The Long and the Short

The contrast between the Caprice and Mini coupe caught my eye.

1991 Chevrolet Caprice and 2012 Mini coupe.
1991 Chevrolet Caprice and 2012 Mini coupe.

The Caprice is a car I’ve wanted to photograph for a long while. It’s thrillingly basic. The loadbay might be long and wide yet it’s also quite shallow. I don’t know what’s under the high floor: fuel tank and transmission I suppose. 

1991 Chevrolet Caprice wagon
1991 Chevrolet Caprice wagon

There is no armrest on the rear bench. The dashboard is a clam-shell type arrangement and the production engineers left a clear sharp edge and gap where the top part meets the lower part. Inside on the doors the various elements are not very well integrated, as if chosen from a parts bin. Looseness of fit predominates. Despite that, I like the Caprice: a rugged, sturdy machine fit for duty. Today a Dacia Lodgy would do the same job.

1991 Chevrolet Caprice wagon
1991 Chevrolet Caprice wagon

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

16 thoughts on “The Long and the Short”

  1. This Caprice is also one of my secret favourites. They were kind of common around here, but rarely to be seen nowadays.
    The shallow load bay seems to be a common issue with RWD cars. I grew up with Citroën GS and CX estates, so these high floors with bulky, protruding wheel housings always irritated me. Today, these differences seem to have vanished completely.

    1. For a time Zurich had GM’s head office (late 80s?) and I think they also had concessionaires. As a result new Buicks, Chevrolets and Cadillacs were relatively plentiful. It’s one of my small pleasures when visiting Switzerland, to look out for American cars. I think they fit in very well, despite the size. A Cadillac in Basel looks right. A Cadillac in Basildon does not.
      The Caprice is quite a charming car: how much more charming was the Roadmaster, upside-down grille included?
      Even with the RWD arrangement, the Caprice is not as spacious as you’d expect. Let’s not forget the insulation provided by BOF. The CX might very well be the equal of the Caprice apart from sheer external dimensions.

  2. Fab car, although the Mini still looks rather big beside it. I guess the steady increase in car sizes, particularly their wheels, makes for that sort of effect when comparing old with new(er).

  3. First, I like the Mini Coupe – it does not hide its unpractical personality like other Minis.
    Second, American estate cars are always an eye-catcher – i know it is easy to built an elegant estate car with such large dimensions. But compare the Caprice to the Mercedes W210 estate and you will see, that they did a really good job.
    It is a sad story that the Yankees wee replacing their estate cars first with Family Vans and then with SUVs from Size L to XXXXL. Are their any american estate cars in 2016 – i don´t know.

  4. I like the Mini Coupe – it does not hide its unpractical personality like other Minis.
    American estate cars are always an eye-catcher – i know it is easy to built an elegant estate car with such large dimensions. But compare the Caprice to the Mercedes W210 estate and you will see, that they did a pretty good job.
    It is a sad story that the Yankees wee replacing their estate cars first with Family Vans and then with SUVs from Size L to XXXXL. Are their any american estate cars in 2016 – i don´t know.

  5. There is a lot to be said for what I would consider the classic American three box school of design. The cars are easy to relate to because they are easy to visually deconstruct: here is the engine, here are the people, here is the stuff. American cars began to lose their unique appeal when their makers began internationalising with cab forward stances and anodyne styling, not realising that the appeal of Japanese imports was largely attributable to superior quality, not their styling. Personally I find the idea of a Caprice in the classic idiom of the one shown, augmented by better build, materials and technology to be quite compelling.

  6. Chris, as Chrysler delivered it “cab forward” was mainly marketing fluff. Their CF cars still had enormous front and rear overhangs. For most of my life American cars have stood out for two things. A high ratio of volume enclosed by sheet metal to usable volume and relatively large motors.

    Interesting that you say superior quality trumps styling. If that’s true, why do manufacturers like, erm, Chrysler work so much harder on styling than on improving processes and product quality? They must know something that you and I don’t. I suggest this because I’ve measured and found that I’m nearly always mistaken, not to say dead wrong.

    1. The short answer is that Chrysler is a company that has never been a market leader, and consequently, it is a pricing follower relative to the likes of Toyota and GM. That, plus a long tradition of short-termist management, means that the necessity to keep the company alive for another quarter trumps any notion of investing over the long-term. The recent cancellation of the Dart and 200 is a classic case in point. Neither car was particularly compelling as a sales proposition, but instead of improving them, they have been dropped entirely with no replacements in sight, and vacated the market segments completely.

      Bottom line is that compared to improving quality, styling is easy to get right. It gets you nice coverage in the kiddie comics (at least until the group comparisons, but they’re a few months down the line, and investors have already moved on); it’s an ideal approach for a company that seems to depend to an unnatural degree on unmerited hype about The Next Big Thing, as Marchionne-era Fiat unquestionably is. It is also a function of the fact that, frankly, it is probably a waste of time for them to even try to compete on quality. Quite apart from it taking time they probably don’t have to rebuild their reputation, it is an open secret within the industry that talent largely avoids FCA because they simply do not pay (or, let’s face it, offer opportunities) in line with the big boys. All of that together helps explain product lineups like the ones the company has.

    2. Chrysler have a great engineering tradition consistently undercut by nickel and dime accounting and poor planning. In that regard they are a great fit for FCA, apart from the great engineering tradition part.

  7. Stradale: out of that I get the theme of a vicious circle. Where would I break it? Pay the designers and engineers more. I’d like to know why it hasn’t sunk in that Chrysler’s business-as-usual is not delivering results.
    It might be a fallacy of business theory to imagine a plan can be executed fully. Just as a raft of legislation won’t change Greece, a raft of rules and procedural recommendations won’t fully change Chrysler. It’s like a small country and the people who make it a bit crap are the real problem.

    1. Chrysler’s problem has always been leadership, or the lack thereof. The company enjoyed a big bounce in the late 1970s under Lee Iacocca, who basically used his tenure to stick it to Henry Ford II as hard and often as possible. Seeing where the vicious cycle you mention ended, he lobbied Congress for cheap loans and ploughed the dosh into product. He had the vision and chutzpah needed to turn the company around, but his biggest mistake was in retirement, passing over Maximum Bob Lutz to poach GM lifer Robert Eaton, who promptly rewarded Iacocca by selling the whole show to Mercedes.

    1. I imagine Chris means that Chrysler had a reputation for fairly well-resolved and stout engineering – and in some cases innovative – up to the 1960s (Airflow, slant six, etc). They certainly haven’t done anything worthwhile in engineering terms in my lifetime.

      For the record, I have never really subscribed to the idea that Chrysler in the 1990s was some sort of miracle success story and Daimler was the main factor in its downfall. With hindsight we now know that the rebound post-K cars were shoddily-built and cheaply-engineered, but the thing is, we actually knew that at the time, as their contemporary reputations, warranty claims and highly optimistic residuals on leases made clear. Notwithstanding a few good-on-paper years, Chrysler remained fundamentally weak in the 1990s and I think Daimler got sold a pup in their panic to Get Big. Jamie Kitman, amongst others, pegged all this around the time of the takeover, or even before. I agree that Eaton was pretty useless, but the idea that Lutz was the answer to any question suggests to me the question needed some serious revision.

  8. If you’re a closet Chrysler fan as I am, then try and get hold of a copy a book called ‘Common Sense Not Required’ by Evan Boberg. Its a terrific read.
    As it stands, I’m a big fan of Maximum Bob Lutz and I believe Chrysler would be in much better shape had Iacocca not stumbled at the last hurdle.
    However I will readily admit some of their engineering is woeful shite, but they do understand reliability. I think many people mistake the two.

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