How I’d Turn a 1980s Chevy Caprice Into a Tire-Slaying Track Car

Picture an '80s Caprice drifting through clouds of smoke... awesome, right?
A late-1980s Chevy Caprice, ready to go racing!
Andrew P. Collins (GM, Adobe assets)

Throughout my tenure as a gearhead and lover of all automotive hijinks, several car projects drift through my daydreams as intriguing what-ifs. Some are straightforward, like daily driving and performing all my own maintenance on an early Lotus Evora or swapping a Fiesta ST’s powertrain and drivetrain into my Mazda 2. Some, however, are all about molding an iconic car into something you’d least expect it to be. My top dream would be to turn a third-gen Chevy Caprice into a track-day and drifting beast.

My main inspiration for such a wild and hilarious concoction lies in the epic and thrilling car chase scene in “To Live and Die in LA,” as well as the greatest music video of all time: “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys. The latter’s vehicular star is actually an ’83 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, but it’s a massive boat of a rear-wheel-drive cop car nonetheless. Honorable mention goes to “Out For Justice” (which ironically has the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” on its soundtrack).

All of these films involve some kind of sliding and hooning, and it’d be so cool to build a late-third-gen Caprice to expand upon this. After all, it’s a General Motors (GM) B-platform with a small block under the hood and rear-wheel drive. Surely I could dig into part numbers and aftermarket catalogs and whip up something truly sick.

chevy caprice classic

To start, I’d find a clean four-door Caprice in any color, preferably a 1986-1990 model, but an ’80-’85 would certainly work, too. As far as a cop-package 9C1 trim, that wouldn’t be all that necessary, as there wasn’t really anything special about it. I mean, it had a little more power, but that’s a complete wash in our glorious post-LS era. According to users on this GM message board, the figures of the 9C1 Caprice’s original heart, the LO5 V8, ranged between 190-205 horsepower and 290-300 pound-feet of torque. Apparently you can throw an LT1’s camshaft in it and massage some mechanicals to make more power. But really, a GM LS crate makes way more sense in this daydream. Like an LS3 with a manual gearbox, ECU, and warranty. A company by the name of BRP Hotrods makes a complete kit to swap it in, too.

To keep the chassis more connected for precision driving, something I originally thought would be a lost cause, there are known methods to make the big ol’ Caprice less boat-like. Assuming this handling kit bolts up, as it does to other B-platform cars, it ought to do the trick. Powerstop makes what looks like a decent performance upgrade to the late-’80s Caprice’s brakes, too. To ensure the best burnouts and maximum control while sideways, a limited-slip differential would be key.

Aesthetically, I wouldn’t want to ruin the look of sliding an ’80s behemoth around, balloony tires and all. The late-’80s Caprice tire size is 225/70R15, which is a massive sidewall. It seems like one of the best bets is the BFGoodrich Radial T/A, which is classified as a performance all-season. These aren’t ideal, but they’re probably quite easy to light up with an LS3’s 420-or-so pound-feet of torque. For wheels I’d stick to steelies in the stock size — not only would these mimic a cop car’s wheels, but they would probably be cheap and easy to repair or replace if I were to incur damage on or off track. I could totally see myself careening off the pavement a lot behind the wheel of a souped-up Caprice on all-season tires.

chevy caprice classic

Although slides probably wouldn’t be particularly hard to spur on, getting as much negative camber and toe-out as possible would help sustain them and make them easier to control. It seems like camber shims or offset bushings could be the ticket here.

Finally, while retaining a Caprice’s front bench seating would be so friggin’ cool, the reality is retention would help with car control, as well as making way for a manual shifter and potential hydraulic e-brake. In the grand scheme of aftermarket seat pricing, this combo of a mount and seat doesn’t seem too bad. For the sake of safety and structural rigidity, I’d install a proper four-point roll bar, as well as an appropriate six-point racing harness that’s made in the good ol’ U.S.A.

Imagine what a sight it’d be to see a Caprice rip around a track, lighting up its tires as much as possible in a controlled fashion. Picture this, except at a much faster speed, and with more tire smoke and control. Oh, and one of those single red lights that short-sleeved cops affix to the roof of their ride before taking off after some evil-doer, like in the movies.

This post first appeared on Car Bibles.