COAL: 1983 Chevy Malibu 9C1 – A Higher Purpose.

Welcome to my next COAL.  Ive never been diagnosed with ADD, but I’m pretty sure I have it.  While most COALers are able to keep to chronological order of their car ownership, I find myself more apt to write about my cars as I’m inspired to write them, so think of my COALs as a CC version of a Tarantino film but without blood and foul language.

So this is going to be an earth-shattering revelation, but I’m going to venture a guess that probably not many car enthusiasts would place a 4 door G-Body Chevy Malibu high on their lists of cars they want to own.  I’m not like most car enthusiasts.  (btw, I’m aware that these were “A-Bodys” until the FWD A-Body appeared in 1982 when they officially became G-Bodys but for simplicity’s sake, I refer to the 1978-88 mid-sizers as G-Bodys, mmm-K?  Why couldn’t they just call the FWD cars G-bodys?) .

Other’s opinions and collector resale value have no impact on me; I buy, build and drive what I like.  And I like Chevy Malibu sedans.  While a 1969 Dodge Charger is a car that is pretty much universally loved and revered in the car-worshipping world, no one gives a flying fig about a Malibu sedan; they fly under car guy’s radars and most have been relegated to scrapyards or have become parts cars to similar year Malibu coupes.  Even the wagons are somewhat desirable, but the sedans; its more like, do they have good fenders and chrome?

So why a Malibu?  Any why one with 4 doors for Petes sake?

I think I was in 1st grade, so it was 1979 or ’80, somewhere around then, and I was home sick for a week from school; I think it was when I had the chicken pox.  Like I mentioned before, I was already a car nut by then as I was diehard Dukes of Hazzard fan, and I devoured any car magazine I could get my paws on.   My Dad was a cop, and I very much looked up to my Dad, so I also loved anything police-related.  My Mom was equally cool, and when I was home sick, she would often bring me home a toy or a car magazine or something to keep me busy.

So one day on that week when I was home, she went to a little stationery store in town that also had a toy section-it was kind of like a small Woolworths, and came home with a couple of Hot Rod magazines and a Monogram 1/32 scale 1979 Chevy Malibu police car snap-together model kit.  It was my first model car.  I don’t think she knew what she was getting into because by the time I was a teenager, my model car count was well over 100 and they occupied pretty much every square inch of my bedroom.   I carefully built my little Malibu and put the water-applied decals on myself, which to my 7-year-old self was a big deal.  I played with it a bit and brought it to school for show and tell.  I was big time.

(Super Chevy agrees that Malibus are cool, since I stole this picture from them)

As I grew older, Mopars were my cars but I still liked Malibus.  Their clean and simple styling, seemingly perfect size and body-on-frame construction lend them to making nice hot rods since they can accept just about any de-smogged GM big or small block V8.  I don’t know if I was prejudiced from my police car model or not, but I always thought that they were the best looking out of all of the G-bodys.  Thinking back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, Malibus were everywhere; I had several friends with parents that had one, we rented one on a trip back to South Carolina one year, they were pretty ubiquitous.

By 2000, I had followed in my father’s footsteps and became a lawman and I was a minor collector of all things law enforcement.  Mostly uniform patches but a few badges and guns here and there, but since I was first and foremost a car guy, I had to have a real cruiser.  I had found a Virginia State Police 1972 Plymouth Fury with a documented history.  It was a mess, but I bought and restored it and I had gotten to be pretty active in the classic police car world, which is a fairly small but very active community.   Sometime in 2015, a police car collector in the Nashville area posted the Malibu for sale on Facebook.  It was both a Malibu and a police car so I was immediately interested in it but I wasn’t in a position to add another car to my fleet at the time.

Within the next year, I sold the Fury and was looking for a new and different classic police car to toy with and I came across a 9C1 Malibu at a show that was owned and restored by the Pennsylvania State Police.  Seeing that car reminded me of the ad I saw posted on the police car page, so I scrolled through old posts and found the ad.  The ad had expired and the seller’s info was no longer available, but someone else on the board knew who owned it and gave me the owners contact info.  The car didn’t sell and it was still for sale so I made an offer and within a week, it was in my garage.

The owner was a collector and never really did anything with the car nor did he know much about it, but through the police car board where I found it came a wealth of information.   One of the guys on the board knew not only what department the car came from but personally knew the officer that the car was assigned to.  I got the whole story of the car and it has quite a history.

The Malibu is a real 9C1 police package car and was delivered to the Pomona, CA police department in 1983 and stayed in service as an unmarked patrol Sergeant’s car until it was sold at auction in 1988, and who bought was none other than the Sgt. that drove it on duty; he liked the car so much that he bought it for his personal ride.  It was originally equipped with a 305 4 bbl and I think the 9C1s came with TH350 transmissions as opposed to the standard TH200 and it wasn’t an overdrive.  It also has the better 8.5″ differential as opposed to the 7.5″ unit that came in the civilian cars as well a rear sway bar, a bigger front sway bar, better shocks, a bigger radiator, fan and water pump, coolers for everything, silicone hoses, bigger brakes, a full gauge package including a 120-mph speedometer (as opposed to the standard 85 mph units in use at the time) that was also used in the Monte Carlo SS, a HD alternator and extra bracing in the roof for a light rack.  The 9C1s were a pretty stout package.

I got in touch with the Sgt. that drove it on duty in the 1980s.  Sit back a minute and think about what was going in Southern California at the time-crime was at an all-time high in SoCal in the 1980s.  Just as this car was hitting the streets for duty, so was the crack epidemic, and with it, the rise of gangs and gang-related violence and this Malibu was in the middle of it all.  I was told stories of 100 mph chases on I-10, shootouts where the officers had to hide behind the car and use engine block for cover, jumping curbs, driving through yards, and all the neat and groovy adventures that police cars get into.  As a bonus, I got all of the maintenance and repair records for the car going back to the Pomona P.D.

Since this is CC and it’s a favorite topic when discussing these cars, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the non-opening rear windows.  Many here have complained about being forced to ride in the backseat of these cars as a kid; now imagine what its like to be a cop with a bad guy on the way to jail sitting back there.  Many criminal’s hygiene standards are not up to the same level as most Americans , or they may have soiled themselves as a result of being drunk or high or just simply to anger the arresting officer, and the only windows back there for ventilation are the little pop-out vent windows.  That’s why police cars have easy-to-hose-out vinyl interiors.

After the car was retired in 1988, the Sgt bought the car at auction and kept it for another 14 years.  Surprisingly, he then sold it to a police car collector in Arizona and then it was sold to the gentleman I purchased it from in TN.

By the time I took possession of the car in early 2017, about 150,000 miles had passed under the Chevy’s wheels and about 85K of those were from when it was on duty with PPD, but mechanically, the car was completely refurbished.  I found that the Sgt had replaced the presumably tired 305 with a Mr. Goodwrench replacement 350 and the transmission was upgraded to a Turbo 700 overdrive unit.  The front suspension was also rebuilt and it has a Flowmaster exhaust.   It was built to be a fun driver but unfortunately under the 2 previous owners, it spent a life sitting instead of out on the road.  I was about to change that.

As I mentioned in my Charger COAL, when I put an old car on the road, I drive it around town for about 100 miles before I grant it driver status.  I remember the ad said that it had “cold A/C.”  If cold A/C means that turning on the heat on a cold January morning and it blows nothing but cold air, then that is a correct statement.  Judging by all the antifreeze blowing through the vents, I determined that it had a blown heater core.

When I went to repair it, I learned that the G-bodys have probably the easiest heater core to replace on any car Ive ever worked on; its under the hood in a box next to the firewall, versus most other cars where it its in the dash, requiring all kinds of crazy acrobatics to try and get to it.  I then had the car retrofitted with R134, because, well, it is a G-body sedan with rear windows that don’t roll down.  After fixing the HVAC and replacing a leaky power steering hose, I added 4 JBL speakers to a Kenwood stereo that was already in the car because I require my classic drivers to be not only safe and reliable but to have working air conditioning and a decent stereo.  I then gave the Chevy the blessing to start carrying me on my 114-mile daily round trip to work.

(That is the loudest fan I’ve ever heard.  It’s like hurricane-strength)

One day in the following June, I had to go for my annual physical for work and since it was scheduled for late in the day and the examining doctors office was on my way home, I figured I would just stop in on the way.   While driving there in a ‘spirited’ manner, I started to hear a death rattle coming from the engine under deceleration, but it went away at idle or under throttle.  I made an educated guess, which was later confirmed by my machinist, that it was “crank walk,” where there is excessive crankshaft end play, usually due to worn bearings.  I wound up failing my physical because my blood pressure shot up so high and I wound up having to be monitored for a month afterwards until the doctors determined that I wasn’t going to self-implode.

I pulled the engine and brought it to my machinist, who primarily builds Mopar engines, and he smiled and said I was in luck.  He had put together a mild 383 Chevy small block for a customer to use in a truck for pulling a trailer.  The customer never returned and the machinist told me I could have it for his cost just to get it out of his shop.  The following weekend, my neighbor and I installed the 383 in the car.  Oh my, what a difference!  The machine shop told me the engine was mild, maybe 380 HP, but somewhere around 460 lb/ft at a very low rpm suddenly made this 3200-lb Malibu sedan stupidly fun to drive.  Oh man, we are going to have some fun.

A good friend of mine is an avid BMW enthusiast and he has a late model M3.  One warm fall afternoon while cruising home on the interstate at about 75 mph with Van Halen cranked up really high, I just happened to see his car out on the road.  I couldn’t help it; there was no other traffic around so I got side by side with him and punched it.  About 3 car lengths later, he caught up.  We slowed down to about 50 mph, I punched it again, that sweet revving stroked small block roared,  and the car almost went sideways.  I caught it, straightened it out, and again put the BMW in the rearview mirror; it wasn’t even close.  He caught up to me at a light and said ” I cant believe you beat me in that grandma car!”  He laughed and a good time was had by all.  Since then, more than a fair share of late model hot cars have fallen victim to my “Heart Attack” Chevy.   The Silent Killer, get it?  Kind of a little inside joke about my blood pressure visit, plus its also a nod to the great old Chevy “Heartbeat of America” tagline that they were using when the Malibu was built.

Since it was a police car, the rear doors cannot be opened from the inside.  That makes for some fun when I’m hauling my kids and their friends around.  “Hey Dad can you let me out?”  “I don’t know, did you clean your room?”  Leverage.

Maybe back when it was in service as a police car, it might have had some intimidation presence but today, its not really noticed by anyone; even as a 40 year old design, it still pretty much blends in with traffic.  And while driving the car is just way too much fun, there’s a little something else about it.  The 1970s and ’80s were record highs in the numbers of police officers killed in the line of duty and I often think about them.  As I head towards retirement from law enforcement in the next couple of years, I find myself more enjoying instructing the new recruits in the academy than I do working in the field and I often find ways to incorporate the old cars into my classes, especially when talking about driving and officer safety issues.  So the car has become a sort of rolling remembrance to those who have come before me.

The Chevy and I have only been together for about 2 years now so we haven’t gotten into a whole lot of adventures yet, but I’ll say this with a straight face:  I’ve owned and driven some impressive cars and overall, this is the most fun car Ive ever driven.   Its fast, handles and stops well, gets decent mileage, plus its comfortable and has a big trunk.  And, as a 35 year old car, its proven to be a good one; it doesn’t rattle, the dash, trim, and glass are all still in good shape, and all of the electrical stuff still works just fine.  These were pretty well-built cars.  I own 2 other G-bodys (more on those later) and I’ve always said that these and the B-Bodys were the last of great cars from the ‘old’ General Motors, may they rest in peace.  Next on the list for the ‘Bu is to put some decent tires on it and put it on a road track.  Yes, seriously.  Virginia International Raceway (VIR) is only a couple of hours away and they have open track days.  I want to see what it can do.