Here at CC we have the COAL series that looks at the cars from our past and present. Other than my Torino, a car that has been in my family nearly 48 years now, I haven’t written about any of my vehicles. I suppose for me, a car of the lifetime is something I take a little too literally. For me, a COAL is a car that has played a major role in my life. Undoubtedly my Torino, a car that has been with me my entire life, fits that category. However, there is definitely another car that meets that criterion, one that has also been heavily intertwined with my personal history – my 1976 Chevrolet Malibu Classic.
To tell its story, I am going to go back to one of the most significant events of my childhood, my parents’ separation. Just before I started high school my parents went through a separation which resulted in my Dad moving out of the house. At that time, we had three vehicles, Mom’s 1984 Pontiac Parisienne wagon, Dad’s 1972 Ford Torino and his 1979 Ford F-150. Since my siblings and I were to primarily live with my Mom, she got the newest car, the Pontiac wagon, which was our main family car. Dad ended up with the Torino and the truck. The Torino became Dad’s family car for the warmer six months of the year. However, he never considered driving the Torino, which had never seen salt or snow, during winter despite the new living situation. So during the winter his sole transportation was his ’79 Ford pick-up, which had a regular cab and an 8-foot box. There was no way we could squeeze 5 people into that cab, but we made do. The pickup had a cap which meant a couple of us could ride in the back and be sheltered from the weather. It worked okay for the mostly in town trips we did, albeit, the rides were chilly.
A couple of years later, Dad’s office closed down. Luckily he kept his job, but he was to be transferred to a new city about 80 miles away. No longer would we be just walking up the road to see Dad. He would have to drive the 160 mile round trip to come and pick us up for a visit every other weekend. Dad’s 460 powered Ford pickup was okay for local trips, but Dad knew that he needed a safer and more fuel efficient vehicle. So the hunt for a replacement vehicle began.
My Dad bought the Parisienne wagon when it was almost brand new. It had proven to be an excellent, comfortable and reliable car for our family of six. So, Dad figured an easy solution was to stick with what he knew and find another GM B-body. Of course, as the resident family car nut, I was all over helping Dad find a new car. We scoured the Auto Trader, the newspaper classifieds and the used car lots. My Dad is very meticulous in caring for his vehicles, and of course has high standards for a used car. Unfortunately, with the family income cut in half, Dad’s budget was limited. We quickly discovered that the GM B-bodies had high resale value, and those in his price range were too rough for him to consider. Dad had a horrible experience with his ’79 Ford Fairmont which almost swore him off Fords, but in desperation he expanded to looking at Panther Fords. The result was the same, nothing decent in his price range.
Despite not yet having a driver’s licence, at the time I owned a 1972 Chevelle that I was attempting to fix up. Consequentially, I had become a bit of a Chevelle enthusiast and loved to hunt the classifieds for anything Chevelle related. One day as I searched the local classified ads, an ad immediately jumped out at me: “1976 Chevrolet Chevelle – never winter driven, low miles, excellent condition.” Dad hadn’t noticed it, because he glazed over anything that old, and he certainly wasn’t looking for an old Chevelle as a daily driver. I convinced Dad to check it out, citing the low mileage, the fact it had never seen a winter and the price being within his budget. As an early Chevelle owner, I admit that I looked down on these mid-70s Chevelles, which I didn’t even classify as real Chevelles – they were Malibus. I figured these “uncollectable” mid-70s Malibus weren’t worth saving but deemed it would be a decent everyday car that could be sacrificed in winter conditions.
Dad called the car’s owner to schedule a meeting, while I looked up all the specs and features for a 1976 Chevelle Malibu. We went to look at the car during the early spring when there were still some remnants of snow banks. The car was still in winter storage in a small garage. As we looked over the car, it was like opening a long lost time capsule. Both of us were very impressed with the car’s condition, which literally was like new.
The seller knew we were serious about the car, so he pulled it out of the garage and we took it for a test drive. Dad drove, the owner sat in the front passenger seat and I sat in the back. The seller claimed the back seat was never used and it looked like it. I distinctly remember being engulfed in that GM interior smell. While Dad was normally a pretty conservative driver, on the road test his Mr. Hyde persona came out. He really put the car through its paces. I remember Dad taking it on the highway and kicking it down into second gear and really winding out that 350. The seller commented that Dad was an aggressive driver, subtlety implying for him to take it easy. The seller also asked if Dad was impressed with the power of the car, commenting that the Malibu was a stronger performer than his 302 powered Grand Marquis. Dad said it was okay, but mentioned it wasn’t in the same league as his Torino or his 460 powered Ford truck.
When we got back from the road test, I could tell Dad wanted to buy the car. Dad and the seller talked cars a bit, as I gushed over the Malibu. That didn’t play to Dad’s advantage. As he tried to negotiate, I told Dad to just pay asking price, “It’s a great price Dad!” In the end, I killed his leverage, and he paid the asking price, something he never did. Sorry Dad!
The new Malibu was immediately put into daily driver service as Dad’s commuter car. At that time I walked to school and Dad’s route to work was similar to what I walked. I remember many mornings hoping I’d see Dad on the way to school so he’d pick me up and give me a ride to school. While I wanted to ride in Dad’s new car, it was also a way I could visit and chat with Dad a little more often.
Within a couple of months of Dad buying the Malibu, he moved away. The Malibu quickly started to rack up highway miles, shuttling us back and forth. While a 2-door coupe from the 70s isn’t the roomiest car around, it did fine holding five people and even six in a pinch if my Grandfather came along.
That fall I finally got my driver’s licence. I remember doing my driver’s test on a Thursday and the Friday we were headed for a visit at Dad’s place. Dad was very proud that I got my licence and he let me drive half the trip to his house. It was my first time driving a longer trip on the highway and Dad said I did pretty well.
I had a lot of wheel time in the Malibu as a teenager and it is ingrained in many of memories. I learned to drive on several family cars, but the Malibu was the one I put the most miles on. Although Dad was very particular about how his car was driven, he was more than willing to let his four kids learn to drive with the trusty Malibu. Nevertheless, it survived unscathed. As I got more driving experience, Dad eventually allowed me to drive it alone. Since the Malibu was just the everyday car, I got way more solo seat time in it compared to the Torino. One of my more frequent duties was to shuttle my Grandfather back home after a visit with us at Dad’s house. I really enjoyed this responsibility as I got to spend some quality one-on-one time with my Grandfather on the long drive from one end of town to the other.
I have to admit though, I also used these solo times to do some “self-education.” I put the Malibu through the typical teenage antics, fast driving, skidding and donuts in the snow, and pushing the car to the limits in the corners. Although it was only a malaise era 350 under the hood, compared to the 4-cylinder econoboxes most of my friends were saddled with or Mom’s heavy wagon, the Malibu was the most powerful and best performing car by a long shot. Plus, it could easily do a burn-out, which allowed me to perfect my technique. I just had to be careful not to go too crazy otherwise Dad would notice the rubber on the quarter panels!
I remember one time on a visit at Dad’s place I had forgotten some of my clothing at my Mom’s house. I was able to convince Dad to let me take the car on the 160 mile round trip back to Mom’s. He warned me to “take it easy” on the car, which I did – for about the first five miles. After that, I was exploring the second gear kick-down and the nether regions of the 100 mph speedometer on that two lane highway as I passed everything in sight. I ended up making my personal record time, one that stands to this day. I never told my Dad about any of these antics, so he will learn about them for the first time as he reads these words. See Dad, I told you I wouldn’t hurt the car – it’s still here today and running fine. I was just cleaning the carbon out of the engine!
Despite my teenaged abuse, the Malibu served admirably without complaint for many years. After Dad sold his truck, he had a hitch installed on the Malibu to perform towing duties. He was able to find a well-designed hitch that was almost completely hidden when the drawbar was removed. It is still on the car today, but unfortunately the draw bar has gone missing and that style is no longer available. The car was used for our summer trips to Mantoulin Island. With my Dad, my Grandfather, me and my three siblings in the Malibu which had no air conditioning; it was a tight hot ride.
Nevertheless, the Malibu performed without complaint, with the small trunk packed to the brim, and the boat behind loaded with the rest of the stuff that didn’t fit in the jammed car. Dad loves to drive but he let me do about half the driving on those vacations. These trips are also how I learned to pull a trailer and launch a boat. I have fond memories of cruising the Mantoulin Island back roads while Dad blasted his Jimmy Buffet cassette on the Kenwood tape deck. To this day, hearing “Cheese Burger in Paradise” brings me back to those summer cruises.
The Malibu taught me a lot of my early automotive maintenance skills. I helped Dad with oil changes, chassis greasing and tire changes. As my skills improved, I did tune-ups, coolant flushes, and transmission and differential fluid changes. My older cousin, who was a professional mechanic, taught me how to replace the shocks, when we upgraded the wallowy stock Delco hydraulic shocks to some firmer gas shocks. They helped eliminate some of the wallow but the car was still too softly sprung. I also installed an aftermarket auxiliary transmission cooler to help keep the transmission healthy when towing. When the road salt got the better of the original rad, I had a rad shop make a custom 3-core rad which I installed to replace the original 2-core unit.
As time went on and I entered adulthood, I went away to school, and eventually got decent vehicles of my own. I used the Malibu less and less. My Dad has an amazing ability to preserve his vehicles, and as the Malibu slugged away tirelessly serving his daily transportation duties. Dad kept it in meticulous condition, but it was a lot of work though. He habitually had it rustproofed with oil spray twice a year, it was garaged in winter, and he kept it washed and waxed. He was religious about his maintenance, which is probably why this car proved to be mechanically bullet-proof. That said, even with Dad’s maintenance, after more than 25 years the GM lacquer paint was starting to check on of the one quarter panels. Dad and I tried to refinish it. It was good enough to get through the winter, but it was an amateur job. So, he ended up investing in a new paint job. The body shop did an excellent job, stripping the car down to the bare metal and applying a modern base-coat clear coat paint job. He removed much of the trim to give the car a cleaner look. Amazingly, no rust repair was required.
It was around this time, Dad had decided to pass the Torino down to me. Having two older cars to maintain was getting hard, especially since Dad was getting much more involved with motorcycling. While Dad never held the Malibu in the same light as the Torino, he had a lot of respect for its unwavering dependability. He loves to tell the story of how one time he and his colleagues were discussing their vehicles at lunch. Several were complaining about their cars. One said their 1995 car was getting old and unreliable and another said their 1994 car needed to be traded because he didn’t trust it. One of them asked my Dad what he drove, and he replied “A 1976 Chevy Malibu, and I will drive across the country right now without blinking an eye.” His reply promptly ended any further complaints.
In 2007, Dad was on the verge of retirement after more than three and half decades in his job. He decided it was time to treat himself to a new car – something he hadn’t done since 1972. After three decades of driving 70s era cars, he figured it was time to move into the 21st century. So he went out and ordered a brand new Honda Civic coupe, and my brother ended up with the Malibu. Dad retired shortly afterwards. My brother and I brought the Malibu and Torino to the party, both of which were highlighted in several speeches as they had become part of his identity.
My brother used the Malibu as a summer classic, which meant it would never again be exposed to winter driving. Although my brother likes cars, his mechanical abilities are limited. Luckily, I lived close by, so I gladly helped him with any of the upkeep as needed. He wanted to improve the performance of the car, so I also helped with that. The old stock single exhaust was replaced with dual exhaust. The soft suspension was updated with stiffer performance oriented coil springs, Bilstein shocks, and larger front and rear sway bars. These changes improved the handling, and in my opinion improved the ride by eliminating the wallow. We also ditched Dad’s old 80’s era Kenwood tape deck and installed a modern radio. My brother added Cragar rims, and later I converted the car to the Malibu round headlights, ditching the stacked rectangular lights, which neither of us cared for.
After several years my brother got a new job and had to move away. This made it much more difficult for me to help with vehicle maintenance, but we’d try to plan it around visits. My brother enjoyed the Malibu, but as time went on he had less and less time for it. We had talked about plans in updating the old powertrain as he didn’t have the love for carburetors that I do. We discussed an LS engine swap with an OD transmission, bigger brakes, and updated steering. It was going to be pricey and difficult for me to find the time to work on his project. Ultimately he decided he’d rather have a modern performance car and he bought a late model Camaro SS. This resulted in the Malibu being parked in his garage where it sat untouched for nearly two years. After the two year slumber, I had told my brother we needed to get the Malibu out of storage as it had been sitting too long. I volunteered to change the fluids and drive it around to get everything working again. That’s when he told me his job required him to relocate to a new city, and he had decided he wasn’t taking the Malibu with him.
I wasn’t surprised by this news, as I knew his heart wasn’t in the Malibu anymore. With countless memories in that car, there was no way I could let it go. So my brother made a deal I couldn’t refuse and the car became mine. This all happened in the summer of 2018. At that time, my Torino had been off the road since the fall of 2017 for some refurbishment and I wasn’t going to have it roadworthy again until the following year. For the first time ever, the Torino missed a driving season and I didn’t have ready access to an old car. I was missing driving old iron big time and needed a fix. The Malibu fulfilled that need.
My brother and I made arrangements to pick up the car. He tried to get the Malibu running before I came but couldn’t get it to start before I arrived. I quickly figured out that the carb was dry from sitting so long. I added some fuel into the fuel bowl and the car fired up instantly. I pulled it out of the garage, and I took it for a run around the neighbourhood. I deemed it ran well enough to make the 100 mile trip home. After a quick swap of the storage wheels to the road worthy tires, I crossed my fingers and hit the highway, with a friend following behind, just in case. The Malibu drove great all the way home, cruising effortlessly at 75 mph.
Even though I readily accepted another car into my fleet, I really didn’t have the space for another car. Luckily, a friend of mine offered me winter storage. My lovely and understanding wife even sacrificed her garage bay during the summer to keep it out of the elements. With the Torino off the road, the Malibu filled in as our fair weather family cruiser. Both my son and daughter instantly loved the car.
That summer I drove the Malibu often and even used it to commute back and forth to work on occasion. It was a fantastic commuter and even got reasonably decent gas mileage. Despite its pretty stock 350 being far from powerful, it kept up with modern traffic quite effortlessly. I was even able to merge with ease despite my onramp being drastically shortened due to construction. As much as cars from this era are maligned for having terrible driveability, this Malibu has always run nearly flawlessly. With a simple old 350 Chevrolet with minimal emission controls, an HEI ignition, a TH350 transmission, and an 8.5” rear axle, it is undoubtedly among the best and most reliable powertrains of 1976.
At the present, other than the minor modifications, it is almost all original including the engine, transmission, body and interior. In fact, mechanically, it has been one of the most reliable cars ever in our family. The only mechanical failures it has had over its entire life were the alternator, the radiator (due to salt corrosion), and a vacuum advance canister. That’s it. All other parts, other than the upgraded suspension parts, and some wear items are the same parts it left the factory with in 1976. In Ontario a fairly strict mechanical fitness inspection is required with any used vehicle purchase. The Malibu passed with flying colours. The only parts I replaced, prior to the inspection, were the rear brake shoes (due to a crack in the brake lining), and the cracked windshield. Even the original GM rear drums still measure in-spec.
While my family has owned the Malibu for the majority of its life, my Dad didn’t buy it from the original owner so we didn’t know about all of its past. Over the years through research I have pieced most of the rest of its story together. While we knew the second owner owned the car for a few years and didn’t drive it much. All we knew of the original owner was that the car was originally from Saskatchewan but was later sold in the Ottawa area during the late 80s. Shortly after my Dad bought the car, I was looking through my collection of Old Car Traders (yes I used to collect them). By sheer luck, I ended up finding the original ad for the car. It looked pretty much the same as when we bought it, except it had the original wheel covers instead of the Rally wheels that were installed by the second owner. The ad said that the car was a one owner car from Saskatchewan, and had never seen winter. It had around 20,000 miles on it at the time, meaning the second owner put less than 10,000 miles on it.
GM of Canada has extensive historical records on Canadian made GM products. Since my Malibu was an Oshawa built car, I sent away to get this information. From this I learned my Malibu was built on June 23rd 1976 at GM’s Oshawa plant, and was later sold by Saskatoon Motor Products Limited in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The dealership still exists today, but when I reached out to them, they told me they had no sales records from that era. My car was one of 11,997 Malibu Classics coupes made in Canada and only one of 1,761 with the Z/03 Landau option package. As you see on the above option list, it was not heavily optioned, but I’d say this was pretty typical of Canadian market cars during this time.
Now that I have had the car for a while, I have had a chance to go over it fairly thoroughly. After 44 years of service there are things that need some attention, and there are things I plan to change or update. Years ago the original carpeting was damaged and poorly repaired on the driver’s side, so I’d like to replace it. Some of the weather stripping needs replacing, and there is a minor electrical short that needs to be sorted out. I plan to update the carburetor, with a slightly modified Q-Jet I am currently building. I will replace the exhaust tips and go to a much more subtle exit location. I will may go back to Rally wheels too.
Although the car is mostly untouched, I won’t leave it that way. I will drive it as is and enjoy it for now, but as time and money allow, I will slowly overhaul and restore most of the car. Half the fun of owning an old car is working on it, restoring it and making it my own. This will be a family affair and I will have the kids help out. At some point the 350 will get pulled and rebuilt. I want to keep the engine stock appearing but will wake it up with some updates including ditching the terrible smog era heads and installing a mild roller cam. I will be sticking with a Q-jet carb and a HEI ignition, but I’d consider upgrading to an overdrive transmission since it’s so cheap to do on a Chevrolet. A corresponding differential gear and posi-swap will also follow-suit. The interior plastics need some restoration work, especially the crack-o-matic dash pad, but most are decent considering their age. Overall, I want the car to stay stock appearing, but I will improve it in subtle ways.
Many think of a car as a piece of history and that we as the owners are simply the care takers of this historical artifact. I understand the historical significance of preserving some of these old cars, but cars are ultimately meant to be used and enjoyed and that’s what I plan to do. For me, this old Malibu is my time machine. It can take me back into time, to the countless memories of my youth. But it can also bring me to the future, as I enjoy the car with my family and restore it with my kids to make it our own. Making this car a family project will create a whole new set of memories for my kids. When the time is right, if one of them has the interest, I plan to pass it down the line to keep it in the family.
So while many turn their noses up at an old brown Chevy from the mid-70s, I for one think this is one of the best cars around and I have a lot of respect for it. For years it toiled away in the background, serving my family without complaint. It will never be collectible, worth a lot of money, or even turn a lot of heads. To me though, this car is truly priceless and will forever be our family’s unsung hero.
Thank you. While the COAL series has never failed to disappoint, this is my favourite by far. A wonderfully told story of you, your family and the cars all intertwined.
Many people forget that most cars are purchased for the purpose of transportation; it makes me happy that you continue to use this 44 year old example of a workaday car for its intended purpose.
My father bought a ’76 Malibu Classic 4 door which was one of the most reliable cars he ever purchased; it wasn’t uncommon for him to put 100K miles on a vehicle in less than 2 years, so the Malibu lives on in the collective family memories.
Wonderful story. My coffee got cold as I read it not wanting to stop for a refill.
I’m a softy for any father/son car story and yours is great – as is the car.
The original color combo was very popular in the late 70s but the full one color repaint with removed trim and the single round head lights really makes it pop into one’s eyes.
And in my opinion those exhaust tips are not obnoxious as your brother feels; they’re perfect. Kind of 5.0 Mustang LX-ish. And that’s a good thing.
Thanks for the memories.
Thank you kindly! It was actually more me than my brother that didn’t like those exhaust tips, but I have learned to live with them. I don’t like the exposed pipe visible from the side too. If I do switch it to new exits, I’d probably keep it tucked tight and have subtle down turn tips at the bumper.
I agree on the exhaust tips. It looks great.
There is much to relate to here. At the time I got my drivers license my mother had a 74 Pontiac Luxury LeMans and my stepmom had a 74 Cutlass Supreme, so I spent a lot of wheeltime in these Colonnade cars.
Both were excellent handlers and felt far more modern than most other cars on the road at the time – thinking back, I think that there was a gigantic leap in chassis tuning with the 1957 Mopars and another (though perhaps more gradual and spread across more lines) in these. These cars were night and day from the FoMoCo stuff my father preferred in the 70s and were a good compromise between ride and handling.
Mom’s Pontiac never ran as well as your Chevy. 1974 was a tough year for emissions systems, and the car had a horrible hesitation and stumble during warmup that we never licked. The Cutlass was a much better runner. And you are right that these were really very good at not rusting the way so many other cars in the 70s did.
I think the only bad things about these were the cheap interiors and the not-great space utilization for something so heavy. Both in our family were upper level cars that suffered from cheap hardware that held pull-straps on the interior door panels. And the Pontiac was a real pig on gas mileage, rarely getting over 12-14 mpg in all-around driving. The 4 bbl Olds 350 felt a lot stronger than the 2 bbl Pontiac 350, too.
Thanks for this in-depth tale of a car that made itself part of the family.
Our Malibu had the base level suspension, so it was softly sprung and the suspension was floaty. But the good geometry, essentially lifted from the 1970 F-body, meant it was still a good handler for the time. That said, despite the Ford’s generally being worse handlers, for our two examples the Torino was a better handler overall with its heavy duty suspension. Today, I have upgraded the suspensions on both cars, and they handle very well, even by modern standards. The Malibu has a spring and sway bar combination that is better than anything offered by GM from the factory in the 1970s. I am confident the current setup is far better than any factory setup. That said, the Torino feels still easily out handles the Malibu, but the Malibu does have a slightly better ride. So it’s kind of the opposite of what most would expect.
The fuel economy on our Chevy was pretty good overall for the times, but not as good as Mom’s Parisienne (305 with TH700-R4). Looking at Dad’s old records, the Malibu could get in the low-20s (IMP) when mostly highway driven, but that could get cut in half if all city winter driving. Regardless, it was a BIG improvement from the 460 Ford, but Dad was ready for better fuel economy by 2007, which is why he went to a 4-cylinder car.
Mom bought the LeMans off the lot as a demo/drivers ed car that had a few miles on it, so I don’t think we ever saw a window sticker. I know it had both front and rear sway bars, so perhaps it came with a suspension upgrade. Or maybe Pontiac was still putting in a little extra effort over some of the other Divisions. All I can say is that the bias belted tires would lose grip far before the car would lean significantly in hard cornering. And as a teen driver I gave it plenty of testing. The variable ratio steering was also a lot faster of a steering box than was common and gave great feel. It was not until I got the 77 New Yorker with factory HD suspension and 70 series radials that I experienced a more composed stock chassis in a big car. With more power and better tires that Pontiac would have been a real road car.
I think 16 mpg was the best we ever saw on the highway with the Pontiac.
At that time, each division still did their own suspension tuning, but they all had the same basic geometry. If your Mom’s Pontiac had front and rear sway bars I suspect it probably had some sort of upgrade package. I used to think the steering in our Malibu was pretty good and it was better than Fords. However, now driving it in modern times it is far too over boosted and slow. I have a Saginaw 12.7:1 steering box I plan to swap in at some point, the same basic unit I used in my Torino. It drastically improved the steering response and road feel.
Both great cars buy to admit the Torino was the better handler…?. Thought they handled like a pig.
What was your folks weekly gas bill?. We were paying 60pence per Gallon
In the UK at the Time?.
It’s blanket statements like this that bother me because they aren’t accurate. Both the GM and Ford products came in many variations and this greatly varied how they handled due to the different suspension and tires setups, as well as two wheelbases. In general, the GM Colonnades were better handlers than the Fords. However, not all Torinos were bad handlers and not all Colonnades were good handlers. In 1972 and 1973 Torinos had three suspension levels. The base suspension had very soft springs and weak shocks which made for a super smooth ride but poor handling car. The optional suspensions improved things dramatically, which is what my car had. It’s not that the Torino has a fundamentally poor suspension design, it’s that Ford executed it poorly.
I have a old Popular Science where the 1973 Intermediates cars are tested. A 1973 Gran Torino Sport performs considerably better through the handling test than the 1973 Malibu Laguna also tested (58.2 mph for the Torino vs 54.0 mph for the Malibu). The Pontiac Grand Am was the best overall though, at 60.0 mph. Yet in a 1972 test, a 4-door Gran Torino with base suspension is considerably poorer through the same test. It all depended on how the car was setup – there was big variability.
As for the fuel bill, we had big cars but they were used when needed. We as a family also did a lot of walking and bicycling. My dad lived close to his work during his working years and more often than not would commute on two-wheels or on foot. Dad also kept his cars for a long time and didn’t have car payments, which helped offset the higher fuel costs.
Amazing. Cars of a lifetime are to be treasured. Keeping the flame alive is worth all the efforts.
Thank you for sharing a part of life to which many of us hold close.
Lot of effort getting this published and written up..well done.
Wow. Just…wow 🙂
I can’t believe how rust free your dad kept that car! A family heirloom that doesn’t need rust repair, and from the salt belt no less? Perfect! Good call on the round headlights, too.
I’m not sure the blacked-out grille really works, but the conversion to the dual, round headlights does. I’m guessing that the vinyl top somehow trapped water and was causing the leak. Simply getting rid of it was the smart play.
Likewise, it’s tough to fathom the fascination a lot of people have with chrome exhaust extensions. Particularly bad are the obvious Pep Boys cheapo, bolt-on things that are ‘way’ too long. I learned a long time ago that the best tailpipes are the simple turn-down types that are mostly hidden. Even if it’s not possible to find OEM types, any exhaust shop can make a decent set with no trouble.
As others have mentioned, these cars were ‘everywhere’ back in the seventies, and equipped about the same. The big Malbu Classic coupe was the bargain-basement version of the very popular Cutlass. Inefficient as hell but it was still okay and when the last one rolled off the line in 1977 in lieu of the downsized 1978 cars, it was the end of an era. I distinctly recall a particular article in some magazine highlighting the last, big stick-shift Chevy (you could still get a three-on-the-tree Malibu right up to the end).
I am back and forth on the grille colour. Some days I like the black, others I want to revert it back to argent. Who knows, I may change it back someday. My brother wanted the blacked out look as he was planning hot rod the car more than I want to. In any case, I like the base grille over the cross-hatch Malibu Classic grille it used to have, so I am not going back to the original Malibu Classic grille.
To echo the others, Vince, your pieces are exceptional. It’s mindblowing to me just how the few visual changes you made to your Malibu Classic made it look like a genuinely great-looking car. The change to the standard-Chevelle header panel, by itself, is proof positive that sometimes, less is more. Your ’76 is probably what I had wished my ’76 Malibu Classic was like. (In my head, it probably was.)
Another thing that struck me while looking at the picture of your Torino next to the Malibu was how only one model year separated the first year of both designs. An excellent read.
In a prior CC on this generation Malibu, there are photos of what they would have looked like with one-year-only bumpers. They didn’t really help the appearance all that much so GM wisely extended the ’71 cars for an additional year. I wonder if that extra year might have helped engineer the colonnades just a bit better than what they might otherwise have been as 1972 cars.
Vince, it’s good to finally read about your Malibu. The way it has been preserved, despite its use conditions, is truly phenomenal. It’s making me wonder if the Colonnade cars might be the unsung heroes of the 1970s….
I give your dad credit as he knows the best and stoutest drivetrains to get in his cars.
Update: I didn’t even realize you had used the title of “unsung hero” when I wrote the same thing above. Seems like great minds must be thinking alike. 🙂
This is probably the most stirring COAL that I remember. So much to relate to here, and my jaw dropped when I realized that the Malibu is still in such superb condition. At first, I thought the lead picture was that of another car.
My favorite part to the story here is that you were the impetus for your father buying the car in the first place. And I laughed at how your exuberance scuttled Dad’s negotiating tactics. I remember doing the same thing as a kid, and eventually my dad wised up and shooed me out of the room when he started negotiating.
And like Aaron mentioned above, I’m amazed at how the routine rustproofing actually prevented rust. Not being from the Rust Belt, I always assumed that such services were sort of quackery… I guess not.
Well, congratulations on hanging on to this great piece of your family’s history, and on writing this enjoyable piece.
The key is that it was sprayed with an oil. Probably something like Fluid Film. That’s effective if you keep up with it.
It’s the rubber-ish type undercoatings like Ziebart that make a big mess, trap moisture, and eventually rot everything.
Yes, it was an oil based rust spray only. Over the years, Dad mostly used Krown, but also used Rust check. Both are messy, but it saved the car. And thank you for then kind words Eric.
Wonderful story! And cool that your family held onto and cared for two Malaise-era vehicles to this day. That Malibu looks better to me now than when you brought it home, as I’d always preferred the rounded headlights and blackout grill.
That was a good read. These have gotten a lot of flack around here, but I had a friend with one in high school in the early ’90s. I thought it was pretty nice, keeping in mind the other old cars kids were driving at the time. Comfortable, decent power, and nice looking. Worthwhile to maintain well, which he did.
This is truly a car of a lifetime.
Vince, you’re the ultimate Curbsider! What a moving story.
What your cars prove is that any car that is really well loved, maintained and improved a bit looks great. It’s like a person that has kept themselves physically and mentally healthy and fit, and then radiates those qualities. They make me really want to meet you and your cars, as they are highly attractive. And as you know, I might not typically say that of these vintage cars. Which is to say you more than anyone here has really contributed to my deeper appreciation and understanding of them.
Thank you so much for sharing this and the Torino with us!
Thanks Paul, your words mean a lot. I’d like to make the west coast of the States at some point and if I do, a stop in Eugene would definitely be on the agenda. However, I doubt I’d bring one of my old cars that far west. If there is ever another Detroit meet-up I’d definitely bring one.
Great stuff, that interior shot brought back memories of my uncle’s malibu wagon, which I got a lot of seat time in when I stayed at his farm for a few summers.
The 350/350/10 bolt powertrain was indeed very fine.
Pretty impressive job of keeping an Ontario car rust free. From the foliage I’m thinking Sudbury area?
Good eye Doug! Yes, many of those photos are Sudbury area.
I absolutely love this COAL entry. That Malibu looked great in the beginning, and looks create now. I loved the color matched rallye wheels with white letter tires, very eye catching.
I may go back to Rallys eventually. I agree they looked good on this car colour matched. I still have the Rallys and the original plain steel wheels with wheel covers. Unfortunately the original Rally wheel caps got lost in one of my brother’s moves. I’d like to up size the Rallys to 15x8s though rather than the 15x7s that were on the car. The car currently has 15×8 Cragars, there is a lot of room in those wheel wells.
Wow. One of the best COAL’s I’ve read….up there with your Torino, Paul’s, Kevin Martin’s and some of rplaut’s COAL’s
Thanks for taking the time to share the story of this car – please also do be willing to share the stories of some of your cars with periods of short ownership – some of the best and most engaging stories we’ve all listened to are about one night stands….
Great COAL and car. I had similar experiences with my ’75 Monte Carlo bought in 1988 and still owned today. The 350/350/2.73 combo is the same and is one of the best drivelines that I’ve ever owned. Mine was purchased in worse condition, and has needed a bit more body work to keep looking respectable (damned vinyl roof!).
Thanks Dean, that is a very fine Monte Carlo you have. I am sure the interior on my car looks pretty familiar to you. While the body has held up well, there have been a few body repairs over the years. Like I mentioned the rear window leaked and Dad removed the vinyl top. There was some minor surface rust in the window channel that needed to be repaired, which the body shop believed was caused by the vinyl roof holding moisture. At that same time the windshield leaked a bit too, which caused the damage to the carpet and caused some minor rust on the floor pan that was repaired. Dad also did had the body shop touch up the car a few times over the years before he invested in a full paint job. He made sure the paint stayed in good shape so rust couldn’t start. My brother also had to fix a small spot on the lower fender about five or six years ago. While the body hasn’t been problem free, it has never needed any panel replacement and overall it has held up very well considering it was driven in the winter.
Vince, one of the hands down best COALs. That was an engaging read and what a great story – those two cars are really a part of the family. And when you see the condition of those cars when many didn’t last 10 years in Ontario’s salt laden environment.
Thank you for taking the time to write that up. Well done!
Vince, good car, great coal story, enjoyed reading it! Thanks for sharing.
My family never owned a Malibu, but there were many of these in Long Island in the 70s.
Thank you Vince, I’ve been waiting for this one!
Truly a car of a lifetime and I’m glad that both the Malibu and the Torino are still in your life.
Thanks to all for the great comments! I am glad you all enjoyed the story.
Terrific stories, and I think the de-trim and repaint turned out great.
Apropos of my catalytic converter article from yesterday: did this Canadian car come with or without a cat? GM Canada kind of tripped over their feet in ’75; at first they decided to put converters on all their Canadian ’75s, just as they were doing with their American ’75s, but there was no Canadian mandate for availability of unleaded gasoline, so Canadians outside major population centres shied away from new GM cars for fear of inability to buy appropriate fuel for them. After several months of slack sales, GM Canada started offering buyers a delete option on the converter; that lasted through the ’79 model year.
That would explain my mystery ’75 Monte Carlo’s. One has the cat, all the warning stickers for unleaded gas, and a fuel gauge that specified unleaded fuel only. The second car has no cat, stickers or notification on the gauge. I suspected a cat delete option, but have only seen it in the Chrysler literature in that period. FWIW, the cat car seems to run better and get better mileage than the non-cat car.
Not terribly surprising; the catless cars were likely (de)tuned to something close to US 1974 specs. The US ’75s were tuned to run better despite the resultant dirtier exhaust, because the cat could clean it up.
Daniel, yes my Malibu had a converter from the factory. If you look really closely at the trunk photo, you will see the catalytic converter sticker on the inside of the lid (it’s still there today). When my brother owned the car, I cut off the factory bead style converter and removed the transmission cross member to modify it. Not only were the converters highly restrictive, but the exhaust coming out of them necked down really small too.
When GM went started using catalytic converters it also changed all the transmission cross members from the “double hump” to “single hump”. The cross members also supported the back end of the converter (it bolted to the mount on the cross member). Once the cross member was modified, the exhaust shop installed the new dual exhaust which included two modern high flow catalytic converters.
Dean, nice pair of Monte Carlo. Do you still have both?
Interesting! I’d like to see a clear close-up of that label.
You bet! ( and a ’84 Parisienne too!) The original M/C was purchased in T.O (originally sold in Brampton), and the twin was acquired around 2000 (a Windsor car). Enclosed are the more recent shots of the gauges to show where the original was an unleaded car, and the Windsor car was “leaded”
The Windsor dash
Wow, what an excellent read and a true Car Of A Lifetime, you really did the series proud with this one, Vince. The car is in great hands and probably appreciated more by anyone that sees it now than at any previous point in its existence, perhaps even including its original purchase date. I wish you and your family many more happy years with it, good job!
As an inveterate Oldsmobile snob, I usually have some issue with Colonnade Chevelles, the right combination of wrong year (’75), trim (base), and options (low) and, well……
But, the final Chevelles, and I’m on record as okay with the stacked lights, caught some groove in Malibu trim, and your family saga, maintenance and very mild customization in the face of some severe headwinds from the North really bring out the best in Chevy’s spin on the Colonnade.
Mr. Shafer brings up the unsung hero aspect of the Colonnade and you only have to look just behind one of my personal Colonnades for a reminder of its underlying heritage where the Colonnade provided a foundation for one of GM’s greatest that persevered from 1973 through 1996.
Keeping a car rust-free in Ontario for 44 years is quite an accomplishment.
SMP still exists but the original location in the downtown core is long gone.
It now resides on the north half of Circle Drive, Saskatoon’s “ring road”.
Initiated in 1966, it was recently fully completed only a few years ago, with a bridge on the southern part of town. It’s now possible to circumnavigate the city. The late Mayor Sid Buckwolds dream finally fulfilled.
One of the best stories I’ve read here, or anywhere. I’ll bet being engulfed in that GM interior smell has reawakened long-dormant memories of your father and grandfather that otherwise may have been forgotten. It’s funny how a scent, or a song, can instantly transport you back in time, sometimes quite vividly. Especially poignant is that now those memories have expanded into a fourth generation of your family.
My first car was a 1971 Pontiac Catalina, which got wrecked (not my fault) a few years later. I replaced it with a Mercury Capri, which I soon started calling the Mercury Debris. A week after I bought it, I saw a classmate’s much-admired 1975 Malibu, black on black with SS style silver lower stripes, with a for sale sign in the window for about the same price as I had paid for the Debris. My heart sank. I would have bought that car in an instant. That’s the memory that came rushing back to me when I saw the first picture of your car.
I missed this back in February. Great read, great story, you dad should be proud. Glad it was reposted.
Somehow I missed this also at the time. Wonderful story, really enjoyed it!