GM took it too far. Bel Air gave way to Impala, then Impala was superseded by the Caprice as the luxury Chevrolet. At the same time, Cadillac was slowly but surely de-contenting their vehicles in the interest of sales volume and greater profits. I’m sure the cost accountants were very happy though. In 1971, the new Chevrolets and Cadillacs, while not exactly carbon copies of each other, did look suspiciously similar.

This is the 1971 Chevrolet Caprice. As you can see in the ad above, Chevrolet was clearly marketing the Caprice as a Cadillac (or at least a luxury car) alternative.

This is a 1971 Cadillac Coupe deVille. Paul has a much more detailed analysis of Cadillac’s watering down of styling and quality in his 1972 Coupe deVille post, but suffice it to say that the Chevrolet owners just loved their faux Caddys, while Cadillac owners continued to buy new ones–for a few more years, anyway. Not all of them, however, as Mercedes and BMW started seeing an uptick in their North American sales during this period. Not everyone was fooled.

The 1972s were little changed from the all-new ’71s. The grille was lowered, parking lights moved from the fender corners to the front bumper, and tail lights were integrated into the rear bumper. Engines ranged from a straight six to a 454 CID V8. As this was about a year and a half before the gas crisis, most had a V8 under the hood. Less than 3,900 full-size Chevys had the six-cylinder engine. Caprices were V8-only.

As had been the case since 1966, the lineup consisted of the ultra-basic Biscayne, slightly less austere Bel Air, mid-range Impala, and luxury Caprice. In 1971 the Caprice had been available only as a two-door or four-door hardtop, but a pillared sedan was added for 1972. Oddly enough, the convertible was only available as an Impala. Strange, considering a Caprice convertible would have fit right in with the luxury image. Chevrolet must have realized that, and in 1973 the convertible became a Caprice-only model.

While the Impala was the volume model, the Caprice held its own considering its prices ran about $700 higher. 1972 Caprice production consisted of 78,768 hardtop sedans, 65,513 hardtop coupes and 34,174 pillared sedans.

Chevrolets of the 1971-76 period were as big as they were going to get. The 1973 gas crisis, increasing safety and environmental regulations, and CAFE all spelled the end of the gigantic standard-size car. It would result in one of the greatest full-size six-passenger cars, the 1977 GM B-body. Huge monsters like this 1972 Caprice were soon to become an extinct breed.

Special thanks are due to TheProfessor47, who posted these excellent photos to the Cohort. Thanks, Professor!