It has been brutal lately to start my morning commute in single-digit (Fahrenheit) temperatures. It is February in Chicago, though, and despite last year’s really mild winter, what we have now in the (cold and) Windy City is much closer to what could be considered par for the course. Some of us like to think of our winter weather as a control against overpopulation, because summers here absolutely rock. Right around the beginning of spring, many of my friends and a few relatives start lining up their visits for when it’s nice out, with warmer weather usually starting around May and lasting up through the end of September.
I had previously had a decade-long respite from the snow and ice, having lived in Florida for most of my twenties. Still, there’s no other city I’d rather call home than Chicago, even with its occasional, severe Arctic blasts. These recent, freezing temps called to my mind my high school days and the joys of teenage car ownership. Such pleasures included shoveling my parents’ driveway, scraping my car’s windows, and standing at the gas pump (frequently) to fuel up my own ’76 Malibu Classic, pictured above and below in shots I had taken in the fall of ’91, shortly after I bought it.
I have always had a thing for the Chevelle – pretty much any Chevelle. I like its image, its name, and the way those two syllables just roll off the tongue. One of my high school senior pictures was taken next to a blue ’69 SS that was randomly parked on the street in downtown Flint. This was in the early ’90s. I had spotted it from our ’84 Ford Tempo while on our way to the actual photo shoot destination with our photographer from Van Dyke Studios. My mom seemed completely okay with this idea, as long as we would still proceed to get the “nice” pictures she wanted of me standing in front of downtown’s sculptural fountain. Of course, I chose a “Chevelle shot” as one of my proofs for printing.
I was determined to own a Chevelle myself, and even though all of them after ’73 were Malibus of some ilk (excepting the Laguna S-3), in my mind, my ’76 still technically counted as one. My car wasn’t the prettiest thing on wheels, the color was unexciting, and I came to suspect that no less than a third of all exterior body panels were chock-full of skillfully sculpted Bondo – but it was mine, and I loved it.
I had spotted our featured, cranberry-colored Colonnade near my local L stop, and I immediately remembered one thing about my ‘Bu: it had a very effective heater. Within mere minutes of firing up the 350 2-bbl. V8 and with the dashboard’s sliding temperature control pushed all the way to the right into the red section, the inside of my car was all toasty and warm. I positively loved the inside of that car, with all of its wood applique, cut-pile carpeting and couch-like cloth bench seats. It was like my own private living room on wheels.
Combined with that “1970s GM interior smell”, which was not unlike a cross between the inside of your neighborhood dry-cleaner’s shop and the local thrift store with its racks of polyester clothing of yesteryear, the inside of my car – with the heater going, the radio on, and in the middle of mid-Michigan’s bitterly cold winter – was a very comfortable, comforting place to be.
Maybe this is why I used to hit the local Salvation Army and Goodwill stores in Flint so often when I owned my Malibu – all of those GM-science fabrics and surfaces in my car must have given me a taste for vintage clothes. Anyway, it was such a pleasure to see the ’77 example above and below (differing externally in grille texture and taillamp lenses from the ’76) about five years ago. I remembered feeling the pride of piloting a GM-built, V8-powered, once-popular coupe around my car-building hometown at a time when many factories were still humming away, with the pretty, white plumes of their distant smokestacks silently dissipating (and polluting) upward into the cloudy, gray, Rust Belt sky.
While the Colonnade Chevelles may not top many lists of favorite cars, they’ll always have a place within mine, if only for the experience of having taken pride in owning one, myself. I’m fairly certain that, despite the open windows in both shots of our featured car, our driver was not lacking for warmth in that burgundy Malibu. Hopefully “Big Red” is still on the road today, looking as rust free as it was five years ago.
Burgundy Malibu: January/February 2013, Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Beige Malibu: Autumn 1991, Flint, Michigan.