While most people are familiar that GM of Canada manufactured unique Pontiacs, the Chevrolets sold in Canada also had some special variations. I recently wrote an overview of the Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport, and mentioned that Canada kept the Malibu SS around after 1965. Let’s look at GM of Canada’s Malibu SS and a few other Canadian only variations in Chevrolet’s A-body line.
The 1966 model year was the year that introduced the SS396 in the US market. However, GM of Canada was not set up to manufacture the SS396, so it did not produce any for the Canadian Market. Being that Canada was a smaller market, GM of Canada simplified the Chevelle line. The US Chevelle line had the 300, 300 Deluxe, Malibu and the SS396, whereas Canada only had two series, the 300 and Malibu. Canada was only about 10% of the population of the US, and its buyers were on average thriftier than US customers. Nevertheless, that didn’t mean that the performance car market wasn’t starting to heat up north of the border as well.
So GM of Canada came up with its own solution for a performance option on the Chevelle. They offered an option package called the “Sports option.” This was under option code A51, which was the bucket seat option code for US market cars. In Canada, selecting A51 Sports option got you a set of bucket seats, a console (for Powerglide or 4-speed), wheel covers, unique Malibu SS ornamentation and trim, and a clock. Sound familiar? It was basically the same upgrades that buying a 1965 Malibu SS got you over a Malibu. In fact it was so close, GM of Canada decided to use 1965 Malibu SS nameplates on any car equipped with the sports option.
The 1966 Malibu SS also used the ribbed rocker panel moldings and matching rear quarter extension from the US market SS396. The cove on the rear panel of Malibu SS cars was painted argent silver instead of black on the SS396. The Malibu SS did not get the blacked out grille or the domed hood from the SS396, instead it used standard Malibu fare. This sports option was available with any engine including the sixes. Since the A51 option code was normally for bucket seats but in Canada it was replaced by the sport option, it also meant that the only way to order bucket seats was by selecting the sports option. There were no bucket seats available in the Malibu.
Now you ask what about the 396 engines? In US market cars the only way to get a 396 was by purchasing an SS396. While Canada didn’t have any SS396’s, you could in fact get the 396. To get the 396, the A51 sports option was a mandatory option. So that meant that it was also limited to Malibu coupes and convertibles. Furthermore, Canadians only got one of the three 396’s the US market received: the 360 hp L34. Ordering a 396 engine didn’t give the Malibu SS any other special badging to make a Malibu SS396, it was trimmed the same as a Malibu SS with a 283. The one giveaway was the cross flagged emblem on the front fender which identified the 396 under hood.
Things were not much different in Canada for the beginning of the 1967 model year. There was no SS396 model and the A51 sports option would transform your Malibu into a Malibu SS. Again the 396 was only available if the A51 option was selected and the 350 hp L34 (rated 10hp less than 1966) remained the only 396 available. While the US market saw the introduction of the TH400 for the SS396, Canadian brochures show the Powerglide as the only automatic available, even with the 396. However, there is some unconfirmed information that suggests that Canadian 396 cars could actually order a TH400.
There were some minor trim revisions. The Malibu SS wheel covers now had an ‘SS’ center emblem, and used the wheel opening moldings and ribbed rockers from the SS396. Otherwise, the Malibu SS was much like a Malibu, including the non-blackout grille and the flat hood. For 1967, there was no special paint in the rear panel cove to distinguish a Malibu SS from a Malibu. The lower stripe used on the SS396 in the US market was optional on a Canadian Malibu SS and for the first time red line tires were available.
The whole thing came to an end in approximately December of 1966. By this time GM of Canada had tooled up to produce the SS396 series. As GM started to produce SS396 cars, the sports option was removed from the options list. As a result, option A51 reverted back to being a bucket seat option. This meant you could order bucket seats in any Malibu without making the car an SS. The console became a separate option as well. The SS396 cars manufactured in Canada had some minor differences initially. Early cars off the line reportedly didn’t get the SS396 hood, or blacked out grille. Some also had the rear cove painted argent instead of black.
Many hard-core Chevelle enthusiasts will tell you that there is no way a 1966 or 67 Malibu V8, model 136, ever left the factory with a 396. They will say that the 396 is only correct in an SS396, model 138, and having a 396 in a 136 Malibu means it’s fake. Well, now you know this is not true if it was a Canadian built car with the A51 Sports Option.
While the Malibu SS was one unique Canadian Chevelle model, there were others too. From 1965-67, GM of Canada produced two different convertible models. In the US market the only way to get a Chevelle convertible in 1965 was buy a Malibu convertible. In Canada, you could buy a Malibu convertible or a Chevelle 300 convertible. This model was essentially trimmed like other Chevelle 300’s and it offered Canadians a cheaper way of getting that rag top.
So why would GM of Canada in the Great White North offer more convertible options? I can only speculate, but I would think to help improve convertible sales. GM of Canada operated as a separate entity from the GM in the US at this time. So they were responsible for their own tooling and profitability. By offering a cheaper convertible, I believe GM hoped that it would appeal to thrifty Canadians who wanted a rag top but just couldn’t afford the top of the line Malibu Convertible.
In the end, I am not sure how much of difference it made, since the model was eventually dropped from the roster, and it seems they were produced in very small numbers.
In 1970, there was only a minor difference between the US and Canadian market Chevelle lines. For the beginning of the 1970 model year, US market Chevelles no longer had a base model, the sole line was the Chevelle Malibu. While in Canada both the Malibu and the base model remained available, with the base models still called the “300 Deluxe.” The base models were reintroduced in the US midyear, but were renamed simply “Chevelle.” There weren’t that many differences between the US and Canadian base model cars, but the 300 Deluxe in Canada did have its own emblems on the fenders. It also used the upgraded Malibu style grille with the Chevy bowtie in the center. Otherwise, both the Canadian 300 Deluxe and the US Chevelle were very similar.
For 1971, both US and Canada base model Chevelles were called “Chevelle.” Nevertheless, partway through the model year, GM of Canada reintroduced the 300 Deluxe. This was basically a trim upgrade package for base model Chevelles. Buying the 300 Deluxe package upgraded the grille to a Malibu style grille, added Malibu rocker moldings, carpet in place of the rubber floor and the same “300 Deluxe” emblems used on the 1970 Chevelle 300 Deluxes. The 300 Deluxe model option continued to be offered in 1972, but was available for the full model year. These cars are very rare, most of them long since destroyed by the harsh Canadian climate.
So there you have it, some other Canada-only cars that the US market didn’t get. Although the variations are small, GM of Canada was pretty resourceful in adapting US market cars to the Canadian market. I had a very difficult time finding any real life examples of these cars, so if anyone sees one of these Chevelles in the flesh, it would be great if you’d to share them on CC.