Curbside Classic: 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Coupe – Reality Sucks, But It Beats The Alternative

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(first posted 5/16/2015)   Once upon a time, faded Malibu coupes like this in gold, brown, green or blue could be found by the multiples in every high school parking lot during the week or prowling the streets or fast-food parking lots on weekend nights. Although kids back then aspired (like always) to something more ambitious, like a cherry red Malibu SS454, in truth, this is what they ended up with: a tired second or third-hand Malibu coupe with the weak-chested 307 and a Powerglide. Young adult life is often about adjusting lofty expectations with a diminished reality. It’s no wonder there are more red SS454s nowadays than Plain-Jane Malibus; the middle-aged means of so many frustrated kids finally caught up to their long-deferred aspirations.

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On our CC walk through his San Mateo neighborhood, my nephew Aidan and I found both: a resale red SS454, which may or may not be a clone, and this very original 307 Malibu coupe, within a few blocks of each other. It’s all-too authentic. And it’s no coincidence which one he asked to write up and which one I’m writing up. That’s ok with me; one will always be able to find pristine SS454; not so cars like this. Folks, this is how the past once looked, not shiny red.

The Chevelle was all-new in 1968, along with its GM A-Body stablemates. GM made a bold move that year, giving the coupes a shorter 112″ wheelbase than the 116″ for sedans and wagons. That didn’t do anything for their interior accommodations, but than that’s not why one bought a coupe anyway. It was an affordable way to be stylish, and although production stats are not readily available, if my observations of the time are at all representative, I’d venture to guess the coupe outsold the sedan by some two-to-one, or more. Or maybe it just seemed like it, as the sedan was pretty forgettable. And only the most desperate kids drove them to school.

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I’d also guess that the overwhelming majority carried the ‘307’ badge on the front fender, the base V8 if one was going to avoid “stupid six” epitaphs hurled at them; real or imagined. Rated at 200 gross hp, or maybe some 140 in today’s ratings, it did the job, just sort of, barely, from a testosterone-influenced point of view. The little two-barrel carb was parental-unit approved. Powerglide did it no favors. When kids ran these at full throttle down the boulevard, the distinctive prolonged moan of the small black V8 as it slowly built revs was unmistakable. The full throttle shift into second/high didn’t occur until about seventy. And getting there seemed like an eternity, in the sped-up internal clock of a teenager. Thankfully, help was just a J.C.Whitney catalog away; or at the junkyard. And a few extra shifts at Arby’s.

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But no matter: it said ‘Malibu’ on its sides, and that name was golden; an inspired name if there ever was one. No wonder Ford changed the name of their top Fairlane to Torino. Everything California was golden in 1968, and so was the Malibu, even if the only tang one’s nostrils had ever encountered was from fresh manure and not from the salty Pacific Ocean air.

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As bold a move these new GM coupes represented, I wasn’t totally bowled over by the styling details of the Chevelle. Compared to the ’68 GTO, or the Olds 442, it looked a bit light-weight and cheap. Well, it was, although not by all that much. The re-skin for 1970 improved it mostly, and made it look like it had spent some time at the gym, bulked up a bit or just swallowed some male hormone supplements.

Yes, that’s the problem: the ’68 looked a wee bit too delicate and feminine. And a lot of women did buy these; probably most of the ones the kids bought second and third hand were Mom’s or Aunt Betty’s Malibus. If only they had ordered at least the 327…Oh well; beats riding the school bus to school. Or the ancient old Chevy farm truck.