Curbside Classic: 1990 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Brougham LS – Embarrassing FWD Cadillacs Since 1987

(first posted 7/4/2012)    Today is the Fourth of July, so let’s celebrate one of the most American cars – Chevrolet – and one of the most American car types – full frame, V8, rear wheel drive, whitewalls and a landau top. Behold the Caprice Classic Brougham LS, a car that may have made some Cadillac owners consider GM’s bread and butter division. Let me warn you that this is going to be a serious B-body love fest, so if that’s not your cup of tea, may I suggest re-reading the 1970 Camaro, Willys CJ-2A or 1958 DeSoto CCs? For those who enjoy these traditional American cars, read on to learn about the Caprice Brougham LS, the Dr. Jekyll to the 9C1’s Mr. Hyde.

The story of the 1977 General Motors B-bodies has been told before (check out the ’78 Bonneville and ’80 Caprice CCs for more information), so we’re going to be focusing on the Caprice starting in the late ’80s. By that time, the Caprice had received a more aerodynamic redesign once, in 1980, and had just received new front and rear styling for 1986. It was still clearly derived from the ’77 original, however.

In 1986, the Caprice Classic Brougham was at the top of the pecking order. The basic full size Chevy was the Caprice, replacing the Impala in the lineup after 1985. Between it and the Brougham was the Caprice Classic, the sensible middle-class choice. Starting in 1987, there was an even flossier version than the Brougham: The Brougham LS. Other than the new model, 1987 Caprices also got new composite headlamps and parking lights.

So what separated the Brougham LS from the standard Brougham? In a word, more. More gingerbread primarily, consisting of a padded landau vinyl top with LS-monogrammed opera windows and opera lamps in the B-pillars (but of course). The interior was the same as the regular Brougham, so this was primarily an exterior decor package.

One interesting thing about the Brougham LS: to achieve the formal roofline, a fiberglass overlay was grafted onto the unchanged steel roof, which the padded top hid neatly. As you can see, its resemblance to the contemporary Cadillac Brougham is striking – and most likely intentional.

So why did Chevrolet bother? Starting in 1987, they had the full-size GM lineup, save wagons, all to itself. Its corporate siblings were gone; the last one, the Pontiac Parisienne, was discontinued after 1986. Well, that was the whole point! With the fancier B-body Parisiennes, LeSabres and Delta 88s replaced with smaller front wheel drive H-body models, GM’s more traditional mid-price customers needed somewhere to go. Plus, not every loyal Cadillac customer was wild about the new shrunken C-body Sedan de Villes and Fleetwoods.

While no one was going to think a Caprice Classic Brougham LS was a genuine Caddy like a RWD Brougham D’Elegance, it looked, rode and drove an awful lot more like a Cadillac than the 1985-88 FWD C-body versions – especially looked.

To Cadillac’s credit, they almost immediately realized they needed a restyle, and fast. The 1989-93 C-bodies were much more palatable to Cadillac customers, with over 131,000 Sedan de Villes sold in 1990, at $27,540 a pop. But it still was a front wheel drive car with a unitized body, which was still a relatively new concept for Cadillac Motor Division.

With a Brougham LS, you could have all the Cadillac gadgets, an available leather interior, rear wheel drive with V8 power and a comfortable ride. And all of this with a base price of just $14,245 in its inaugural 1987 model year (a V6 version was also available, at $13,805). Not a bad deal, eh?

Even by 1990, the Brougham LS was a luxury car value, at $17,525 for the V8 model, as the V6 powered Caprices were dropped after 1988. In comparison, the last real Cadillac, the 1990 Brougham, was $27,400. Now the Brougham was still very attractive, if a bit long in the tooth, but hey, so was the Caprice by this time. That year, the Cadillac Brougham outsold the Caprice Classic Brougham LS 33,741 to 11,977, but I wonder how many frugal new car buyers saw that ten grand difference and went for the Chevrolet? It was certainly something to consider.

The Caprice also had the most Broughamtastic sound systems. How many woodgrained car radios have you seen? Even the Cadillac stereos did not feature plastiwood. Take that, Cadillac!

As I relayed in my Cadillac Brougham Outtake, a friend’s dad was a salesman at the Pontiac-Cadillac dealership in Rock Island. Thanks to those great deluxe Cadillac brochures, I had a serious Brougham jones in fifth and sixth grade. I also liked the Caprices, for much the same reasons. I remember especially liking the 1987-90 models. I thought the composite lights and flush taillights were really nice, and that the 1980-85 models looked old-fashioned by comparison.

Sometimes CCs find me; this one did. I was just shopping at Hy-Vee, minding my own business. As I was leaving, I noticed a Landau roof way, way, wayyy across the parking lot. “We have a possible Brougham sighting here; I must investigate,” I thought to myself. I’m glad I did. Not only was it a Brougham LS, it was a mint condition one. It was beautiful.

The interior was equally nice, though I would have selected burgundy leather in lieu of the gray velour this example sports. Even the driver’s seat and armrest are perfect. Somebody loves this car. With that gas can sitting inside, I imagined some retired guy going to get gas for his lawn mower, then stopping at the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk and loaf of bread for the missus. Perhaps that’s just what happened.

Look at all that legroom. Shame there are no fold down footrests, like the Cadillac Fleetwoods had once upon a time. And correct me if I’m wrong, but that plush near-shag carpeting looks an awful lot like the Tampico carpeting used in Cadillacs in the ’70s and ’80s. Can anyone (like Carmine) confirm that?

Here is the whole reason for the Brougham LS’s being: that roof. Look how nice it is! No fading and not a stitch has let go. There were also no scratches or door dings as far as I could see. This is almost certainly a meticulously maintained original. Who would sink big bucks into restoring a circa 1990 Caprice?

I really like this car – maybe you’ve noticed? While it looks great in black, I’d love one in emerald green with tan leather. Burgundy or navy blue with matching interiors would be my second and third choices. Dark colors suit cars like this, and really make all the brightwork stand out.

As pretty as it is, the Brougham LS was never a really big seller. Despite its attractive price per pound, Cadillac still sold way more Fleetwoods, Broughams and Sedan de Villes than Chevy sold Brougham LSs through the ’80s, despite Cadillac’s many troubles during that decade.

In its first year, 23,641 LSs were built, compared to 56,266 standard Caprice sedans. While it looked cheap compared to a Cadillac, the LS was quite a bit more expensive than other Caprices. A 1987 V8 non-Classic Caprice sedan was $11,435. Compared to the LS, that was about a three grand difference, a not inconsiderable sum. LS production was 23,641 for ’87, 21,586 for ’88, 28,033 in ’89 and as previously mentioned, 11,977 for 1990, its last year.

1990 was a bittersweet year for the Caprice. It was the last year for the original “right sized” 1977 body, and although it would get new duds in ’91, the new Caprice would be, well, kind of a dud. The new styling was modern but odd, and thanks to the advance of the SUV Era, the Tahoe would displace the Caprice and its corporate siblings from their Texas home after 1996. Too bad Chevy didn’t keep the three-box Caprice in production alongside the new one. They could have called it the Caprice Classic Classic. And just think, then there could have been an even Broughamier name for this car: Chevrolet Caprice Classic Classic Brougham LS. God bless America, what a name that would have been!