Chevrolet Caprice – The Car’s the Star

7

By Dale Vinten

If, like me, you grew up in the eighties and nineties then the Chevrolet Caprice will most likely be forever unconsciously etched into your grey matter. Like the recognisable henchman who pops up in seemingly every cheesy action flick only to be unceremoniously dispatched the Caprice has never really been in the spotlight per se but ubiquitous when it comes to American films and television, and a stalwart of both police forces and rogue detectives alike for years. Along with the Ford Crown Victoria and Plymouth Fury it consistently makes its way onto various favourite cop car lists.

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Debuting in 1965 the Caprice enjoyed a thirty-one-year production run but it actually began life as an option package for the Impala. It wasn’t until 1966 that the first stand-alone ‘B-body’ Caprices rolled out of the GM factory as the flagship, full-size Chevrolet of the time, equipped with a range of V8s from 4.6-litre small blocks all the way up to a whopping 7.4-litre lump later on, pushing out nearly 400bhp. In 1971 the completely redesigned second generation Caprice was unveiled which was a much larger car but the choice of motors was reined in somewhat. The model was then downsized, lightened and renamed as the Caprice Classic for the third generation in 1977 and post-oil crisis V6 and diesel engine options were added to the line-up. Hugely popular, it was subsequently dubbed Motor Trend’s car of the year and this body shape is arguably the most recognisable, mainly due to sheer weight of numbers. The basic design was retained until the not-so-favoured fourth incarnation which was released in 1991 and sported a much rounder and more aerodynamic aesthetic.

With so many appearances under its belt, the number of productions this car has appeared in is staggering and to make a comprehensive list would be a gargantuan task but for now here are five highlights:

1) Striking Distance – 1993

 

Let’s start off proceedings with action supremo, Bruce Willis, and a Chevrolet pitched in battle against its greatest rival; a Ford. In 1993’s Striking Distance our man Bruce was at the top of his game. This action crime thriller, in which Bruce is trying to find a vicious killer, the action is never far away. However, it’s the five-minute car chase that really sets pulses racing. In his unmarked Chevrolet Caprice, Tom Hardy (that was Bruce’s character in the film!) joins the pursuit of a Ford LTD through the Pittsburgh streets. There are power-slides aplenty, screeching tyres, plenty of body contact and lots and lots of air! The Caprice and the LTD are keen fliers, it seems! 

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The chase comes to an end when both cars fly off a steep hill and come a crashing stop. But has the crash been enough to stop the villain, was it enough to stop Hardy in his tracks? Will the Caprice pass another inspection after all that abuse? You’ll have to watch the film to find out! 

2) Groundhog Day – 1993

 

With the previously discussed prevalence of Caprice police cruisers on celluloid (try saying that three times fast) we had to include at least one on this list and so here it is; a police-package model from Groundhog Day. A film which sees Bill Murray reliving the same day over and over – a somewhat relevant inclusion due to the current global situation. These cars featured performance and durability enhancements to better cope with the demands of law enforcement, demands such as chasing after a deranged Murray after his character steals a Chevy C-10 truck and kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil, the movie’s eponymous, weather predicting rodent.

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The film features a few police cars but top billing has to go to this 1980 Caprice attempting to catch Murray as he proceeds to drive headlong to his doom into a quarry pit with the hapless groundhog in tow. It’s a familiar sight for movie goers though – a police liveried, siren-flashing Chevrolet Caprice Classic hauling ass in a car chase.

3) Die Hard with a Vengeance -1995

 

Who doesn’t like Die Hard? 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance was the last decent instalment in the franchise before it all got a little contrived. The film centres around Bruce Willis’ John McClane running around the Big Apple with help from Samuel L Jackson, who also provides a degree of comic relief, deciphering the crazed riddles of a terrorist who is threatening to detonate numerous bombs placed throughout the city. A lot of the action takes place on foot along with dump trucks, boats and even a bicycle at one point as well as various cars, ranging from a Mercedes 560 SEL to a Yugo, but what I want to talk about is a rather excellent set piece involving a 1987 Chevrolet Caprice.

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Not just reserved as steed of choice for the fuzz, the Caprice was also a favourite among taxi firms as evidenced when our hero commandeers a third gen yellow cab with which he has thirty minutes to travel ninety city blocks before the pesky terrorist sets off another device. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line and in this case that means tearing through Central Park, narrowly avoiding pedestrians as McClane makes his way to the next task, culminating in a climactic jump back onto the street. As usual the car is fine despite the impressive amount of air achieved. Suspend your disbelief ladies and gentlemen.

4) Se7en – 1995

 

Another police car but this time unmarked. This third generation 1987 Caprice 9C1 (Chevrolet’s code for police-packaged vehicles) is the main mode of transport used by the two stars Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt throughout the movie and sees a decent amount of screen time. David Fincher’s Se7en is a true serial killer classic with one of the greatest twist endings in movie history and follows the investigation of a murderer who is using the seven deadly sins as motive.

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During the iconic end sequence, we follow detectives Mills and Somerset (played by Pitt and Freeman respectively) as the killer (Kevin Spacey) leads them in their Caprice to the shocking conclusion to his ultimate act of violence. A lot of this scene plays out inside the car but there are also exterior shots too as the group travels into the desert for the final reveal. All together now, ‘what’s in the box?!’

5) Furious 7 – 2015

 

Love them or loathe them the Fast and Furious films are here to stay. Divisive as always, the seventh episode of the popular action series is no different. A far cry from the original film that centred on a gang of illegal street racers this movie’s convoluted plot involving revenge, terrorists and a subversive computer program is thankfully overshadowed by a whole host of interesting cars, one of which is a heavily modified Chevrolet Caprice and the coolest entry on this list.

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Tyrese Gibson (along with rapper-turned-actor Ludacris and Nathalie Emmanuel) pilots the 1987, V8, crate-motored Caprice in one of a long line of quite frankly ludicrous (pun intended) scenes. His character Roman is attempting to outrun a machine gun-wielding drone as well as a number of police cars while his passengers attempt to do some remote computer hacking. Unfortunately, the Chevy ends up being destroyed by a missile but in reality the car, which also features a hydraulic handbrake, wide wheels and tyres, a roll cage, boot spoiler and race-derived fuel cell was gifted to Ludacris after filming wrapped, however it has since changed hands multiple times.

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