This Police Caprice Is Loving Retirement as a Sleeper Hot Rod

Micah Sheveloff

In 1976, I was 12 years old and really into cars. My friend Tim and I would ride our bicycles all over suburban Boston to scour car dealerships for their point-of-purchase brochures. That summer, Chevrolet unveiled “The New Chevrolet,” a completely redesigned full-sized B-Body Caprice and Impala. I still recall seeing an ad and being so mesmerized by the new design. That feeling stuck with me, simmering on a low flame within my subconscious into adulthood.

Chevy Caprice print ad
The ad that started it all. Micah Sheveloff

I’ve been in music my whole career, and early on I got into the world of high-end audiophile music systems and exotic cars. Eventually I opened a car audio/security shop in Fairfield, Connecticut, called Audio Coupe. One day around town, I happened to see two unmarked 1988 9C1 police-package Caprices being prepped for decommission and auction. One of them, this car, had been primarily used to give out parking tickets at the local train station and had clearly been well maintained, so I decided to buy it. My wife likes to remind me that I went to register the car a few days after our daughter was born in early June, 1996. I paid $2800 for the car.

Even with 90,000 miles on it and worn police-issue Firestone tires, the Caprice lay flat through turns, much more adeptly than you might expect for a sizable sedan. Mind you, this is no BMW M5—but I was surprised how well it performed overall and how reliable the Quadrajet carburetor was.

1988 Chevy Caprice 9C1 front 3/4 Micah Sheveloff
Micah Sheveloff

The police-issue bucket seats over rubber floors were an odd look but I liked it, so I just replaced the flooring with fresh rubber, refreshed other worn parts, and had the seats reconstructed.

The stock 350 small-block was low horsepower/high torque, and the final drive was 3:08, so the car was fun off the line, had a silly top speed, and barely made it up steep hills. The first two things I fixed were the exhaust system and the balky, always-hunting 700R4 automatic with overdrive. For the former, I had a custom dual stainless 2.25-inch system made up, and the latter was replaced with a high-performance 700R4 with manual lockup. I’m a cruiser, not a racer, and it has been marvelous for years.

I chose the best body shop around—they were all hot rod guys—and had the car carefully massaged and sprayed with a slightly modified version of the factory color and many layers of lovingly sanded clear coat. I used factory-new Chevy parts to replace all of the rubber gaskets and chrome trim, the bumpers, and the mirrors, and I ditched all of the glue-on trim, the hood ornament, the AM/FM antenna, and the spotlight in order to get the cleanest possible look.

Regardless of the tortuous task of keeping up with revolving EPA regulations during the 1970s and ’80s, GM most certainly should be ashamed of itself for the mess under the hood that it turned loose on customers throughout the era. When addressing the engine bay, I asked my builder to clean house and start fresh. I wanted something utilitarian and sensible.

I chose a turnkey small-block from Chevy called the Fast Burn 385, which is the venerable ZZ4 with upgraded aluminum heads, a Holley 750 and a serpentine belt system. We put the motor on a dyno and it gave me back just under 400 hp, perfect for my recreational cruising and the occasional charity car show here in my new hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.

We ditched the ugly fan shroud and installed electric fans, chucked the ugly plastic bottles for the washer fluid and coolant overflow and replaced those with stainless containers tucked out of the way. I then added an aircraft-grade aluminum fresh air intake system reminiscent of the old Ram Air concept, with a snorkel under the bumper on the driver’s side.

The 700R4 transmission has been flawless, spinning my custom-made driveshaft and U-joints back to a Moser Engineering Ford 9-inch limited-slip 3.73:1 rear end. The car sits on Bilstein shocks and new springs, slightly lowered from the factory stance, with new Hotchkiss suspension and sway bars front and rear. The brakes are Wilwood vented discs front and rear. I was super careful in hunting for wheels, seeking to upgrade performance but maintain a retro visual appearance. The offset American Racing 18-inch Rally rims did the trick beautifully, letting me spin down the highway on fat Michelin tires.

Inside, I added a Dakota Digital instrument cluster that gives me an integrated tachometer, and of course I built a music system that sounds great but is not visible in any way. I replaced the 1988 windshield with glass from a 1977 model so I could get the AM/FM antenna in the window and lose the fender-mounted mast.

I have had the Caprice for 27 years now. It has that traditional muscle car rumble at just the right volume, and people seem to appreciate it more as I drive by or pull into a cruise night. They also like to share stories of the four-door family hauler their parents had when they were kids. Some people are puzzled as to why I chose this car, and I totally get that. Building a Caprice is an irrational thing to do—certainly not with the potent resale value of a Corvette or Camaro. But it is my counter-culture hot rod, and that’s perfectly fine with me.

1988 Chevy Caprice 9C1 mural profile
Micah Sheveloff




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    Well, my started in 1977. At Niles Chrysler Plymouth was a well-used former Wisconsin State Patrol 1971 Plymouth Fury I in the “beater row” for $300. I was not able to convince my parents to allow me to purchase the car as their signature was required at 16 years of age. Fast forward decades and 80 cars later I finally found her. A 1970 Plymouth Fury III ex-Washington State Patrol car. Yes it needed some work but she was restored as a clean top unmarked car with magnetic decals of my agency of 33 years and retired now. The car has all period correct emergency operational equipment. I can still “get rubber” out of third gear under full throttle acceleration.

    Beautiful car. My only gripe is the choice of wheels.

    Stock (aka 15″) 5-hole rallies look great on older Chevys but I don’t think they look at good on post-70’s cars or in diameters greater than 15″. Just my opinion. Personally, I’d love to see that car on a set of 94-96 Impala SS wheels, some 4th gen IROC wheels or maybe the 4th gen Corvette GS wheels with the black 5-spokes and polished lip.

    Still, awesome ride. I love it. Full-size cars get very little love and that’s a shame. Yours looks mean and subtle all at the same time. I like how you didn’t black out all the chrome. Well done.

    I got a “free” 84 Olds Custom Cruiser. In that the car was a CA designated smog bomb, the OEM rims had been galled by some tire jockey and his air gun. I bought 15″ Chevy Chrome Rally wheels. I bought the center cap with the three spoked spinner. To differentiate the Olds from a Chevy had the center caps engraved with the Olds script. They look nice.

    I have a 1966 Meteor Montcalm S/33 (Canada-only car) powered by a lowly 289. I’ve done a few things to the engine to give it a big more pep but it still only has the stock single-muffler exhaust. I’d like to dual-up the exhaust. This article talks about this car has “a muscle car rumble at just the right volume”. I’d like to know what kind of dual exhaust mufflers I could use to keep the car relatively quiet. Genuine Ford/Mercury mufflers would be fine.

    I’m a Mercury/Meteor guy but I really like what Micah did with this Caprice.

    …yup. like all your choices…mb a more contoured bench seat or buckets… but perfect cruiser that does it all..WTG!

    Very nice cruiser. I have a 2011 Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor but it has the spotlight, front push bar, black and white paint, all trunk antennas, etc. I like the look.

    The fire department I worked for picked up a couple of Illinois State Trooper Caprices, one was white, one was the same color as the one in the article.
    They handled surprisingly well for such a big car, and there was another benefit- the ability to clear any left lane on the expressway like the parting of the Red Sea. The unmarked car look worked wonders and was kinda fun for this guy going to class. Sadly, a bad head gasket resulted in hydro lock and it left on a tow truck, after many years of service, both to the ISP and my department.

    Great comments and I’d like to thank Hagerty for including my humble build as part of this amazing community!

    Great looking car, and great photos with all the interesting murals and by the marina! I like (and miss) sedans. I also like the subtle approach on all your modifications. I had a late 80’s ex-police Crown Vic for a few years in the late 90’s, and although it was pretty worn out by the time I got it (my only major mod was adding rear air shocks to restore the sagging ride height), it was fun to watch people get out of my way, only to then have them glare at me when they realized I wasn’t a cop! 🙂

    I love this car, very well put together, not too sure about the wheels. I had a 1980 Caprice and it was a great car except for the 305 engine. Never could get the ping out of it.

    My version of this build was a 1980 9C1 Malibu. Stroker 383 with Buick Grand National rear end. About 800 lbs lighter than the Caprice. Wish I still had it.

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