What is it about a Chevelle? It’s a fair assumption that an average red-blooded car-loving American will likely refer to some Chevelle in the 1968-1972 range of model years as their dream car, and their car show ubiquity is reasonable proof of that. Few of those dream Chevelles, however, would be hubcap-shod Malibu hardtops sporting a lone exhaust pipe, and that’s where my interests and Chevelles must converge. Ah, there’s something about a Chevelle, isn’t there?
I have some history with Chevelles such as our feature car, which is why this original ’71 caught my eye immediately. My senior locker partner in high school drove a gold ’70 Chevelle with a black vinyl top year-round in Michigan. This was in the mid-1990s, so it might not be a surprise that it was suffering from an advancing, but not altogether obvious, state of decay. In other words, the frame was rotten. I also managed to run into the side of it with my not-any-nicer ’65 Mustang with bodywork provided by a guy who didn’t know what he was doing. In other words, me.
Somehow, my friend managed to find a ’71 Chevelle hardtop parts car for $100. Today, that seems like a scam. A hundred dollars. It had no driveline but it did have a solid frame, which he definitely needed. One Saturday, we formed a convoy to drag it home. I drove my ’87 Thunderbird as a Bandit-style “blocker,” or a car that could run its four-way flashers behind the car in tow. He drove his dad’s early ’80s Squarebody Chevy with a straight-six as a tow vehicle. I remember our not having much of a plan, but we did have an extra friend with us. Needless to say, one of the few mental images that has remained with me from that day is the Chevelle’s front wheels crashing violently to full lock as my friend took off as if nothing were behind him. With nothing to lock the front wheels, the extra friend hopped in and steered the dangerously wayward Chevelle in tow, on tires that must have barely held air, and a front suspension that was pointed in every direction but straight. This is a reminder that teenagers are often idiots.
The Chevelle looked awfully similar to our feature car, and I don’t remember if my friend ever got around to a frame swap. I don’t think he did.
After that, I basically forgot about Chevelles for almost 10 years, when one of the few “cars that got away” entered my life for a short couple of minutes. A ’70 Chevelle very similar to this ’71 was parked on the side of a rural two-lane highway a ways out from where I live. It was 2003, I was not making much money, and I already had a couple of cars I didn’t truly need. It was a nearly rust-free 307-powered Malibu priced at $3900. Today, that seems like a scam. Thirty-nine hundred. Either way, I looked it over and told my dad (who was with me) that this was an amazing deal and I probably should buy it, even though I was never all that hooked on Chevelles. It was a great looking unmodified Malibu, but the timing wasn’t quite right. I should have made it right, however, because it’s worth a bit more than $3900 today. This is a reminder that people in their twenties are often idiots.
Since then, no Chevelles have entered my life that have affected me in such firsthand ways, although this beautiful ’71 Malibu gave me those feelings all over again. So many have been cloned into SS models or have been LS swapped that I often feel as if I’m the only person in the world who would vastly prefer a stock 307 or 350 Malibu with a vinyl top such as this one. This is the Chevelle of the average man, a piece of Midwestern industrial socioeconomic history. No drag strip terror, the basic lines nonetheless shine through the lack of pretension. Chevelles are truly handsome cars.
Although white is not my favorite paint color, it harmonizes well on this Chevelle with a blue interior. I love the interiors of 1970s Chevrolets. Some people complain about their lack of comprehensive gauges, but that simple ribbon speedometer and clean steering wheel get me every time. I love the way that the “Chevrolet” script is off-center and the severely angled gear selector juts out from and back toward the dashboard. I love the tall armrests and the vertical theme on the door panels. I love it all but the fuzzy dice (no offense to anyone who loves fuzzy dice).
GM intermediates are fantastic cars, although my tastes run toward the earlier Buicks of the “square” period. There is no denying, however, that the ’70-’72 Chevelle hardtops are among the best looking cars of the muscle car era, even if some of them aren’t muscle cars. The fact that they are equally adept at being muscle cars and basic transportation is only one of the lovely things about them. To most car fanatics, that’s been clear all along, but it simply took something more along my lines, and a few old memories, to make me notice.