There has never been a more appropriately named musclecar shop on these shores than Brent Jarvis' Performance Restorations(performancerestorations.com). Doing exactly as the name implies, Jarvis doesn't just restore automobiles, he completes entire performance restorations. Cars that roll out of his Mundelein, Illinois, shop are not only show-ready from top to bottom, but are built to be driven in high-performance mode. Seeking credibility from customers no longer content to sit around comparing hose clamps and build sheets, Jarvis decided to make his own daily driver, this '65 Malibu SS 396 clone, a rolling testbed for the purest expression of a performance restoration.
This Malibu convertible defines the philosophy of building cars that can hold their own on a race course, at the dragstrip, on cruise night, and even in rush hour traffic. If any car could legitimately be considered a hot rod multitasker, it would be this midsize drop-top. With almost 60,000 miles added to the clock since it was bought in 2001, the Malibu has been thrashed and sorted out in almost every conceivable venue, with the possible exception of ice racing and European rally driving.
The original '65 Malibu SS was found in San Jose, California. Built in the Norwood, California, plant, the ragtop had spent all of its life in sunny California. After flying out to inspect the car, Brent hammered out a deal and brought it back to Performance Restorations with the simple intent of building a mild, Z16 resto-mod clone. The rust-free car was stripped to bare metal and received only minor straightening. The owner sprayed a tweaked GM Marina Blue, with stock satin black chassis and engine bay accents.
Brent was able to locate all the rare Z16 pieces that were to his liking, including an NOS 160-mph speedometer. But rather than go berserk on building the car in bone-stock, chalk-mark-correct fashion, Brent gave the '65 simple upgrades to enhance performance and make it a reliable daily driver. A smoothed fiberglass cowl-induction hood from Glasstek was added, but only after being completely smoothed and finished inside and out.
After the Malibu was buttoned up with a big-block LS6 454 crate motor and a four-speed, Brent began using the car as his get-to-work transportation. That's when things got out of hand...and we're glad they did. It dawned on Mr. Performance Restorations that the growing demand for Pro Touring style cars called for someone to step up and provide cars that offered not just killer looks, but the all-around performance that could back up the image. So began the new career track for this Malibu SS testbed.
Building Bigger Horsepower
Not content with a basically stock LS6 motor, Jarvis pulled the motor for more serious horsepower. Big-block power remained the religion of choice for the beast. However, the crate LS6 454 has been bored 0.100 over to produce 476 ci. Forged pistons achieve a 10.8:1 compression ratio. A Moroso 7-quart baffled oil pan built with a full-length screen and crank scraper keeps the oil from hindering horsepower. A high-volume Moroso pump and a set of oil restrictors in the cam galleys supply plenty of oil where needed most, on the bearings. Bumpstick is a Comp Cams "tight lash" solid roller with 0.660 lift on the intake and 0.666 lift on the exhaust. Duration at 0.050 is 0.254 intake and 0.269 exhaust with 110 degrees lobe separation. Brodix Race Rite aluminum heads have been ported and are fit with 2.25 intake, 1.88 exhaust stainless valves.
The polished finned valve covers with the Chevrolet script are from PML. These valve covers have a built-in baffle system to keep the oil in the engine while allowing it to breathe. Intake is an aluminum port-matched Team G Weiand that hosts a 1/2-inch spacer and a highly modified Holley carburetor flowing 950 cfm. The functioning dual-snorkel cowl-induction air cleaner was a conglomeration of four different Chevrolet air cleaners and presently houses a 4-inch K&N element topped off with the Z16 396 badge.
A set of March underdrive pulleys slows everything down by 20 percent, and the big engine stays cool with a Be Cool aluminum radiator and fan combination, while a high-flow Weiand aluminum water pump keeps the coolant circulating. Exhaust is handled with 2-inch Hedman Hedders, Flowmaster 40 Series mufflers, and 3-inch Exhaust Tech pipes all the way back, topped off by '70 Chevelle SS tips.
Brent tuned the engine on the dyno and made 637 hp at 6,400 rpm with 625 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm. Pleased with the engine combination, the owner says, "The engine never gets over 160 degrees. I'll admit that it's a bit snotty in rush hour traffic, but it makes great power and awesome torque. Torque comes on strong at 3,000 rpm with 600 lb-ft and stays strong until the peak horsepower numbers. It's a great road race engine! I just leave it in Third gear most of the time and use Fourth on the really long straights. At the drag strip, the car runs an 11.66 at 123 mph in only the first three gears-on the street tires! Top speed is 168 mph. It burns 93-octane unleaded and actually gets better mileage than my Suburban driving to and from work."
Speaking of gears, the transmission is a Super T10 wide ratio with a 2:88 First gear. It has been modified internally by Crash Enterprises and is shifted with a Brent Jarvis-modified Hurst Competition Plus shifter. Redline MTF is used inside the tranny. The 12-bolt rear is original to the Malibu and sports 3:08:1 gears and a heavy-duty posi unit. Ford 9-inch bearing ends are welded on the housing, and the C-clips were eliminated. Strange Engineering made the axles.
It goes without saying that dialing in the suspension was an intense exercise in trying a number of setups and combinations. The front suspension is controlled by Global West upper and lower A-arms, a 13/8-inch hollow sway bar from Hotchkis, 500-pound springs, and adjustable QA1 shocks. A fast-ratio, 12:1 power steering box transforms the road feel and handling prowess of the Malibu. Front-end alignment specs are as follows: Caster positive 6.3 degrees, camber negative 1.7 degrees, toe-out 1/8 inch. Out back, adjustable Hotchkis upper and lower control arms with a 1-inch solid Hotchkis sway bar and adjustable QA1 shocks keep the car nice and tight during brisk driving.
Binders & rollers
Many Pro Touring cars feature brakes so large they actually hamper performance. The brakes on the Jarvis car are effective without being ridiculous. The four-wheel disc brake system is comprised of an aluminum SSBC master cylinder, an adjustable proportioning valve, a line lock system, slotted 11-inch rotors from SSBC, and aluminum Wilwood calipers. The red pads from EBC are called into service for daily-driver street use, while the "yellow" pads are swapped in for track day. Front brakes have cooling ducts running from the front bumper to the vented center of the rotor. The rear brakes are ducted as well. Though very simple and inexpensive, the braking system flat-out works extremely well.
The wheels are the two-piece V40 five-spokes from Vintage Wheel Works and measure 17x9 in the front and 17x91/2 at the rear. Tires are the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cups, 255/40ZR17 in front and 275/40ZR17 on the rear. Perfect backspacing and a little massaging were required to fit this setup under the less-than-spacious Malibu fenders and quarters.
The interior features a rare factory tilt steering column with a '69-70 Chevrolet Comfortgrip three-spoke steering wheel and a custom-made SS horn button. A full gauge package with a 5,800 redline tach and an ultrarare Z16 160-mph speedo evokes serious envy from many purists. Factory bucket seats with the deluxe trim package make it comfy, though they're slightly lacking in lateral support under enthusiastic cornering episodes! A four-point rollbar with a removable harness bar has been added for both drag racing and road racing. When the harness bar is removed for street duty, the factory black seatbelts are used. The original die-cast '65 console has been swapped for a lighter and much more functional '66-67 Chevelle console that comes complete with clock and glove box.
Brent reports that the parts come together to produce a reasonably priced, do-it-all performance machine. "I've built many high-end project cars in the 200K range for myself and customers and have enjoyed them all," he says. "But this car is one my favorites. It does everything well, and it did not break the bank to build it. This car can be built on a budget by the average enthusiast. The key is always finding a solid foundation for your project. Plan well in terms of the ways in which the car will be used, and spend your money wisely. The end result here is a car that is driven to and from work every single day. It is extremely well balanced on the road courses and surprises quite a few Camaro, Mustang, and Corvette owners. Who says you can't have it all!"