Vehicle models can be overlooked in our model railroading pursuits. I don’t mean absent from a scene; I believe many have a razor-sharp focus on certain aspects of their miniature empire and don’t notice areas outside their sharpened view. I recall seeing excellent locomotives in realistic settings and then am drawn away from the work by the sight of a yellow plastic TYCO Camaro that snuck into this otherwise authentic recreation… not that those late 1960s TYCO Camaro and Javelin renditions are terrible, but today’s releases deserve better set dressing.
The last 20 years seem to have been a bit of boom-and-bust cycle for HO vehicle models. Who doesn’t remember the rash of Fresh Cherries autos, their very good quality, and amazing availability and pricing. Most major manufacturers have made plays for the vehicle category… some with success and staying power, with other releases now challenging collectibles. Rapido Trains recently delivered its first production of Chevrolet Caprice and Impala replicas for HO scale. These are well-done plastic reproductions of a very popular series of prototypes and, equally important, fit into a era that many will agree deserves more attention.
The New Chevrolet
For 1977, General Motors (GM) introduced a downsized Caprice and Impala. These two names appeared on Chevrolet’s largest vehicle (offered in two-door coupe, four-door sedan, and four-door station wagon). Prior to this 116-inch wheelbase, big Chevys (and other GM vehicles from Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and even some Cadillac models) measured nearly a foot longer and half a foot wider, and weighed substantially more. The impetus for this shrinking was the turbulent first half of the 1970s as economic and oil supply challenges collided with what may have been Detroit’s overall biggest vehicles ever offered. Maybe it’s simply due to my age, but I find the 1970s to be a decade of automobile offerings that rival any and top many. If you research this era of automobiles, you’ll quickly and repeatedly encounter the time being labeled malaise… this tells me that my tastes don’t line up with the majority opinion. For GM, the days of building “land yachts” was done with the arrival of this downsized big Chevy offering. When it arrived, this smaller and lighter Caprice/Impala was basically moving in on what had become the mid-size bracket. General Motors led the industry, its 1977 market share was a tad more than 55 percent, and this big-is-now-mid level would be the industry’s goal… though not all at once. Ford stayed behind and continued offering its LTD (with 121-inch wheelbase), though it hedged its bets and introduced a 118-inch wheelbsase LTD II as a mid-size to compete (Ford would go to this smaller platform by 1980 and join the big-is-now-mid trend). As happens, economic situations and oil supply shift and swing. While 1979 saw another tough year for gas prices, and the early 1980s were difficult economically, by the mid-1980s fuel prices were substantially down. This version (labeled “third generation” by many) survived well through good and bad years; with minor refreshes to its nose and subtle changes to its side panels, this shear design (as it’s called) rode at the top of Chevy’s catalog through the 1990 model year virtually unchanged.
ABOVE: Rapido Trains offers its HO-scale Caprice station wagon in three colors (yellow, light blue, and brown) for this release. These upscale family transporters feature chrome wire wheel covers, thick whitewall tires, chrome luggage rack and body accents, and wood side and end decoration. This model replicates an early 1980s Chevrolet Caprice Classic wagon with Estate equipment (dual sport mirrors, roof carrier, bumper guard strips, and white-stripe tires as noted in the 1980 brochure).
Enjoy the full review in September 2022’s Model Railroad News!