THE 1986 CHEVROLET Caprice Classic Brougham is as long as its name. It's a big car, a rear-wheel-drive leviathan stretching 17.68 feet.

You don't drive this one. You steer. And on the open highway, you don't keep your foot on the accelerator. Just put the car on automatic cruise control and let it float.

The Caprice Classic model first appeared 10 years ago, but it seems much older than that -- which is not a dig.

This car has a sense of wisdom, dignity, pride. It's a little pompous, too, what with its tufted vinyl roof and splashes of chrome. But I don't mind.

This car reminds me of my father, a retired science teacher still driving his 1978 Caprice in New Orleans. And it reminds me of the late Clovis Chinn, a tradesman and craftsman who could do almost anything with tools, and who by his own description was "a General Motors man all the way."

You could always start an argument with both men by saying something nasty about GM's big rides. Luckily, there is no need to do so here.

The Caprice Classic is exactly that -- a fine, traditional car with certain flights of fancy that some younger persons might not understand. But, what the heck. This car is a reward for all those people who have worked hard all their lives and now deserve some high-quality, affordable luxury.

Outstanding complaints: None. I mean, how often can you bellyache about size?

Outstanding praise: I think I now know why the wise ones like this car. They are at a point in their lives where they have seen it all and heard it all, and they don't have the time or patience for unreliable people or things.

The Caprice Classic has been around so long, GM has worked out all its bugs. It performs predictably and well. The fit-and-finish quality is there, so is the interior comfort.

Folks who came of age driving big, rear-drive automobiles, and who like the feel and sense of security that those cars offer, will be pleased tremendously by this one.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Super-cushy ride. Prompt acceleration, thanks to the power generated by the Caprice Classic's 5-liter, 4-barrel, V-8 gasoline engine. Surprise! Despite the car's boulevard-soft suspension, its length and its weight (3,633 pounds), handling is exceedingly easy. The Caprice Classic moves gracefully around curves at moderate highway speeds, and it does quite nicely in urban traffic, too.

Head-turning-quotient: Authoritative appeal. If you get followed by a policeman in this one, don't worry. He's just trying to get close enough to salute.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, with graphic equalizer, by GM/Delco. George Gershwin, Johnny Mathis, Lawrence Welk and The Platters never sounded better.

Mileage: A respectable average 21 to the gallon (25-gallon tank), combined city-highway, running driver-only and with air conditioner operating all the time.

Price-as-tested: $17,740, including $4,555 in options, such as electronic AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, air conditioner, and all other power options. There is bargaining room on this one.

Staff writer Warren Brown covers the auto industry for The Washington Post.