GM is well known for making some colossal mistakes. No mistake has plagued GM more than its decision to go to front-wheel drive on most of its cars many years ago. This decision strangled Cadillac for at least twenty years. However in the last few years the General has gotten the message loud and clear that if it wants its Cadillac division to compete with BMW, Mercedes, and all the other big luxury players it has got to have rear-wheel drive cars. The current CTS line is a perfect example of Cadillac making a well built rear-wheel drive car that is a hit with the general public.
The list of all the many great GM cars that were destroyed by the move to front-wheel drive is almost endless. But its abandonment at the end of the 1996 model year of its large rear-wheel drive cars (when it shut down production on its last full-size rear wheel drive cars to convert the Texas factory to make more full-size SUVs) was as dumb a mistake as Coca-Cola replacing Coke with “New Coke” back in the 1980s. For the most popular of these last in a line GM rear-wheel drive cars were the Chevrolet Impala SS and Caprice Classic. The Chevrolet Caprice Classic may have only sold 27,155 units for 1996 but the Impala SS (the Caprice’s sporty performance full-size brother) sold an amazing 41,941 units which was about seven times what the production figure of 6,303 units was for the 1994 Impala SS (first year production of that series of SS). By 1996 The Caprice which shared its body style with the Impala SS was in its sixth year with the same body style (with only slight changes over the six year period). Not to mention that the frame and underpinning structural design had not changed much since the 1977 model year. What the Caprice needed was an updated version not a cancellation. The popular Impala SS proved the buyers were there for a full-size rear wheel drive car, however GM was not willing to invest the money in updating the platform. It instead opted for pursuing the low hanging fruit – SUVs which were very hot at the time. With this move Chevrolet walked away from a market segment that it had worked so hard to get for several decades – fleet sales. Most of these fleet sales are the Police and Taxi market. For years Dodge and Plymouth had dominated the police car market. By the 1980s when Dodge and Plymouth no longer had full-size rear wheel drive cars to offer police departments (the Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Fury were rear-wheel drive but mid-sized), the market was being won over by the 4-door Chevrolet Impala and by 1986 the Caprice (when the Impala was cancelled). The Caprice ruled just about every police precinct nationwide. And when it came to the taxi market the same was true. The Caprice offered adequate V6 and V8 power, large interior space, and large trunk space. Not to mention the Caprice was very reliable (and when I mean reliable I mean reliable). Both the police and taxi market have a way of punishing cars, and the Caprice took this punishment without even flinching. When GM made its Caprice cancellation announcement in 1996, police departments from across the country were begging for GM to continue production but the pleas were ignored. Instead Ford was jumping for joy with the Caprice’s departure since its V8 powered Crown Victoria would soon become the new favorite among police departments and taxi companies – a trend that continues to this day. However like all things, change is in the wind. Ford is now imitating GM and is cancelling production of the full-size rear-wheel drive Crown Victoria Police Interceptor at the end of the 2011 production year. Ford’s counting on Police departments to pony up the dollars for its new Taurus police package offerings which will be available in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations. The Taurus has grown big enough to where size wise it can almost fill the Crown Victoria’s shoes however if history is any indicator this plan may be a big flop (even with an optional very powerful 365 horsepower twin-turbo 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6). Chevrolet in recent years has been pedaling its popular and reliable front-wheel drive V6 powered Impala to police departments, so far it has not had that many takers.
This time around GM sees a grand opportunity to win back all this lost police business. For 2011 Chevrolet will be offering for police service purchase only, a new Chevrolet Caprice PPV. The Caprice PPV’s main package offering is the “9C1” which was the same police package Chevrolet offered back in 1996 before it pulled the plug on the Caprice. The 9C1 package was first introduced back in 1976 on the Chevrolet Impala. Between 1976 and 1996 it was a big favorite among police departments. This time around GM is doing it right again, the new Caprice 9C1 is a genuine full-size car (by today’s standards) with a total length of 204.5 inches, width of 74.8 inches, and a wheelbase of 118.5 inches. This is bigger than the 4-door 1968-1970 Plymouth Belvedere (that had a length of 202.7 inches, width of 76.4 inches, and wheelbase of 116 inches) which was a popular police car back in the day – anyone who has seen the reruns of the TV show Adam-12 (1968-1975) will recognize the Plymouth Belvedere. For a more modern comparison the 1996 Caprice Classic 9C1 had a length of 214.1 inches, a width of 77.5 inches, and a wheelbase of 115.9 inches. The new Caprice may not be quite as long and wide as the 1996 Caprice however its wheelbase is 2.6 inches longer. And let’s face it when it comes to interior space a longer wheelbase usually makes for a more comfortable cabin due to increased leg room. Chevrolet claims its new Caprice has best in class seating and has made sure the buckets up front are big and wide (good news for the big donut eating coppers) even with the oversized center console. The seats are also specially shaped to accommodate a gun belt when an officer is seated.
One of the great features of the 1996 Caprice was its massive 20.4 cubic foot trunk; anyone who has ever done cop duty can attest a large trunk is paramount to police work. In essence a police car is a law enforcement officer’s office or cubical. The trunk becomes a storage area for everything from roadside flares to a breathalyzer box. The new Caprice PPV meets the need with a large 17.4 cubic foot trunk which is almost as large as the 1996 Caprice’s trunk. More impressive is Chevrolet offering a full-size spare tire, for without the full-size spare the trunk would have been even larger.
And there’s more good news, Chevrolet is also offering a “detective” version of the 2011 Caprice PPV called the “9C3”. The 9C3 will have a longer list of standard options than the 9C1 including a 160 mph speedometer, front center console with armrest, and a few other features. Worth noting is standard on the 9C3 are decorative full size wheel covers versus the 9C1’s standard tiny dog dish style covers.
One favorite feature on the previous Caprice was the powerful LT1 5.7 liter (350 CID) V8 which was a popular option on the 1994-1996 Caprice 9C1. This engine in the Caprice produced 260 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. The SOHC 4.6 liter V8 in the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor has gained horsepower over the years however it still in 2011 form can be easily dusted by the 1994-1996 LT1 equipped Caprice 9C1. Even after 15 years since the last Caprice 9C1 departed, the 2011 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor with 250 horsepower and 297 lb-ft of torque still makes less horsepower and torque than the old Caprice. Unfortunately for Ford, the story will repeat itself, with the 2011 Caprice 9C1 having standard a 355 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque 6.0 liter V8. This engine has Active Fuel Management which is GM’s marketing term for a cylinder deactivation system that shuts down during lower demand driving conditions some of the engine’s cylinders to optimize fuel consumption. This helps the engine to be competitive in terms of fuel efficiency with the Dodge Charger police offering (called the “Pursuit”) which has an optional 5.7 liter Hemi V8 (a V6 is standard) with MDS (Chyrsler’s cylinder deactivation system). The Caprice’s 6.0 liter V8 also has the added ability to run on E85 fuel. Now here’s where it gets real interesting the Caprice comes standard with a state-of-the-art six-speed automatic transmission which has a special performance shift mode that’s obtained with only a push of a button. Standard is a limited slip rear differential with a 2.92 axle ratio. The 2.92 is a good compromise for with the torque laden V8 and performance oriented transmission this Caprice will still get-up-and-go yet the gearing is tall enough to allow for lower rpms at higher speeds along with allowing a higher top speed.
It was a foregone conclusion when the Charger police package was first released a few years back that no other police package on the market could touch it. It was the first car since the legendary 375 horsepower 440 CID V8 powered 1969 Dodge Polara police package to give speeders the cold sweats. The muscle bound 2011 Dodge Charger Pursuit police car with its top-of-the-line 5.7 liter Hemi packs 360 horsepower – five more than the Chevy Caprice. However that’s all irrelevant since the recent preliminary 2011 Michigan State Police performance test of different police cars (which has become a standard for the law enforcement community), track tested the new Caprice PPV 9C1 and obtained a 0-60 mph time of 6.18 seconds (6.15 seconds with E85 fuel) versus the Hemi powered Charger Pursuit’s time of 6.24 seconds. From 0-100 mph it was the same story the Caprice 9C1 took 14.77 seconds (the 9C1 with E85 took 14.58 seconds) which beat slightly the Hemi Charger’s 14.99 second time. And the Charger which won over some police departments in the last few years with its best in class top speed – it’s no longer king – the Michigan State Police test showed its very impressive 146 mph top speed was no match for the Caprice 9C1’s top speed of 148 mph (it was also 148 mph for the 9C1 with E85 fuel) – proving Chevrolet was smart going with the 2.92 rear axle ratio.
The Caprice also has the goods when it comes to handling and braking. With a tight performance-oriented suspension and standard 18 inch wheels with P235/50R18 performance tires – the big Caprice is surefooted and can easily handle curvy roads and sharp turns with ease.
GM’s big mistake of going front-wheel drive on most of its American market cars (with the exception of its sports cars) starting in 1997, has had a crippling affect on GM. GM has corrected this issue on a few of its cars by reverting back to rear-wheel drive in recent years. It has been Holden (GM’s Australian subsidiary) that has saved GM’s bacon. Holden’s rear-wheel drive Sigma and Zeta platforms have been part of GM’s recent turnaround. The Zeta platform is what the current hot-selling rear-wheel drive Camaro uses. The 2011 Chevrolet Caprice PPV uses a stretched Zeta platform and is based on the current Holden Caprice. So it’s no surprise the Chevrolet Caprice PPV will be built in Australia.
The naysayers will bring up that Chevrolet has a history of making durable police cars but a Holden based police car might not hold up to heavy duty police use. They can rest assured; Holden has been offering rear-wheel drive police cars for police use in Australia, New Zealand, and even in the Middle East for many years with much success.
Getting back to the comparison of the 1996 Caprice and 2011 Caprice police offerings, the 1996 was a body-on-frame design whereas the new 2011 utilizes unibody construction. The body-on-frame design which is about as rock solid as you can get, is what most past police cars used and what the current Ford Crown Victoria uses. It’s the same design used by GM, Ford, and Dodge’s full-size truck platforms. Why is this important? Quite simply police cars tend to take a beating. It’s not uncommon for a cop car to give or receive a bump from another car especially highway cruisers which on almost a daily basis will push (using the front bumper) a broken down car or truck over to the side of the road. Traditionally body-on-frame cars can withstand this punishment with no damage. Even when damage occurs to a body-on-frame car it’s less costly to fix than the same damage on a unibody constructed car. However Holden has this covered, its unibody frame is ultra-strong and since most police cars take on hits in the front Holden uses what it calls a Flexible Front End Module (FEM). FEM is essentially a front end construction that only requires the removal of a few bolts to take off, unlike a standard unibody front-end which requires cutting to remove and then welding to put back on. This design allows for quick and easy repairs to a damaged front-end.
With all the good stuff the 2011 Caprice PPV offers, unfortunately it will not be available to the general public which I am sure will have the folks at Dodge breathing a sigh of relief. And with the massive uptick of the Corporate Fuel Economy (C.A.F.E.) standards right around the corner it’s safe to say that a civilian version of the Caprice PPV will probably never see the inside of Chevrolet new car showrooms. However fear not, you only need to wait a few years and buy a surplus Caprice PPV after it has finished its police duty. Trust me there will be more than a few smart people who will do this.
The Jackie Gleason character Sherriff Buford T. Justice (Smokey) from the movie Smokey and the Bandit (1977) was outwitted by the Bandit (played by Burt Reynolds) – Justice’s 1977 Pontiac LeMans police car was also no match for the Bandit’s 1977 Trans Am. If the movie was remade today it would be Buford T. Justice getting his revenge with a 2011 Caprice PPV. Poor Bandit and his Trans Am would not stand a chance. So keep your eyes peeled and watch out for the Smokeys in their new Caprice PPVs, (for most of you) if you pass one exceeding the speed limit you won’t be mimicking Bandit and outrunning the law – the Caprice is just too darn fast.
Written contents in this article – © 2010 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved