After a banner 1977 model year, the downsized Caprice/Impala entered its sophomore year with minor tweaks. The same basic package was as good as ever, and follow-up road tests reiterated why the Caprice/Impala was such a smash hit.
Motor Trend revisited their 1977 Car of the Year champion in the November 1978 issue. They flogged the car on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills and Westwood, where the Caprice held its own with far more exotic cars. Then writer Leon Mandel took the Chevy up through Central California and over the Donner Pass, where bad weather unexpectedly put the car’s capabilities to the test. Throughout it all, the love affair continued.
One gripe centered on the high price tag of the fully loaded Caprice, which had climbed painfully in the days of stagflation. That said, GM was praised for the great value offered by the full size Chevrolet. The test car, equipped with the 350 V8 and a comprehensive load of options, stickered for around $9,500 ($34,723 adjusted to 2015 prices). Today’s equivalent family sedan sells for pretty much the same money. A quick spin on Toyota’s website to configure a fully loaded Camry XLE V6 delivers an MSRP of $34,765. Right there!!
Real world experience with the downsized Caprice had been great. Customers loved it, no odd quality gremlins reared their ugly heads. The car was well done on every level. It was definitely one of Motor Trend’s best picks for their Car of the Year award.
Another critical publication for car buyers in the late 1970s was Consumer Guide with their Auto Test Series. Targeting average buyers more than enthusiasts, they offered a very pragmatic assessment of all the cars they tested. Not the easiest editors to please, they were nonetheless smitten with the Caprice.
The Consumer Guide editors also pointed out how Chevrolet’s competitors were either dropping out of the full size segment (Plymouth) or breathing their last gasps with the supersized biggies (Ford). CG noted that government regulations were rapidly changing the game for everyone, GM included, and future products would shrink still further. But for the time, nothing could beat the 1978 Caprice.
That was certainly my Pop’s experience with his ’77 Caprice Classic. He adored the car, and it served him well for both business and pleasure. It was a trouble free, comfortable and attractive machine. Sadly, though, that car had the misfortune to be very short lived.
In May 1978, my father was returning to down town New Orleans early one Thursday afternoon after some morning meetings in the suburbs. Since he had another meeting at the Pere Marquette Building (then offices, today a Marriott), he decided to look for street parking rather than returning to his regular garage off St. Charles Avenue. He thought it was his lucky day, as he found a spot at the corner of Baronne Street and Common Street right by the building where he needed to be. He parked the Caprice and went to his meeting.
A short time after Pop had parked, a Coca-Cola delivery truck driver was hustling to get down Baronne Street and into the French Quarter. The truck driver misjudged the bend in the road and veered too far to the right as he was traveling at about 30-35 miles per hour, and slammed right into a line of parked cars. The left rear of Pop’s ’77 Caprice took the impact first, then the truck careened down the side of the car, knocking it into the car parked in front as well as into a street lamppost on the right. A total of five parked cars were badly damaged or destroyed before the truck ground to a halt.
Luckily no one was seriously hurt, though it scared the living daylights out of the many pedestrians on Baronne, including one man who needed oxygen because he was so upset he had trouble breathing. The poor Caprice, however, was completely totaled. Other than the right rear door and right rear fender, every piece of sheet metal, including the roof, was mangled.
On the following Monday, my father brought home a new 1978 Caprice, once again with the 350 4V. This one was Silver Metallic with a matching vinyl roof and sport wheel covers. It was even more loaded than the 1977 Caprice, including the “Special Custom” interior option, in the same light blue velour as this catalog picture. It was our first car without vinyl seats, which I thought was great (what can I say, I was 11). As Consumer Guide noted, however, the risk with the light-colored cloth seats was that they soiled easily. And they were right.
Other than easily stained seats, however, our 1978 model was every bit as good as the ’77. The Caprice’s winning ways continued, and served as a real testament to the quality and capability of one of Chevrolet’s best desgns ever. The praise heaped on the car by the automotive press was well earned.