Curbside Classic: 1977 Chevrolet Malibu Classic – Everyone Needs Some Love, And A Home

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(first posted 1/23/2015)    What a difference five years makes. In 2010, I found and wrote up an almost identical red Malibu Classic Coupe, and called it a Deadly Sin. Not today. What’s changed? Quite a bit; but for starters, I was homeless once, like this Malibu.

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Given the out-of-state plates and last autumn’s leaves piled under it like a soft nest and out of reach of the street sweeper, it was obvious to me as soon as I first saw it the other day that this Malibu is homeless. And all I felt was love. It’s not everyday one sees a sad old Colonnade coupe down on its luck on the streets anymore.

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And it’s not just the car, but its owner too.

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Not a pretty picture. I tried to get a shot of the “bed” in the back seat, but it didn’t work. Just as well. Let’s just say that a Colonnade coupe, a car that has been endlessly criticized for its poor space utilization and cramped back seat is not the ideal rolling home. But it beats the ditches, abandoned buildings and dirt-floored basements I called home some nights after I left home with a pack on my back and my thumb outstretched. And even the back seat of my VW, which I slept in a few times, in the fetal position, out of necessity.

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During the Colonnade’s time, I didn’t exactly think highly of it, given its porkiness and rather atrocious front end design that still looks to me like it was remodeled for a movie role, like the Family Truckster. The Family Coupster. Where was Bill Mitchell when this was approved? Under a drafting room table with one of the secretaries?

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This front end came out of the same studios that designed the 1963 Riviera? Or did the grille come from the J.C. Whitney catalog? Give Your Malibu That Prestigious Continental Mark IV Look!  OK; the old standard excuse is that these cars were originally designed before the five mile bumper regs took effect. But that’s the best the vaunted GM Design Center could do? Maybe it was just a cynical exercise to whip up consumer backlash to get those regs rolled back. If so, it rather worked; by 1982, it was down to 2.5 mph.

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Oops; I’m starting to get negative. Where’s the love? Well, I’d have been happy enough to call a Malibu Classic my home at certain times, regardless of whether it ran or not. Preferably the former, if I could have rustled up some gas money to feed the perpetually hungry 350 V8. Back then, it would have been me or it, come feeding time. Back in the early 70s, finding enough food to keep an eighteen year-old’s metabolism was no joke; today there’s free food everywhere; there’s even a free sit-down dining room for the hungry downtown. Not that I begrudge them in the slightest; nobody should be hungry in this country. But it could be quite hard at times back then; don’t ask how I fed myself sometimes.

So even with cheap gas again, feeding this Malibu may be beyond the capacity of its owner. When I did have cars back in the day, they had to be easy on gas; I could make the 1000 mile run between Iowa and Baltimore for ten bucks in my VW 1200. Well, that 35 cent gas comes out to $1.95 in inflation adjusted dollars; same as today, thanks to this latest plunge in prices. But the Malibu would have taken almost three times as much gas; ten bucks I could scare up, thirty not so easily.

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These Malibu coupes lived in the Daliesque-shadow of the Monte Carlo, which outsold it three to one. They had started out in 1973 as a sporty semi-fastback, with a large tapered rear side window. But Broughamification soon made “sporty” a dirty word, and the side window turned into an opera window. For $700 bucks more, a genuine Monte Carlo was way more compelling. And by 1977, the economy was hot again.

Chevrolet 1977 Caprice-Landau-Coupe

Of course the Monte was also at the end of its run, like the Malibu, and both looked mighty tired and from another era compared to the all-new 1977 Chevrolet. Or more like from an era that never happened; the Colonnades were designed for a time where there was no energy crisis. But then, that didn’t hurt them all that badly, because folks just moved down from the ridiculously huge full-sized cars and squeezed into these instead.

The new downsized big Chevy rode on the same 116″ wheelbase as the Colonnades (112″ for Colonnade coupes), and their front and rear tracks are essentially identical. But our experts have confirmed that the frame and chassis aren’t the same, just mighty close. But when it came to what sat on top of it, there was no comparison. The new “big” Chevy was a bit shorter than the Monte Carlo, and almost the same length as the Malibu sedan. Inside it was like moving up from a studio apartment to a townhouse, with real views. Yes, this would make a better home, fixed or mobile.

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But this, a Deadly Sin? Hell, it sure beats a cardboard box.