- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

The first automobiles were basically horse-drawn vehicles minus the horse. Eventually, their reliability improved and cars began growing in size.
Cars really started ballooning in the late 1950s and continued until the initial gasoline crunch in 1973. That's when most American automakers began making plans to downsize.
The first downsized Chevrolet appeared in 1977 and caught the attention of Malcolm Harrison.
He particularly was drawn to the Caprice Classic Coupe which, at 17 feet, 8 inches bumper-to-bumper, was 10.5 inches shorter than the same model the previous year. It was also 4 inches narrower at 75.4 inches and rode on a 5.5-inch shorter wheelbase.
Yet it appealed to Mr. Harrison as the ideal size car for him. "Besides," he says, "I've always been a Chevy guy."
In May, two weeks before the cutoff date for special ordering a new car, he went to Rosenthal Chevrolet at Glebe Road and Columbia Pike in South Arlington.
There he ordered a 1977 model 1BN47 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Coupe, choosing a buckskin metallic color. "It doesn't show dirt," he remarks. Standard equipment on the car includes:
Turbo-hydramatic transmission.
Power disc/drum brake system.
Electronic diagnostic terminal.
One-piece cut-pile carpeting.
High-energy ignition system.
Full coil suspension system.
Coolant recovery system.
Single-loop belt system.
Freedom battery.
He received a telephone call at the end of June telling him that his car had arrived.
He took delivery on June 30, 1977. The car was exactly as he had envisioned.
It was one of a total of 62,366 coupes built that year.
He saved the original window sticker, which indicates the car was equipped with optional accessories including:
Air conditioning………..$537.
AM/FM stereo radio……..229.
350 cid V-8 engine………210.
Buckskin vinyl interior…..175.
Six-way power seat………143.
GR70-15/B radial tires……138.
Buckskin vinyl roof cover…135.
Power windows………….120.
Cruise-master speed control.88.
Electro-clear rear defogger..88.
Power door lock system……75.
Soft-ray tinted glass……….71.
Sport wheel covers………..48.
Econminder gauge package..47.
Bumper rub strips………..47.
Bumper guards…………..46.
Body side moldings……….41.
Sport suspension………….36.
Intermittent wipers……….30.
Auxiliary lighting…………27.
Power trunk opener……….18.
Color keyed floor mats…….18.
Remote left mirror………..15.
Door edge guards………….9.
Litter container……………6.
Visor vanity mirror…………4.
With the options added to the base price, the total came to $7,779.65, including the $192 destination chage.
The odometer had already recorded 15 miles when he took delivery. "The hubcaps look like real wheels," Mr. Harrison says.
Before he ordered his Caprice, he took a test drive in a demonstrator equipped with a 145-horsepower, 305-cubic-inch V-8.
That engine was satisfactory; however, he wanted more.
Therefore, he ordered a 350-cubic-inch V-8 that develops 170 horsepower with the help of a four-barrel carburetor.
The engine is lubricated by five quarts of oil and is kept cool by 19 quarts of coolant.
The car came equipped with a T200 transmission originally designed for a much lighter, less powerful car.
"It was junk," Mr. Harrison opines. "It crapped out after about five years."
It was replaced with a bullet-proof Turbo 350 transmission installed with a shift kit.
Mr. Harrison, a Northern Virginia residential real estate appraiser, has driven his 3,666-pound Caprice in virtually every community in the area with the car delivering about 12 to 14 miles per gallon in city traffic.
On a vacation trip to Florida he achieved 18 miles per gallon with the air conditioner on. The gas tank has a 17-gallon capacity.
About 10 years ago Mr. Harrison noticed the stitching down the center of the vinyl roof was separating.
He had a new vinyl top installed on the 4-foot, 6.5-inch-tall car but the rest of the car is virtually as it was when it became his vehicle back in the summer of 1977, a testament to the care and attention he has lavished on his General Motors product.
Now that his Chevrolet Caprice Classic Coupe is a year past the age when it is in the eyes of the Commonwealth an official antique automobile, Mr. Harrison has yet to apply for antique license plates.
With the odometer now reading 134,234, that amounts to less than 100 miles a week every week for the past 26 years.
He doesn't think of his trusty Chevrolet as an antique but rather more as a comfortable car that has never let him down since the original transmission was replaced.
"I think I'll leave the BCK-105 plates on it," he remarks.
Those are the license plates from 1977.
The Commonwealth has several times offered to replace them, thinking the originals must certainly be mangled by now.
After more than a quarter century of experience with his car does Mr. Harrison have any second thoughts about the way he ordered his car?
"I should have bought two," Mr. Harrison responds.

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