These 1978-1981 Malibu Coupes were always a bit underrated stylistically. They were clean, taut, and paid homage to the seminal Fiat 130 Coupe penned by Paolo Martin, which of course also heavily influenced Bill Mitchell’s 1977 B/C Body cars. But the Malibu coupe tends to get overlooked in favor of its larger siblings, yet its smaller size makes it even more European.
Obviously, its popularity with hot rodders has made it a bit harder to see it in its purest form, but then these were another reincarnation of the Tri-Five Chevy, so who can blame them. Good luck finding one that doesn’t have aftermarket wheels and bigger tires. This one found and posted by nifticus is about as good as it gets for these. Nice color, too.
Our dearly missed design guru, Don Andreina, did one of his lengthy dives into the Fiat 130 and it widespread influence, especially so on Bill Mitchell. But Don never mentioned the Malibu coupe, yet the influence is unmistakable. Mitchell improved on the 130, by making its overly-heavy C-pillar much more delicate on the Mailbu and the lovely Buick LeSabre coupe. The Malibu is closest of all the GM cars to the 130. And unlike the LeSabre, the Malibu has a blessedly simple and clean front end.
And rear end. Obviously, it was all too clean for Americans’ taste; the downsized Malibu coupe sold reasonably well its first two years, but by 1980 that went downhill, and the coupe was dropped already in 1982. The gaudy, affected and bulging Monte Carlo was clearly more to the public’s taste. Or lack of it.
Here’s Don Andreina’s Dive Into All Things 130 Coupe:
Curbside Classic: 1972-77 Fiat 130 Coupe – Bill Mitchell’s Regards
And related CC reading:
Classic Curbside Classic: 1979 Chevrolet Malibu Coupe – Good News, Mostly
Curbside Classic: 1981 Chevrolet Malibu Classic – A Wallflower from Turbulent Times
I don’t recall seeing the two door version very often, and yes only with big wheels and tires.
The 4 door sedan was very common (including my own Grandfather who had and Iraqi Taxi)
Always liked how clean they were, better than the Monto Carlo but I guess I’ve never been fashionable…
In my hometown, I remember to see them often, more often than the 1981-83 four-door sedan. I guess the look of the 1981 sedan was less popular then the 1978-80 models and the Cutlass Supreme was in the same showroom of the local Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealer….
Here a 1979 model, filmed from the opening credits of a tv show in the early 1980s.
I see more AMC Hornet in the Fiat 130 than i do Chevy Malibu. Also a bit of Rolls Royce Corniche.and Camargue. The Malibu does invoke early Chevelle coupes though. I agree that this is one of GM’s most underrated designs – clean, tasteful, and well-proportioned. Really, all of the 1978 A bodies looked great except the “aeroback” looks-like-a-hatchback-but-isn’t style used on the Cutlass Salon and Century, but that wasn’t much of an issue because you didn’t have to look at them often since hardly anyone bought one, and because they changed to a conventional notchback shape after two years (which vastly helped their sales).
Their functionality didn’t always live up to the looks. Engines were hit-or-miss, fit and finish was sometimes below par, and it just didn’t quite have the solid feel of the 77-79 B/C bodies.
Ah, just clicked on the Fiat 130 link and now know why the RR’s look similar…
I knew there was one other Italian car that looked a bit like it too, thinking it was a Ferrari or Dino. I forgot about the Lancia.
I paid no attention to these at the time, but I like how clean and simple they are. It’s like a slim-fit suit in a sea of double-breasted jackets and pleated pants. The interior with a bench seat and the simple dash seems so spacious, and all that glass area- must be a joy to drive.
When I say that Chevrolet makes attractive cars – this was one of the reasons I wrote that. Chevrolet has a real knack of cleaning up clutter. While they did create ridiculous looking Monte Carlos, a bloated Caprice during the 1990s, and today’s overly busy small SUV designs – Chevrolet consistently looked better than the competition. And I write that as a Ford guy.
I didn’t know the orgin of this look, but it is a clean honest look. It is like a perfect pancake – nothing needing to be added, and mass produced by the millions. This is not a look that should be, as it was commonly seen in, white. It needed a rich color. It looks nice in black though.
These were good cars. While they still battled the effects of cheap interior materials, they were far superior to the Citation and the Cavalier.
The 78-81 Malibu coupes were clean and sleek compared to the very baroque and swoopy 78-80 Monte Carlo !
It took some time for A/G bodies to catch on as project cars. In the 80’s many pre-’72 RWD cars were still plentiful and cheap. While 10 year old 1978-80’s were “too new” or looked down on for ‘hot rodding’. The rise of the Buick GN changed that.*
Now, even G body sedans and wagons are “LS Swapped” and in high demand. Some still think they “should be cheap and easy to find” as they were 20-30 some years ago, but time has taken its toll. Some get upset about how much more G’s cost, [I used to see them for $300!] but it’s not the 90’s anymore. Nobody built a warehouse and stored a bunch of them for “future project cars”. 😉
*The colonnades are not as popular for modifications, considered too heavy.
Nice-looking car. Don’t see many in where I live around Toronto, Ontario nowadays.
These were nearly sold in The Netherlands, Austria and Italy under the Opel brand, and I’ve heard that Holden had plans to market it in Australia but not New Zealand as the Holden Malibu.
Apparently it was to have been sold as sedan and coupe only in Australia, and both models limited to the 231 V6 engine in Classic trim level only.
Holden did get the Malibu – but not until 2008 and it didn’t sell that well.
From what I’d heard, apparently the idea got axed, but if it did get sold in those European countries, it was going to have been limited to the base trim level and the 231 V6 engine or the 267hp V8 engines, with the Classic model available only as a V8.
Chevrolet did sell in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s but it was low volume IIRC.
However, I believe this was unofficially imported to Germany – at least from what I found at https://www.theparking.eu/used-cars/chevrolet-malibu-germany.html
I think the Opel Rekord and Commodore C stopped any chance of this model coming to Europe as an Opel.
Here is mine with stock wheels and totally unmodified. This shot was taken in 2021 and nothing is different. The last time I bought tires I decided to do away with the raised white letters. The first time I saw one of these it was love at first sight, and I am a Ford guy! I am the original owner and ordered it to suit me. It has the 267 V8 which has given great service, 4 speed manual transmission, F41 Sport Suspension, power sunroof, bucket seats, rally wheels, AC, power steering and brakes, and did have a factory AM and FM that I replaced with a tape player. I stored the radio but it was lost in a building fire that almost got the Malibu and ’66 Mustang too. The car has 168,000 miles and the only major repair was a synchronizer hub replacement in the four speed which I did myself. I plan to write a COAL on this car at some time. It has seen me through some ups and downs in my life. I still drive it in nice weather regularly.
Rick, what a perfect example of the breed! Too bad I didn’t find it on my Google image search; there’s none out there as nice as yours.
Yes, I do hope you write it up some time. What a sweet car; an American car at its best.
Nice Ride!. An MD that worked nearby ordered one very similar to yours in maroon IIRC at Best Chevrolet in Massachusetts where I worked. I drove it several times and Really liked it, that was probably the only 4- speed Malibu we sold that year. 79 was the first year for the 267, in 80 they hung an A.I.R. (Air Injection Reactor) pump on it that noticeably reduced performance. So you definitely got the right year!
I probably would have ordered the 305 but I was going from a 4 cyl Mustang II so I thought the 267 might get better gas mileage. I wish I had gotten cruise control also since I have taken several very long trips in it. My kids didn’t like the infamous non rolling down rear windows.
Thanks to you and Paul for your kind words about the most significant car of my life.
Could this be the perfect late 70s/early 80s Chevy? At least in design, it is. Not a line out of place.
Oops…I mislabeled it asa ’79. grilles look similar!
These cars are popular as street rods and race cars. There are a few that show up for the street-legal nights at the local race track. There are also several that regularly show up at the handful of Friday and Saturday night car meet locations.
I believe the name of the Italian designer is Paolo Martin, born 1944. Pronunciation with stressed “A” on both words.
Yes it is. I wonder how I made that mistake? 🙂
Nice looking car very large Peugeot in profile, Ive liked these since I saw the first and only at the time here, ruined by a local hoon who parked it backwards into a tree, It was to be fixed he was looking for a rear half body to do a cut n shut.
I actually found the late ’70s Nova and Concours coupes more stylish and attractive. Then and now. Found the ’78 Malibus bland in comparison.
I found the ’78 Malibu coupe’s body sides too tall, and slab-sided. The Fiat 130 is better proportioned. I found the Malibu’s design always came across as too conservative/predictable.
It has always bemused how Chevy/GM did so well with the full sized models downsize in 1977 but “screwed the pooch” with the intermediate models downsize a year later.
I agree. These were cheap, tinny boxes, poorly styled with the crappiest plastic interior imaginable. Most seemed to have the V-6, which curiously returned both anemic performance and mileage. The rear windows did not roll down, even in the 4 door sedan. Reminded me of something Soviet era Russia would have made.
Me three. I count myself fortunate not to have had much seat time in these, but I had enough to wonder how they could possibly have come, at the same time, from the same brand and maker as my folks’ Caprice. It was as though GM were deliberately punishing people who had the temerity not to buy the bigger car.
I think the reality of these is what following they have today is based squarely on the fact that they are RWD and built like older more desirable A bodies that have become too expensive as project cars. If these were FWD they’d be about as fondly remembered as Celebrities.
Not to say I share that much distance for them, but it’s hard to get excited by them, and I fully agree the B body downsizing was more successful, these were mostly a harbinger for the 80s overcorrection downsizing to come, though I’d aim most of the criticism on the PLC versions and the Olds/Buick aerobacks.
My first car (that I bought myself, and was 100% running and drivable) was a 1979 Malibu Classic Landau coupe in burgundy metallic with a white top and oyster grey velour interior. The guy I bought it from wouldn’t let me test drive it, having some silly excuse as to why, so I assumed something was wrong with it. As I got onto the highway after paying only slightly more than I thought I should have for an 89,000 mile car with an unknown problem, the engine revved slightly as the THM200 slowly oozed from second to third gear. I limped it along for another 8,000 miles or so while Dad and I found and built the THM350 that should’ve been there in the first place.
Mine was optioned better than most with a 4bbl 305, power windows, door locks, cruise, tilt, A/C, power driver’s seat, four speaker AM/FM stereo, dual remote sport mirrors, light group, clock, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. As was the case with most CAFE era cars with three speed automatics, acceleration from a stop was soggy with the 2.29 rear end, but mine would get a move on once you hit 25mph or so.
The only other weak link in the powertrain was the 7.5″ 10 bolt rear end, which I promptly scattered shortly after we installed the fresh transmission. I replaced a heater core just before winter and was planning on getting the A/C working by summer. Sadly, in one of my dumber teenage male moments, I slid off the road and hit a tree in someone’s yard on a winter night… going at a pretty good clip. Surprisingly, the car was repairable, and I started gathering parts to do so. But life got in the way… and it never happened. Bums me out all the more now that these cars are almost extinct.
Loved these then, love them now. But with California’s emission checks on post-1975 cars it’s not easy or cheap to mod these. So they’ve become a rare sight here, and even then mostly in El Camino form.
After the disaster of the downsized ’86 Eldorado/Seville, Cadillac brass hired the Italian firm to design a Pininfarina Eldorado for ’92. This was to be in competition with an in-house design.The Italian design won out, but then the design was pulled at the last minute. In four days, the in-house team came up with a completely new design, which looked like a more curvy and bulbous version of the Pininfarina design. That “new” design quickly became the production model.
Fiat 130 Coupe was the theme model for 1977 B body Chevy. But, this one has much closer resemblance, indeed.