by Jeremy Cato
They are still out there, those old Chevrolet Caprice taxicabs. You see them
at airports everywhere.
Surprising, really, given that General Motors phased out the Caprice in
1996. That version arrived as a reinvented model in late 1990 as a 1991
The big, rear-drive Caprice (and its stablemate, the Buick Roadmaster) was
sold in both sedan and wagon form. Unless the used model you’re looking at
has firmed-up shocks, or an updated ride-suspension package, then expect a
soft, floaty ride that becomes bouncy on bad roads. This is a car that
waddles over wavy roads and leans heavily in the corners. But at least the
steering is loose and vague in quick manoeuvres.
If you have any desire for a sporty Caprice, look for the Impala SS of
1994-96. This entertaining sedan was given much better suspension tuning,
tighter steering and bigger tires.
Engine choices? The 5.0-litre V8 delivers good torque and has enough power
(170 hp) for passing and merging. Fuel economy is very good, though. The
4.3-litre V8 is more powerful (200 hp). A 5.7-litre V8 (180 hp) is quicker
but more thirsty for fuel. The Corvette-based 5.7-litre V8 introduced in
1994 is very swift, but drinks only premium fuel. In ’92 and then ’94, the
5.7-litre V8 became optional on the wagon and sedan respectively.
Interestingly, the then-new 1991 Caprice looked to be a hit when it went on
sale, despite its whale-like exterior styling — styling refined
considerably in 1993. The Classic LTZ version was name Motor Trend’s 1991
Car of the Year (a highly debated choice) and a wagon joined the lineup.
But just when it looked as though GM had sorted out the Caprice, putting it
into a tidy niche supported by volume sales of a base version (i.e.,
taxicabs and police cruisers), the GM bosses pulled the plug. The exact
reasons we may never know, but it seems reasonable to conclude that high
warranty costs factored into GM’s decision.
Truth is, while enormous by modern standards (seating for six),
extraordinarily comfortable on the highway and comparatively easy to keep
running, the Caprice had more than its fair share of problems. In fact, the
list of dealer service bulletins and safety recalls is lengthy.
So if you’re looking at an early- to mid-1990s Caprice, make sure a
qualified technician checks out everything. And in this car’s favour, do
note that repairs to these cars are generally pretty straightforward and GM
is very good about documenting service issues. Qualified technicians
generally have no trouble doing the work properly and cost-effectively.