COAL: 1979 Chevrolet Malibu – “A” Daily Driver

Just after I had gotten it.

My plan in 2016 after being laid off was to fly to BC and buy an older car, and drive it home.  I had a few I’d liked, but by the time I had gotten out there, they were sold.  As an alternative, a Crown Vic was bought, and it served well to get across the country.  But having had classic cars before (a ’70 Chev truck and a IH Scout) I wanted something older to tinker with.

I did not want to spend a pile of money on something – just get an older car in good shape I could work on and make better.  Not being overly fussy, I spotted this car on Kijiji for $1900.  It looked good, but was 300 KM away.  A phone call to the owner clarified a few things – he was a retired gent that had bought the car from the original owner in New Brunswick.  It’d had a repaint, and the rear frame welded, but was otherwise original.  Henry – the seller – didn’t like it at all – he wanted a truck.  It sounded on the up and up so we went up to look at it.

That rad shroud kills me.  It was an extension stapled on.

It was a base Malibu – no extra trim, chrome, anything.  It had a 200 V6 – a two-year wonder, a 6-cylinder version of the not-terribly-powerful 267.  Options were few, but it had a passenger-side mirror, 4-speaker stereo, automatic transmission, and the gauge package, minus a tachometer.  It started up and ran well enough, and a quick drive up the road showed no major issues other than a dead speedo.  $18oo was exchanged, and the car was mine.

The original gauges.  The speedo had issues.

The drive home was uneventful.  Some of the drive was fairly hilly, and a kick down to second was necessary to make it up some grades.  The car lacked power, but the transmission shifted well, and once in second, the car would pull itself back up to the speed limit.  It did show its age, though, in the way it felt and sounded.  It was kind of loose on the road, with lots of body noise when bumps were hit, and even more wind noise from around the doors and windows.  Did I care?  Not really.  It brought me back to when I was young, and my father having cars like this Malibu.  The thing that struck me the most was the smells – it smelled just like the old GM cars we had.

I don’t think these cars had a bad angle.

Shortly after putting some miles on it, I noticed a pretty big problem.  I couldn’t keep coolant in it – it was a blown head gasket, or something similar.  It was an excuse to put a larger engine in it.  I was fortunate enough to find a good donor car, a 1985 Pontiac Grand Prix.  It lived its life about a mile away, and my next-door neighbour had bought it and parked it.  It sat over ten years.  I gave my neighbor a hundred bucks, and drug the car home.

305 in, and waiting to be completed.


It had a rebuilt 305, and a perfect dash pad.  Given that mine was all cracked and ugly, I figured I’d swap the dash from one to the other.  It was also a F41 car, so the sway bars, stabilizers and braces all made it onto the Malibu.  The engine proved to be a good one, too.  The transmission, however was a Metric 200 – good for scrap.  Luckily, the Malibu had already had a transmission swap, and had a good THM 350 in it.   While the car was down, I also figured I’d do some other upgrades.  I put a set of Monte Carlo SS-equivalent springs in it, a new set of shocks all around, and a new set of Energy body bushings  for good measure.

The ’85 Grand Prix dash.

Once the swap was done, there was a big difference in the way the car drove and felt.  It was a lot tighter and solid on the road.  The 305 combined with the 2.73 rear end gave it good acceleration, too, with reasonable fuel economy.  I could get 21 MPG on the highway with it so long as I stayed out of the secondary barrels.  Brakes were always good, so I didn’t have to do anything to them.  Because the harnesses had to be changed to accomodate the newer dash, it allowed me to install the intermittent wipers.  The result was so good, I decided to use it as much as I could.  I drove it most days to work, and back and forth a lot of weekends to our camper, an hour each way away.  Not wanting it to rust, the car gets put away for the winters.  But once the weather gets nice enough, it gets driven again.

On the way to the camper.

It’s been a good car, giving very little trouble in the two “driving seasons” I have used it – from late April to November each year.  The heater works acceptably – if a bit feeble by today’s standards, but the wipers work fine and the car is pretty good on the road.  It does wander a bit – but I suspect it is down to the lousy Douglas 185/75R14 tires that are on it.  There’s too much Scot in me to get rid of them until they wear out, then it will get some 60-series tires.  It’s pretty easy to drive, and I wouldn’t hesitate going anywhere in it – with proven mechanicals the car has reliable.  Funny how the right options would make or break these things – with the handling package and a V8, it’s a fun car to drive.  Parts are easy to get, still, and the car’s simple to work on.  People have good memories of these – I’ve had more comments on it than any other car I have owned – people or their parents owned one, and so-and-such.

At our company’s quarry.

It’s been mistaken for a Iraqi Taxi multiple times – but it’s two years older.  The roofline’s all wrong, too, but they do all look the same if you aren’t familiar with Malibus.  I bought the car liking it, but I have grown to love it.  The smell, the sound of the way the direct-drive Delco starter winds over, the bench seat – reminds me of years gone by – of my youth, my parents, road trips and vacations with friends.  People seem to get it…it isn’t a sports car, but it is a time machine of sorts.  I have more plans for it too – new tires, re-covered seats, fresh paint as there’s some issues…but nothing to spoil its character – what it is.  I use it as much as I can – and is about as much a daily driver as I can reasonably do it.

The car with the current project in the background, Spring 2018.

Well, we’re getting close to the end now.  I’ve got one more car to go, and there’s a few tractors if you’d like.  Thanks for reading!