MY FATHER'S 1978 Chevrolet Caprice is still running around New Orleans. It's big, brown and battle-scarred. The vinyl seats, with a patch here and there, are showing their age. Dad, a retired science teacher, certainly can afford a new car. But he's a recalcitrant left-brained sort, not one to change anything on impulse.
But I'm going to ask him to visit his Chevrolet dealer, anyway. My approach to him will be logical, more in keeping with his approach to most things. "Look, Dad," I'll say, "you believe in safety, don't you?"
He'll say "yes" and then ask me to define "safety." After we're all done with that, I'll tell him that the 1991 Chevrolet Caprice has a driver's side air bag and an anti-lock brake system as standard equipment. I'll show him the appropriate diagrams and then go on to discuss the car's six-passenger seating capacity and traditional rear-wheel drive layout.
The next step is tricky. It concerns styling, which is emotional, right-brained stuff, and my father's awfully suspicious about emotions.
So, I won't talk about styling at all; I definitely will avoid words like "sleek" and "sexy" in discussing the new Caprice's flowing lines. Instead, I'll talk about the 1991 car's improved drag coefficient -- now .33, versus .42 on the older Caprices, which means that the new car's aerodynamic body does a better job of moving through the air.
Finally, my father will want to know about the car's durability and reliability. He's 78, which he says means he has no time to waste repairing cars or waiting alongside somebody's road for a tow truck.
Humph. The 1991 Chevrolet Caprice is built much better than the tank you're driving now, Dad. It'll start. It'll last.
Background: The full-size Chevrolet -- variously named the Bel Air, Impala and Caprice -- has been on sale since 1946. Every teacher and preacher in my family owned one, mostly because, as blacks in the segregated South, they needed a car big enough to serve as a motel and dependable enough to get them from Point A to Point B with no unplanned stops.
Times have changed and so has the full-size Chevrolet. The 1991 Caprice -- sold as a base sedan and the upscale, tested Classic model -- would look good in the driveway of my parents' suburban New Orleans home.
Complaints: I like the idea of a full-size spare tire, but I don't like where Chevy's designers put it in the new Caprice -- on top of the trunk floor, right smack-dab in the center. The trunk is still spacious, about 20 cubic feet, but that misplaced tire complicates luggage and package arrangement on long trips.
Praise: General Motors did an excellent job of preserving all of the virtues of the old Caprice, while giving us better safety and better overall design in the new one. The 1991 Caprice is my parents' Chevrolet, but it could just as easily be mine.
Head-turning quotient: Interesting. Looked at one way, it's aero-boring, a fatter version of the Ford Taurus and everything else aero. However, on closer observation, it is very clearly and distinctly Chevrolet -- the quintessential big American car, which still has a purpose and an enthusiastic audience. Nice job, GM.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Chevy's engineers, trying to pick up younger buyers while holding onto its loyal older set, gave the new Caprice a little stiffer ride than previous models. But the 1991 car is still a cruiser that makes highway travel pleasant.
The Caprice is a family sedan, not a hot-rod, which means that it does well in corners when the driver is driving responsibly.
Acceleration is excellent, thanks to the Caprice's five-liter, 170-horsepower fuel-injected V-8 engine. (American police cars, 60 percent of which are Caprice models, use a 5.7-liter, 195-horsepower V-8.)
Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, GM/Delco Silver Series. Good, as usual.
Mileage: About 22 to the gallon (23-gallon tank, estimated 496-mile cruising range on usable volume), mostly highway, running with one to four occupants and light luggage.
Price: Base price on the 1991 Caprice Clasic is $17,370. Dealer's invoice price on the base model is $14,990. Price as tested is $21,088, including $3,193 in options and a $525 destination charge.
Purse-strings note: It's a buy, Dad. Yeah, I know. I won't try to talk you into getting the options.
Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.