COAL: 1974 Chevrolet Malibu Classic – The Beginning, And The End


[Mine was green]

Car guy/gal or not, everyone remembers their first car. Mine had what may be the longest official name in the history of automobiles: Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Classic Landau Colonnade Coupe.

I’ve saved my first car for last. Thus ends my COAL series.

Pop bought this one brand new in April of 1974. He always drove the “second car” in the family, since the driving portion of his commute, from the house to the commuter rail station, was under 2 miles each way. In my early years, he just bought whatever beater he could find for cheap, but by 1974, he had enough money to buy something new, and since he was tired of beater hassles, that’s exactly what he did.

He paid $4000 out the door, on a sticker of around $3900. I think the car had sat on the dealer lot for a while, because it was a bit of an odd duck. First of all, it was Medium Metallic Green, with a black Landau top and a green interior; not everyone’s cup of tea. Second, it was a weird combination of trim and options. The Malibu Classic was the highest trim line for 1974 (aside from the Laguna S-3, which wasn’t so much a higher trim as a “sportier” one) but this one had a very low option set. Yes, it had a V-8, but the lowest one for the year, a 350/2bbl, and automatic (THM350). It had power steering & brakes, and air conditioning. But that’s pretty much where it ended – no power windows or locks, vinyl bench seating, and an AM radio.

As I said, Pop only drove it 4 miles a day, 5 days a week. On weekends it mostly sat, as the “family car” was whatever mother drove at any given time, so Pop’s car mostly stayed in the garage all weekend. By the time I got my Learner’s Permit in 1980, the car only had about 35,000 miles on it.

Once I got my full license, the car was mine to drive on nights and weekends. And drive it I did -just like everyone’s first car, that car was my freedom. To me, it was the greatest car ever sold – not because it was good, but because it was FREEDOM. By the Fall of 1982, I was off to college. Pop had gotten a company car with his latest job, so the car was all mine, except in name. He kindly kept the registration and insurance in his name (although I was expected to pay for it, and I did) just to keep the insurance costs low. By 1986, I moved out of state and the car was made officially mine, because it just made sense.

Enough has been written about the A-Body Colonnades, on this website and many others, that I don’t really have too much to add about the car itself, but I’ll throw in a few personal impressions here.

Overweight and under-powered. The 2-barrel 350 for 1974 put out a whopping 145hp and 250 lb./ft. of torque. Mine also had a “highway economy” 2.73:1 rear axle ratio. Fast, it was not. Fuel economy, while not horrible for the era, wasn’t very good, either. Around town I could get 13-14, and if I was gentle on the highway, I could squeeze out 17. On top of the smog-choked engine, the 3900+ pound curb weight didn’t help matters any.

The weight was also an issue regarding the front-end parts. The 73-77 Chevelles gained about 500 lbs. over the previous generation of A-Body, but GM didn’t upgrade the suspension and steering components adequately to compensate for the added weight. My car ate ball joints, tie rods, shock absorbers, and every other front-end component like a fat kid eats free candy. I don’t think a 2-month period ever passed when I wasn’t replacing something in the front end.

The drivetrain, though, was bulletproof. When you only get .41 horsepower per cubic inch, you’re not stressing engine components in any significant way. When the car left my ownership, it only had 103,000 miles, but the only thing ever done to the engine was new valve-cover gaskets, and the fellow who bought it was really buying it to salvage the drivetrain for another project.

The reason I sold it was rot. By 1990, the car was still doing it’s job, although by that time it was a 2nd car for me, having bought the Omni. One day I walked up to the Malibu and noticed something hanging down underneath the rocker panel. I gave it a tug, and into my hand fell a chunk of body, a body mount, and a chunk of frame. The end… a sad end to a car I once hoped to keep forever.

A special “thank you” to Paul for allowing me to write this series. I have enjoyed the opportunity to hone my writing and my storytelling skills.

I would also like to thank my readers, especially those who took the time to comment and compliment my work. The feedback really helps, and I thank you all for it.

I never set out to put a theme to this series, but one of the commenters pointed out that I did, and when I look back, the same theme really does exist throughout the series. CC writer and commenter rlplaut wrote (in a comment on my Chevy C-10 story) “. . .it seems the real value of that effort remains with you to this day, and justifiably so.”

And that is precisely the theme. It isn’t the cars themselves, not the sheet metal, the engines, the buying and selling, or anything else that makes the Cars of Our Lifetimes important, it’s the experiences they give us, both good and bad, that is what gives cars meaning to us.

Again, I thank you all.