One thing about the Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge, presented by Nitto Tire: You just never know what will show up. Since we started this free-for-all in '08, we've tested everything from a six-figure C1 Corvette with a full aftermarket frame to a Smokey Yunick tribute Tri-Five. The one body type, however, that seems to always put a smile on everyone's face is the wagon. Forever considered dorky by the cool kids, they somehow have gained cult status in the new millennium. Maybe if more family trucksters were equipped like this instead of with wood paneling, people would have had a different opinion of them when new.
The 1971 Malibu you see here was originally found in Massachucets by Yancy Johns of Tennessee, and was surprisingly rust-free. It was also bone stock with faded paint and a flat hood. Yancy had the wagon painted and gave it the pseudo SS treatment. Paint was done at a local shop in the Volunteer State.
Eventually, the wagon then came to Steven Rupp in California. Rupp, tech editor of sister publication Camaro Performers magazine, is the man behind the "Bad Penny" '68 Camaro g-machine (SC, August '07), one of the most influential F-bodies in history. Rupp wanted to transform this giant A-body into a modernized wagon that would be fun to drive, get good gas mileage, and be different.
"With the pro-touring craze going on, it was only logical to carry that build style to the wagon," Rupp explained. "Since it's so heavy it only made sense to try and knock off some weight by going with the LS engine. Still, even with that the wagon tips the scales at just over 4,000 lbs. It also, in concert with the Tremec Magnum six-speed, lets the wagon get just under 21 mpg on the highway. Besides, a wagon with a manual transmission is just cool."
The engine swap, along with raising the transmission tunnel, was done by Dick Kvamme at Best Of Show Coach Works in Escondido, California.
The wagon was meant to be a cruiser, so things were kept simple, but Rupp knew he wanted the wagon to handle well, so it was taken to Global West, where Doug and Eric Nordin welded in their coilover system, complete with Penske single-adjustable shocks. They also tightened up the steering with their gearbox and welded gussets into the frame to control twist.
The result is "ginormous" wagon that can handle as well as a new musclecar. It will be going back to GW for a new "secret" system they are working on, and at that point it should be lapping new Camaros, which is pretty cool for a 43-year-old boat.
"Now if we could just find that third-row seat," according to Steven.
On The Track
"Two Tons of Fun" was my pet name for the Global West-equipped wagon this year, and if someone had bet me a few nickels that a 4,000-plus-lb wagon could get around Streets of Willow in a decent time, I'd have quickly taken that wager. Who'd have thought? Here's this grocery getter, a definite mom-mobile, that is better suited as a family truckster than something you'd choose for hammering it hard out of any racetrack corner, yet it got with the program.
Once behind the wheel, initial perceptions quickly changed. This wagon had all the goods—a "hot cammed" LS3 from Chevrolet Performance backed by the bulletproof Tremec T56 Magnum gearbox, big Wilwood 14-inch stoppers, excellent Saginaw 12.7:1 ratio steering, and Nitto NT05s wrapped nicely around some really purdy Forgelines. And the suspension ... nothing less than a true conversion by Global West: Coilovers, tubular arms, and Penske single-adjustables finished off with an aggressive alignment grounded the wagon and gave it confidence and stability. Words not normally used in the same sentence as "station wagon."
I started the engine and when I hit the track, I was expecting ... well ... I didn't really know what to expect. I mean, this is a wagon and it'd been eating well! It was a ponderous machine, huge panels of body and glass enveloped me, a single lap belt was the only means strapping me to the seats, but apparently no one had told this Chevelle its job today wasn't to imitate a land yacht!