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Meet “the wagon” – my 1992 Chevrolet Caprice wagon

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So when I’m not writing content for Auto Waffle, I’m often found tinkering with my own vehicle. Since it’s currently undergoing reconstruction, I thought this would be a good time to introduce you to my wagon.

When I bought this car, it was nothing special. Just a run-of-the-mill Chevrolet Caprice station wagon with about 100k miles, faded paint from the Florida sun, and a little bit of minor rust, which I later found out was due to its Pennsylvania origins. I picked it up because I needed something that could haul all of my college dorm room essentials without the need to rent a trailer, and gas mileage wasn’t much of a concern. I love V8s, I love Chevrolets, and that’s what I bought.

It wasn't much when I first got it, but I saw the potential and fell in love.

It wasn’t much when I first got it, but I saw the potential and fell in love.

I had always liked the 1994-1996 Impala SS. When I learned that the wagons were essentially the same car, but with much more cargo capacity, my hunt was on. I decided pretty early on that I wanted a Chevrolet wagon, because I didn’t like the wood trim, glass roof, or larger grille of the Buick Roadmaster (which is different than the Roadmaster sedan… see this post for an example of a sedan gone wrong).

So I found this wagon on my local craigslist. I was away in college at the time, and I showed the ad to my father. He looked it over, and asked me if I was serious. I told him I was, and he agreed, begrudgingly, to go inspect the car. I was 19, and what 19 year old guy wants a station wagon?

This one did.

So dad checked out the car, told me the info, I negotiated with the seller and we came to agreeable terms and I paid him the money. I was the new owner of a full-size Caprice station wagon. My mother thought I was insane. In fact, her exact quote was, “What the hell am I doing picking up a boat?” It didn’t matter, though. I rode the train home, changed the fluids, and took the car back with me to college and fell in love. My roommate at the time also thought I was insane… until I let him sit in the 3rd row seat and did donuts in the empty university visitor parking lot. The wagon was cool, and although no one ever grew to love it quite like I did, it was respectable, and everyone on campus knew me for the car. One of the security guards referred to me as “Hot Rod” thanks to its loud exhaust and… unique character.

Like any 20 year old car, it had its share of small issues, and when it did, I did what any enthusiast would do and joined a forum. The GM Longroof Forum is a treasure trove of B-body wagon-specific information that helped me solve plenty of issues, and make modifications to the car (like Buick LeSabre wiper arms for folding ability, and Pontiac Bonneville front bucket seats). As I became active, I gained a much larger interest in modifying the car, and ended up taking it to Wagonfest Florida in 2011, held as part of the Daytona Spring Turkey Rod Run. In order to make it to the show, you needed to be a custom car, or showcase “unique” modifications, so, on a college budget, I spray painted the peeling hood with chalkboard paint, grabbed some full moon hubcaps for the steel wheels, and had a blast.

The chalkboard hood was a big hit.

The chalkboard hood was a big hit.

Things progressed, and I continued to tinker with the wagon while it was my daily transport. Wagonfest Florida 2012 came around, the Turkey Run folks decided to be more stringent about the vehicles they’d allow into the show. I was worried about this, because let’s face it: I had a beater wagon that I enjoyed taking to school and carting around friends, not a show car.

But then, this wild and crazy idea popped into my head. I was going to paint my car. Myself.

After browsing other B-body wagons on www.cusstom.com (warning: some NSFW within), I saw a car that I fell in love with. It was a 1991 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, so a platform mate to my Caprice, that was done up exactly how I had always envisioned my wagon in my head. Clean 5-spoke wheels, air bags, and satin black paint. The perfect grocery-getting hot rod. I wanted a satin black wagon, and that was going to be my ticket to Turkey Run.

I expressed the idea to my dad, who thought I was a little crazy at first, but he eventually agreed. I sourced new-to-me front fenders and a front bumper to repair the damaged ones on the car, and when I came home for Spring Break that year, I began sanding the car down and preparing it for a respray. For the record, I have nothing but the utmost respect for body shop guys.

The whole process took the entire week, between sanding, aligning fenders, fixing rust, fiberglass work, and then the actual spraying of the paint. It all started with an eraser wheel, removing the beltline trim and the Caprice badges from the sides, and it spiraled out of control from there. I didn’t spray the car until Saturday night (and I had to be back at school for class Monday morning), and I laid down the final coat on Sunday morning bright and early. After it was (mostly) dry, I put the lights and trim back on the car, loaded up my things, and headed back, ready for a car show with a fully remodeled wagon. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and my amateur body work skills showed through upon close inspection, and there was even a pretty big paint run in the passenger front door… but I did it. It took some help from my dad, who taught me how to use fiberglass and bondo, and my mom, who, ever the trooper, climbed up on a ladder and helped me by sanding and spraying the massive roof on the wagon. Thanks, mom!

There's dad working on grinding away some of the surface rust on the right front inner fender.  I'll never forget the memories we made with this car.

There’s dad working on grinding away some of the surface rust on the right front inner fender.
I’ll never forget the memories we made with this car.

Freshly painted, hanging out on the college campus.

Freshly painted, hanging out on the college campus.

 

So off I went to Turkey Run/Wagonfest Florida, and I had a blast. Everyone enjoyed the much-refreshed version of the car, and life was great. Until, in January 2013, JUST after buying new wheels for the car, I got in an unavoidable accident that ruined the quarter panel.

No shame: I cried. I literally broke down and cried.

No shame: I cried. I literally broke down and cried.

I thought about it, and I decided to gather quotes to fix it. I found a shop that seemed reasonable, looked like they turned out good work, and would do the job, so I booked my hotel for Wagonfest FL 2013 and sent the car off to the shop.

It was there for five weeks, and they did a LOT of work, for a pretty good price. Unfortunately, my father never got to see the car completed, as he passed away on March 17, 2013 after a year’s long battle with breast cancer (yes, men can get it, too). Despite this, it was (mostly) ready for Turkey Run, and I know that he would have wanted me to go, so I went anyway. I had a blast, as usual, and even won People’s Choice wagon and the official trophy for it. Okay, it’s a lawn flamingo, but you know: Florida.

Awwww yeah, people's choice!

Awwww yeah, people’s choice!

So after the show, I had the car for a week when somebody decided to run a red light and cause a pileup. What happened was soul crushing. My poor car, fresh out of the body shop. Ruined. Again. But, my blind love and dedication to my pride and joy, and the memories of my dad and I working on it all those years, led me to fix it again. This is my wagon, and I intend to keep it that way.

Seriously. Don't be that asshole. If the light is yellow, slow the hell down if you haven't made it to the solid line yet.

Seriously. Don’t be that asshole. If the light is yellow, slow the hell down if you haven’t made it to the solid line yet.

Luckily, it was done just in time – only 4 days before college graduation – so I was able to throw on the trailer, haul all my stuff home, and enjoy post-grad life.

Putting that trailer hitch to work! Not really, though. These cars can haul so much more.

Putting that trailer hitch to work! Not really, though. These cars can haul so much more.

After starting my job, and now the blog, life was going pretty well, until October, when someone in a Honda Odyssey minivan decided to make a U-turn right in front of traffic. He destroyed the driver’s doors, and  the front fender. I couldn’t open the door, and I freaked out and jumped from the car.

Ugh. The worst feeling. The worst.

Ugh. The worst feeling. The worst.

But sometimes, you can’t put a price on memories, feelings, people, and life events.

So… I did what any sensible enthusiast would do. I towed it home. I met the insurance adjusters, even taking time off work to do so. I refused to allow them to take this car. It is mine, and it always will be. I began gathering parts. At a minimum, two doors and a fender, but what kind of enthusiast settles for the minimum? I found a pair of later-model doors for the better mirrors, I gathered all of the pieces I needed. I got the bent wheel repaired, and soon: I was ready.

I contacted a local body shop called Zero-6. Check them out on Facebook by clicking HERE. These guys are good – a first class outfit hidden in my small hometown in an infrequently traveled industrial area. How good? Good enough that they’re the shop that my day job contacts whenever we need anything done. Everything from late model Camaros to 1930s street rods all the way up to $175,000 Corvettes. These are the guys that get things done, and done right the first time.

The owner of the shop and I talked about what the car needed and agreed on a plan of attack. We also decided that the car was going to be different. Something bigger and better – like it always has been. We settled on a gloss black over satin red two-tone finish. It would be an homage to the car’s original two-tone paint, but still showcase my interest and love for satin finish – the perfect marriage. Here are some photos from the restoration efforts that included touching up previous work that wasn’t up to par, and filling some holes in the roof to delete portions of the roof rack.

Shaved the roof rack center rails by welding the holes closed.

Shaved the roof rack center rails by welding the holes closed.

Also shaved the antenna hole, since I never use the radio.

Also shaved the antenna hole, since I never use the radio.

Some sanding going down....

Some sanding going down….

Spot priming going on.

Spot priming going on.

Taping before paint....

Taping before paint….

We ended up getting the car done JUST in time for the 2014 Daytona Spring Turkey Run, which also in the B-body wagon community is Wagonfest Florida. I arrived, had a great time, saw HUNDREDS of cars, and even ended up winning the plaque for People’s Choice wagon for the second year in a row.

Now that the car is back on the road, all is right with the world. Now you know where I’ve been, but don’t think this is the end. There are big plans in store for this wagon. It may not be the most sensible car in the world, and I may never – and I mean EVER – see a dime back that I’ve put into it, but you know? Sometimes, none of that matters. It’s the things that can’t be replaced that make you want to put your heart into the things that normally can.

Last minute show field detailing.

Last minute show field detailing.

I like the headlight covers, but I have something different in the works.

I like the headlight covers, but I have something different in the works.

More last minute wheel polishing.

More last minute wheel polishing.

I'm very happy with how it turned out.

I’m very happy with how it turned out.

Do any readers have a car that they would never part with? What is it, and what makes it so special to you? I have my wagon, but what do YOU enjoy?

 

BONUS: At the end of Spring Turkey Run, they even let you drive your car up onto the track for a photo op…

 

…and since most of us wagon guys have the need for speed, one member spent some time and touched up the photos. Why? Because race wagon.

 

Driving on the baking was definitely an interesting experience.

Driving on the baking was definitely an interesting experience.

 

Ray Saez, Jr.

Ray is a lifelong auto enthusiast. His father worked on the dealership side of the industry for many years, and his passion for fast, fun, and unique cars has been passed on. Particularly fond of American cars and trucks, Ray is an avid General Motors fan. When not writing, he can be found with his dogs, or at a local car show.

View all contributions by Ray Saez, Jr.

Website: http://www.autowaffle.com

Comments

  1. Tim S says:

    You should be very proud the work and memories sewn up into her!!

  2. Marshall says:

    Amazing story, proof that these B-body’s can take damn near anything, I have a 92 caprice classic sedan, and hope to own a wagon soon, glad to see other youth interested in classic cars like these

  3. Bob C says:

    Hi Ray – Didn’t realize that your wagon had been hit so many times. Looking good now! Sorry that I missed you last night at the Stuart car cruise. I think that it would be nice to occasionally hold an organized car forum somewhere here locally to share experience and put on technical presentations. Your trip to the GM Heritage Center would make a good “war story/travelog”. I’ve got your card in case something ever “gels”. Perhaps some day…

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Brian Nelson says:

    I love it bro… it’s all about the memories, and remember, beauty is in the eye the one’s vision building it…… lol.

  5. talismandave says:

    Great read Ray. I followed all of this real-time but it is really fun to read it all as a story.
    A wonderful history of your wagon, and a great tribute to family, your dad especially.
    I am sure he is proud of what both the wagon, and you have become.

    1. Thanks, Dave!

      It’s about to go under the knife again… for something… else. :)

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