What comes to mind when you think of the name “Chevelle?” A high-performance SS? The car your local teenage gas-station employee drove in the 1980s? The base car for other models like Monte Carlos or El Caminos? Whatever comes to mind, chances are it’s not a Malibu sedan such as this one. Fewer than 15 percent of 1972 Chevy A-bodies were four-door sedans, and combined with them not being collector’s items these days, seeing one isn’t an everyday occurrence. But regardless of its rarity, this is not the world’s most exciting car – Chevelles and Malibus, which had not been extensively overhauled since 1968, were underpowered, and were dully styled. This car’s coat of battleship gray paint doesn’t exactly spice things up, either. So take a No-Doz if you must, and let’s admire some shots of this rather unlikely survivor.
1972 was the last year of Chevelle’s second generation, introduced for 1968 along with GM’s other A-body intermediates. With over 2.7 million examples (Chevelles, Malibus and other permutations) produced over its five-year run, this generation of Chevy was a common sight in its day. And despite being rather long in the tooth by ’72, 632,000 of them were still sold, even as GM dealers anxiously awaited the delayed Colonnade replacements. But our featured car is not the version that most consumers sprang for.
Of those 600,000+ 1972 Chevrolet A-bodies, only about 92,000 were 4-door sedans. Two-door models – whether Chevelles, Malibus or Monte Carlos, accounted for two-thirds of total production – and four decades later, sedans represent an even smaller proportion among surviving cars. For example, a check of Hemmings.com in July 2018 revealed that only one of the forty-two 1972 Chevelles listed for sale was a sedan. (ED: the Monte Carlo was actually a G-Body, and given that 180,000 were sold in 1972, these numbers are skewed heavily to two door versions. Actual Chevelle 2 door production was 248k (coupes and conv), so the four door sedan and hardtop represented about 25% of combined coupe and 4 door sedan production.)
One may think, looking at this dreary, unadorned sedan, that it is a stripped-down model. But astonishingly, it is not. This is a Malibu, as opposed to the base Chevelle sedan – the upgraded model that provided customers with more exterior brightwork (yes, really) and interior nicities. Most buyers sprang for the extra $174 the Malibu package added on to Chevelle’s $2,747 base price. Those base Chevelle sedans wound up being rarer than Corvettes, and one has to wonder whether any of them have survived.
But rare doesn’t always correlate with excitement. Chevelle and Malibu sedans were unexceptional vehicles, even when new. Engines (such as the 250 6-cyl. or 307 V-8) were insipid, trim quality was no better than average, and rear seating room was small. But none of that stopped Chevy’s A-body from being the top-selling intermediate for much of its lifespan. They provided good value for basic transportation, which is undoubtedly what attracted our featured car’s original owner.
How many good things can we say about a Chevelle? That’s actually a pertinent question. A year before our featured car was built, Chevrolet published an ad claiming that Chevelle had “109 advantages to keep it from becoming old before its time.” However, this claim prompted an investigation by the United States Federal Trade Commission (which, in a flurry of consumer protection, investigated dozens of other unconvincing auto ads that year). General Motors responded by providing the FTC with 109 Chevelle attributes that it said fit the ad’s criteria. The list was amusing – including trivial things like an outside mirror, balanced tires, and a “Body by Fisher.” While the FTC dropped its investigation, that case undoubtedly produced quite a few groans from GM’s legal department.
I won’t attempt to conjure up 109 reasons why I enjoyed seeing this example parked somewhat haphazardly on a small town’s streets. Just one reason is enough: because I haven’t seen a four-door Chevelle or Malibu of this vintage in about a decade. This car has survived long enough, in fact, that it becomes almost exciting. Almost.
Photographed in Chadron, Nebraska in June 2018.